Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Communication

LYING, STAY FAR AWAY…

TORAH PORTION: MISHPATIM

MISHPATIM1“I cannot tell a lie” are the famous words of our first president. Though it is honorable that Washington chose to tell the truth, he could have avoided lying in a different way. He could have considered the potential trouble he would end up in for chopping down the tree.

Mishpatim, this week’s Torah portion, warns to avoid falsehood. The wording is unlike any other instruction or warning in the Torah. Instead of simply saying, “Don’t lie”, it states “keep far away from falsehood”. The Torah is encouraging us to be mindful of our actions and their potential consequences. Stay far away from lying and deception and avoid actions you may need to lie about. If you cannot tell the truth about it, it is probably wrong.

Suppose a child is approached by a classmate who asks him or her to help cheat on an upcoming test. While it may be difficult for children to resist cheating, they certainly would not want to tell anyone they cheated. However, if caught, they will have to choose between admitting to a misdeed and lying. We can “Keep far away” from the temptation to lie by considering the results of our decisions before we make them!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about telling the truth AND being a truthful person.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why is lying wrong?
  • Would you do something bad if you knew you would have to tell someone you did it?
  • Do you trust people that you know tell lies?
  • What about a fraud or deception that doesn’t technically involve a lie?

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.

LISTENING OR REALLY HEARING…

TORAH PORTION: YITRO

Yitro1Picture the following exchange: Sarah shares a story that is important to her with her friend Adam. He seems distracted and she pauses to check if he is paying attention. He quickly assures her that he is indeed listening. But Sarah retorts, “Ok, you are listening but did you hear me?” Everyone can imagine a conversation like this. The distinction between being listened to and being heard is crucial to the way Sarah feels in this situation. She doesn’t just want someone to listen to her words, she wants to be “heard” or understood. And being able to hear someone is not always an easy task.

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, Moses’s father-in-law, observes Moses at work and offers him what we might call a little “constructive criticism”. Moses, like all of us, is human, and there are a number of ways that he might receive this feedback. However, instead of getting defensive or passing it off as irrelevant, Moses takes an opportunity to truly hear the words being offered to him, and he ultimately changes his course of action based on his new understanding of the situation.

It can often be difficult to truly hear what others are saying to us, especially when we are presented with new ideas or criticism. Being able to go beyond listening takes not only an open ear, but an open mind and an open heart as well. When we push ourselves to go one level deeper, to hear instead of just listen, we both engage the speaker in a more meaningful way, and we allow ourselves to be affected by their words. But this needs to be an intentional shift in the way we approach the conversation. It is easy to simply “listen” to someone. But we stand to benefit much more deeply if we open ourselves up to truly hear them.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the difference between listening and hearing.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • When was a time you think you were not truly heard? How did that make you feel?
  • When was a time when you only listened to someone and did no love beyond the listening stage?
  • How can you work to keep an open mind when you are hearing new or difficult things?

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

HUMILITY…

TORAH PORTION: BESHALACH

HumilityWhat gives us our sense of value? Is it our own accomplishments or others recognizing that we’ve achieved success? Is it possible to be humble and self-confident at the same time?

We can learn an important message from Moses. In this week’s portion, his authority was challenged by disgruntled members of the Jewish nation. Moses was well aware of his special relationship with God and the responsibility he carried as leader of the nation. Nonetheless, he truly did not view those achievements as reason for arrogance. Moses was a confident leader but a humble man, recognizing that everything he has is a gift and not an entitlement.

We all need to find this balance. We have innate talents and successes we’ve attained through hard work, but we can still be humble, but not with false or crippling humility that does not allow us to acknowledge our strengths. Humility is living with the understanding that we are simply doing our part by making a unique contribution to the world using the tools and strengths that God has given us. We all have those unique capabilities, so let’s respect ourselves and each other while remaining humble.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how to take their own abilities seriously while not insisting that others also take them seriously.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are you are good at, either naturally or through hard work?
  • If you’re confident about your strengths, does it matter if others don’t know?
  • Can you laugh at yourself?
  • Can making yourself small help you feel big inside?

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.

WHEN SHOULD PATIENCE TRUMP PASSION?

TORAH PORTION: SHEMOT

Shemot-PatiencePassionChildren, naturally, don’t have patience. In fact, the younger they are, the less they have. When they are preschoolers, they can sometimes behave like a roiling bundle of impulses and passions. “It’s not fair,” they cry out—or they throw a tantrum over something they want and can’t have or, even worse, hit another child. It is our job as parents to take those impulses and passions, and channel them. Some of those impulses are positive—they may have an early sense of justice—but they can’t express that sense of justice through hitting. Though children may be demanding their rights, a temper tantrum won’t help them to get what they want. We parents, the adults in their lives with the long view, need to teach our children how to wait, how to take a stand appropriately, and how to ask for what they want.

When Moses first sees the suffering of his brothers and sisters, he responds with a primal sense of justice. When he sees an Egyptian striking an Israelite, he kills the Egyptian and hides his body. Was there another way Moses could have handled the situation, other than killing? Maybe so but perhaps his ability to be patient had not evolved. Later Moses has an encounter with God at the burning bush, and God bestows upon him a mission to save his people. Now Moses’ individual sense of justice and murderous outrage is transformed into a sense of national mission. He goes to Pharaoh again and again, undeterred, uttering the words “Let my People Go” instead of lashing out aggressively by killing slave masters.

Our children, like Moses, need to transform their natural impulses into something higher. We as parents can help them do that by guiding them to use other behavior. Instead of hitting, they can use their words to speak out – forcefully, but peacefully. Instead of a temper tantrum over their demands, they can learn to ask for what they want civilly. From the midst of their passions and impulses, children can learn to behave constructively and wisely, learning habits that will serve them well throughout their lives. In addition, as they see adults around them model restraint, they will internalize that as well.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what makes them fly off the handle. Discuss with them other ways they might be able to handle their feelings.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What makes you angry?
  • What do you do when you get angry? How else could you respond?
  • What do you think is unfair?
  • What are the best ways to deal with unfair situations?

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.

LYING DOES NOT PAY…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIGASH

LyingDoesNotPayMistakes happen, and as self-respecting folks, we don’t like when we ‘mess up’. It is very tempting, and often convincing, to present and/or perceive the facts a bit differently. We can deny ever having said something compromising or running a stop sign, and maybe convince ourselves that we didn’t do anything wrong. The problem is that we can be a little too short-sighted sometimes.

Joseph is sold by his brothers because they decided they wanted to get rid of him. After selling Joseph, his brothers engage in an elaborate deception designed to give their father the impression that Joseph had been torn apart by wild animals. Much to their shock, Joseph pops up many years later as a ruler in Egypt. Now the brothers are faced with the very uncomfortable reality of being caught. Not only did they commit a crime against their brother, but they also lied to their father.

We rarely lie out of malice or a desire to be dishonest. More often than not, we end up lying because it’s more convenient to say an untruth than to admit to an uncomfortable truth at that particular moment. But if someone else saw or heard, we’re in double trouble now that we’ve lied about it. We must remember to keep the long term ramifications of a lie in mind.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about why lying doesn’t pay. If we come clean right away we’ll usually be forgiven anyway.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why are we tempted to lie?
  • Is it bad to lie or just not smart?
  • Is it ever right to lie?

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.