Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Blessings – Page 2

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.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR JOY…

HOLIDAY: SIMCHAT TORAH

simchat-torahUnbridled joy is the gift that children often experience as they go through their daily lives. They are capable of so much feeling, of happiness and sadness, and with such intensity. We celebrate with them when they are happy, and we are sad when they grieve. At times it’s important not to
get too caught up with our children’s emotions and to maintain a calm front in the face of their ups and downs. At other times, it’s important to get right in there and rejoice or grieve right along with them. As a parent it takes wisdom to know when to hold back and when to join in.

Simchat Torah, literally the happiness of the Torah, is the Jewish day for rejoicing—for children and adults alike. We dance with the Torah scroll, celebrating the completion of a year of reading the entire Torah in our community. It’s a time to express unrestrained joy. Children are often put at the center of this rejoicing and form circles with one another in the midst of adults or ride on their parents’ shoulders. It is a time of great excitement, a moment to share our joy.

Having a day set aside to celebrate is important for community and family life. Simchat Torah, along with the weekly opportunity for joy and rest, the Sabbath, give us communal opportunities to feel and express one of the most important emotions of childhood and adulthood—joy.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the joy they feel after successfully completing a big goal in their lives.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How do you express your happiness? Your sadness? And with whom?
  • Why does feeling joy in the midst of others enhance the experience?
  • What makes us hesitate to show happiness or sadness in front of others?

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.

FRAGILITY, FEAR AND BLESSING…

HOLIDAY: SUKKOT

sukkotMuch of what we do tries to instill in our children a sense of security. What a challenge it is when life presents something unexpected to us that shows us how fragile we really are. Life in all its fragility can be difficult. We carry around fears of illness and worse for ourselves or our children or other loved ones. Everyone, at some point in life is faced with this feeling of fragility.

The Holiday of Sukkot is all about fragility. A sukkah is a temporary shelter with a roof that allows us to see the sky and the stars. The house is flimsy, but during Sukkot we try to live in it, eat in it, even sleep in it during the eight-day festival. It presents an opportunity to remember our fragility. Sukkot is said to recall the time the Jews spent wandering around in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt, while journeying to the land of Israel.

While on Sukkot we recall our fragility, it is also a time of bounty, a time of harvest, a time of great blessing. Sukkot is meant to be a joyous and festive holiday. When remembering our own fragility, we are able to be in touch with the temporary nature of all blessings and thus enjoy them even more deeply. It is a wonderful opportunity to teach children that fragility also means good things: not only illness and death, but also blessing and joy.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the time the Israelites wandered in the desert on their way to the land of Israel and lived in booths through which they could see the stars.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What kinds of things frighten you?
  • What helps you feel safe?
  • How do you think experiencing a simpler, more fragile life in a sukkah would make you feel?

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.

SHARING WHAT WE HAVE…

TORAH PORTION: KI TAVO

kitavo1Many of us in this country have an overabundance of goodness in our lives. But sometimes in our society, with its saturation of goods and services, it is difficult to be aware of this abundance. If we have enough to eat, a place to sleep, and clothes to wear, we already have more than many people in the world. Becoming aware of how much we have, we naturally begin to think about what it means to give back to this world from which we’ve so plentifully received.

In this Torah portion we are required to take a tenth of our yield and give it to those who are needy: the stranger, the orphan and the widow. The Torah ensures that those who are needy are taken care of by their community.

Teaching children to give from what they have is also important. Can they give some of their toys and books and clothes to those needier than they are? Can they share what they have? Do you have a tzedakah (charity) box in your home and put aside something every week from allowance or income? It’s important to model giving from what we have to those who need it so that children can grow up having a sense of the importance of sharing what they have.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about the importance of giving to others less fortunate.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why do you think some people have more than others?
  • What are some of the ways you can give to others who are needy?
  • How do you feel when you give to others?

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.