Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Blessings

OUR ANCESTORS BEFORE US…

TORAH PORTION: NITZAVIM

Appreciating What We Have Inherited & What We Control

Nitzavim1

Many of us approach parenthood as if we and our children were clean slates. As if, with some coaching from our friends and relatives, and a few good books, we can be exactly the kind of parents we wish to be and our children will turn out exactly how we want them to be. But it doesn’t often, or ever, turn out that way. We are heavily influenced by the way we were brought up, as well as by many factors not totally in our control. Our health, our socioeconomic situation, and the health and character of our children play a large role in our lives and our children’s lives.

In this week’s portion, Nitzavim, Moses declares that God has made a covenant, not only with the current generation, but with generations that came before as well as with future generations. Thus we are part of a long link, connecting us backwards and forwards. It’s not all about us and our own current generation. Rather, our lives depend on those who came before us and bear responsibility to those who come after us.

It’s important to teach our children to think about what they’ve inherited and is largely out of their control, and what is up to them to shape. For example, they may have been born Jewish, but what will they do with that Jewish identity? They may have no choice concerning what family they are born into, but what relationships will they forge to their extended family, their parents, and their siblings? It’s up to us, as usual, to model for our children, navigating with grace what we inherit and what we pass on, what is in our control and what is out of our control.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what they inherited and what they can control.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some of the traits and talents you received from parents and grandparents?
  • How do you plan to take advantage of these gifts you have received?
  • Which of your personality traits and your abilities would you want your children to have?

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

DOES GRATITUDE COME NATURALLY…

TORAH PORTION: KI TAVO

Showing Gratitude for Your Blessings

Showing Gratitude - Torah Portion KI TAVOWe have many magic moments in our families. There are times for us to appreciate our accomplishments and the people in our lives. Yet gratitude does not come naturally to most people, especially children. “Don’t forget to say thank you!”… Sound familiar? We try to teach our children gratitude.

Being reluctant to express thanks is common in children. It is important to help children overcome this resistance. This week’s portion, Ki Tavo, relates the story of a farmer who has successfully produced a new crop. The first fruits have to be selected for a special ceremony to give the farmers an opportunity to think about their blessings and to say thank you properly.

Saying ‘Thank You’ is not just good manners. It is an attitude. If I feel a sense of entitlement, I will not be able to express gratitude for something I’ve received. Children often feel entitled, and we must teach them to appreciate the wonderful things in their lives. Most importantly, we must make sure to be properly grateful for our own blessings!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being grateful for what they have.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What blessings are in your life?
  • What special gifts do you possess?
  • Why should we be thankful? How should we express it?
  • Can one person do everything alone?
  • For older children – discuss the concepts of dependence, independence, and interdependence.

By Rabbi Moshe Becker

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

WILL YOU SPEAK FOR THE TREES…

TORAH PORTION: SHOFTIM

shoftim2Dr. Seuss introduced us to the children’s book The Lorax, his 1971 children’s book that was recently remade into feature-length film. The Lorax tells the story of how the environment is destroyed by human activity and ambition. We hear the unforgettable voice of the gruff but wise Lorax, who says to the greedy Onceler. “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues!”

Like the Lorax, we too learn to speak for the trees in this week’s Torah reading. Portion Shoftim includes the mitzvah to protect fruit trees from destruction. Trees should not be chopped down for the benefit of humans. This mitzvah is the foundation for the Jewish value of ba’al tashchit which teaches us not to be wasteful and to care for the environment. Ba’al tashchit shows us the “green” side of Judaism.

Trees and the environment cannot protect themselves. It is up to us humans to guard them. Like the Lorax, we too can find ways to “speak for the trees” in our homes and schools, at work and in play. You can start by examining your daily actions. How can you be less wasteful each day? You can also look at the world around you. There are an infinite number of large and small ways to incorporate the value of ba’al tashchit into your life, your community, and our world.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways to protect the environment in their daily lives.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Think about all the things you use on a daily basis. How can you apply the mitzvah of ba’al tashchit, not being wasteful?
  • What do you waste as a family? How can you work together to limit your wastefulness?
  • How can you advocate for the environment?
  • How can Shabbat be a time when your family practices ba’al tashchit?

By Yael Hammerman

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

APPRECIATING WHAT YOU HAVE…

TORAH PORTION: BEHA’ALOTCHA

Beha2No matter how blessed we may be, it is always easy to see someone who has more, is richer, has achieved a lot, or has something that we want. In a world where very little is still private, there are TV shows that give tours of people’s huge estates, newspapers and magazines report annual salaries, and various social networking sites give us lengthy lists of others’ accomplishments. It can be hard to live without looking over one’s shoulder to see who has more than we do. However, it is just as important to look over your other
shoulder and see those who have less.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites are hungry in the desert for meat and they complain that the manna, which was tasty and sustaining, was not enough. They had to learn to be thankful for what they had.

In this world there will always be those who have more than we do and there will always be those who have less. The challenge is to be happy with our portion, to be thankful for what we do have. An important part of being content is to stop comparing ourselves to others. This does not mean that we cannot be ambitious or work hard to achieve, but our work must be done thoughtfully and with gratitude for what we already have.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being thankful for what they have.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Do you ever wish for something you don’t have? What is it and why do you want it?
  • What are some of the things in your life that you are thankful for?
  • How do you show your gratitude?

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

WHAT IS INSIDE US IS MOST IMPORTANT…

TORAH PORTION: TERUMAH

TERUMAH2As we grow, we are trying to develop ourselves. We spend time on how we look, the styles we like, and how we wear our hair. Often we spend more time on what is outside us than what is inside.

This week’s Torah portion Trumah deals with building the sanctuary in the desert. Instructions are clear that the outside should be plain, orderly, neat, and clean but not showy. The inside is clearly the more important place where it is permissible to exhibit the most beautiful decorations and objects. Our bodies are our own sanctuary. Clearly, in Judaism how we develop our inside, the inner us, is most important.

Of course, it is important for people to feel good about how they look on the outside. Judaism is saying that you should look good on the outside but never
forget to focus especially on your inner development. As parents, we can help our kids develop their inner qualities. Peers have a large amount of influence over the way our kids like to look. Parents have the opportunity to be teachers to help their children develop beautiful and meaningful values that they can always carry around inside themselves.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of developing inner values and ethics.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are the best qualities inside you?
  • What other qualities would you like to possess inside?
  • How could you develop other good qualities inside?

By Fred Claar

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.