Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Communication

COURAGE TO THINK DIFFERENTLY…

TORAH PORTION: SHELACH LECHA

shelach3Most likely you have found yourself in a group situation where your opinion simply does not match the group consensus? Do you speak your mind, or do you keep silent? If you choose to share your opinion, how do you go about introducing it? And if you remain quiet, do you think of it as being for the “good of the group”?

In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach Lecha, a group of scouts is sent out to report back on what lies ahead for the Israelites. When ten of the twelve scouts return, ten paint a dire picture that Caleb and Joshua do not agree with. They speak out positively against the report of the ten.

It can be difficult when we find ourselves with a different point of view from that of the larger group. Our tradition teaches us that the majority opinion is not the only one that matters. In fact, in the Talmud when there are lengthy debates that finally resolve, the text goes to great length to document the dissenting parties and their minority opinions as well. It can take a lot of strength to stand up for what you believe in, but it is important not to simply follow the trend. In fact, you are likely to find that if you share a differing opinion, others might start to speak up as well. It is a diversity of thought that leads to interesting conversations, creative solutions, and new possibilities.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT holding and sharing different opinions.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • When was a time that you held a different opinion from the group?
  • Did you share it? Why or why not?
  • How do you feel when someone in a group introduces a new perspective?
  • Do we have to follow people with whom we disagree?

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

IGNITING CURIOSITY’S FLAME…

TORAH PORTION: BEHA’ALOTECHA

beha3A child’s face lighting up can light up the world. It most certainly will light up his or her parents’ hearts. Children are naturally curious, and their faces light up with understanding and delight. It’s up to us as parents and teachers to keep encouraging and nurturing that curiosity. When children ask a question and you don’t know the answer, look it up with them, or encourage them to look for the answer themselves. That is the beginning of education and using resources to follow one’s own curiosity into deeper understanding.

This week’s Torah portion describes the seven lamps that light up the sanctuary. The lamps can be seen as education, the way we light up the minds and hearts of our children. Education is not only a matter of school and academic learning. Children explore the world in all kinds of ways, with their bodies, their souls, their minds. It’s important to encourage a child’s natural ability and his or her own way of discovering the world.

We need to support the kind of education that nurtures a child’s curiosity. Education is not only a matter of mastering bodies of information. It’s about questioning and exploring, lifelong habits that will serve your child well. Our own Jewish sources illustrate traditions of questioning and responding to those questions over generations. Invite your children to join the Jewish conversation with their own questions and thoughts about things like God, the Jewish people, and what we practice ritually.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what questions they wish they could answer.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are you most curious about?
  • How do you go about finding out things?
  • What other ways might you find the answers you are looking for?
  • How does it feel to learn new interesting information?

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.

PARENTS AS MODELS…

TORAH PORTION: NASO

Naso3When you live with someone, it’s difficult to become a model.  People who live together see one another’s flaws and weaknesses and all their inconsistencies.  Still, even with that reality, parents must be models for their children.  For better or worse, children learn how to be in the world from their parents.  Parents learn that it’s not what we instruct verbally, but what we do ourselves that is the most powerful teacher of all.

In this week’s Torah portion, the laws of a Nazarite are enumerated for someone who voluntarily takes on stringent rules for a defined period of time.  No wine, no cutting of one’s hair, no contact with the dead.  Samson was an example of a Nazarite whose goal was to achieve a higher-than-required level of holiness.

The example of the Nazarite discipline can lead us to reflect on what we can take on voluntarily to become a better model to our children, ethically and spiritually.  For example, we might think of refraining from speaking ill of our neighbors, friends and family, to commit to a greater level of honesty, or volunteer to do social justice work.  It’s important to choose a few specific areas and set achievable goals.  We don’t want to create the illusion that we are perfect.  That can only lead to disappointment and disillusionment.  It’s important to be honest with our children about our weaknesses even as we try to model our strengths.  If we aren’t open about our vulnerabilities, they are sure to notice!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about areas of ethical behavior they can improve.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Who do you learn from?
  • Who are your heroes and models?
  • What do you learn from them?
  • What areas of your life would you like to improve?

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.

CREATING YOUR WORLD THROUGH LANGUAGE…

TORAH PORTION: TAZRIA

TAZRIA1Just as the world was created through language in Genesis, we all create our personal worlds every day through speech.  We can both create and destroy with words.  We can hurt other people through speaking negatively about them.  Speaking about people behind their back, we can harm reputations, and thereby even harm friendships and business.  Reputation in our very social and interdependent world is at the heart of one’s status both personally and professionally.

Jewish tradition is particularly sensitive to the power of speech and how it can be damaging.   Our Torah portion this week addresses the consequences caused by speaking negatively about others, an act that is called Lashon Hara or Evil Talk.  It includes slander, gossip, and other kinds of destructive language.

The first place to practice not engaging in Evil Talk is in the family.  Think for a moment: how do siblings talk about one another?  How does the family engage in talking about neighbors?  Within our families we may see this kind of speech as internal and therefore harmless.  However, how families speak about one another creates a model for how children will speak outside of the home about their friends. The less parents permit and model this kind of negative speech, the less likely children will use it on their own.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the Jewish prohibition of Lashon Hara or Evil Talk  and explain the negative consequences of this behavior.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why do you think it might be important not to say negative things about others?
  • How do you feel when you find out someone has said something negative about you?
  • Why do you think people like to gossip and find it so appealing?
  • What might help you to engage in it less?

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.

REASON IS LOST IN ANGER…

TORAH PORTION: SHEMINI

Shemini3We all become rash when we are angry.  We are quick to condemn others.  Anger clouds our reason, and we can accuse others without thinking clearly.    When we become angry we should ask ourselves: what good motivation might this person have for his or her action that I can’t see?  What am I missing that this person sees?  Though we may have reason to be upset, often our own reactions are clouded by emotion, blinding us from seeing the true situation before us.

In this week’s parashah, Moses gets angry with Eliezer and Itamar, two of his brother Aaron’s sons.  He thinks that they have done something wrong, and he loudly scolds them, saying that they really ought to have listened to him.  But Aaron interrupts Moses and gently explains how his sons have not actually done anything wrong.  Their way of doing things was acceptable, too.  In his anger, Moses had lost his reason and knowledge of the law.  In the end, he is humbled and gladly relents to his brother.

Moses’ anger clouds his reason, and his nephews suffer from this.  How many times have we exploded at someone, missing their good intentions because of our anger?  We miss reasonable explanations because we are angry.  We are not alone in our effort to see through our anger.  Like Moses and Aaron, we can rely on our friends and loved ones to help us calm down when we are upset and not lose our rational selves to anger.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how it feels to be angry.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why is it so hard to give others the benefit of the doubt when you are angry?
  • When you look back at a time you had an angry outburst, how do you feel?  Would react differently now?
  • How can you help someone calm down when he or she is angry?

By Rabbi Judith Greenberg

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