Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Blessings – Page 2

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.

TREES ENHANCE OUR LIVES…

HOLIDAY: TU B’SHEVAT

TUBSHEVATOn our daily journeys we pass by so much of value that we barely notice. For instance: trees. Our very lives depend on trees. They provide us with fruit, shade, paper, often the homes we live in, and much of our furniture and other objects that we use on a daily basis. They are also a source of beauty and respite. Despite their importance, they tend to become the backdrop for our lives– easy to pass by with barely a thought or a glance.

Jewish tradition celebrates the New Year of the trees. It is called Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Shevat. On Tu B’Shevat trees are planted and rituals of eating fruits and nuts and drinking wine are observed. It is a kind of birthday of the trees, and in Israel it is the time when the first fruit-bearing trees
awaken from their winter sleep and begin their cycles.

Judaism teaches that we should plant and protect trees. We should plant trees, no matter how old we are, so that future generations can enjoy their beauty, shade, and usefulness. We should protect trees, especially those that bear fruit, for the benefit of all society. Tu B’Shevat can be observed traditionally in a kind of seder with plates of dried fruits and nuts, fresh fruit, grape juice, or wine. Or it can simply be a special day for you and your children to notice the value and beauty of trees in your lives. Even at the coldest time of year, we can have faith that spring and renewal will come soon again.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about trees and all that they give us.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Which kinds of trees do you like and why?
  • What are some of the wooden objects you use in your everyday lives?
  • Why plant a tree that takes so long to grow and mature?
  • How do our lives depend upon trees?

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.

BEING CONTENT WITH WHAT YOU HAVE…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YISHLACH

va-yishlach2Everyone has his or her own methods for calculating happiness. We all have different criteria that we think are important and often judge our level of comfort based on these things. While it is often easy to list all that we wish we had, sometimes it is harder to take stock of what we already have. Sometimes, we simply need a reminder to be appreciative of our lives and give proper value to what we might take for granted.

This week’s Torah portion, Va-Yishlach, contains the story of two brothers, Jacob and Esau. At one point in the story Esau expresses to Jacob that he has enough, and Jacob should keep what is his so that he too can have enough. This seems to show a great self-awareness on Esau’s part. Not only is he content with his portion, but he wants others to recognize their bounty as well.

One of our sages asks, “Who is rich”? His answer is, “The one who appreciates what he has.” While this seems like such simple advice, in this age of plenty we still often struggle to follow it. First we have to be aware enough to recognize what we have, and only then can we be truly appreciative of it. As we become better at doing this for ourselves, we can also help others in our lives to recognize their own good fortune.

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

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What aspects of your life do you appreciate?
  • How do you show your appreciation?
  • What are some things that you wish were different and why?
  • In what ways can you work with those feelings while still being thankful for what you have?

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