Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Communication

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.

CONSTANTLY FEEDING OUR INTERNAL SPARK…

TORAH PORTION: TZAV

tzav3Jewish learning is a continuous process of discovering the richness and relevance of our tradition.  Many people think learning can stop when school stops.  Stopping Jewish studies after 13 is all too common.

This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, instructs that a small fire must burn permanently on the Altar represent the desire within each of us to connect to something bigger and higher, just as a fire always reaches upwards.  This small flame also reminds each of us that we have a spark to learn and improve within us.  It is our responsibility to nurture our spark by feeding it through continued learning.

The smallest commitment today to Jewish learning and knowledge can feed a blaze for generations.  Our books, texts, and traditions bring new meaning to us at different stages of our life.  An easy way to re-start our Jewish journey is to visit www.myjewishlearning.com and explore its rich treasures of information.  Consider signing up for one or more of their special interest weekly emails.  Let’s show our children why exploring our traditions is important by displaying our own passion for constant learning.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of being life-long learners.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Did you know that the brilliance and wisdom of the Torah’s values/ethics are available to everyone, disbeliever or believer?
  • Did you know that our Torah is a great collection of wisdom that has positively affected other religions and even the founding fathers of America?
  • Did you know that Jewish wisdom is relevant to EVERONE’S life today?  (A small example is “a day of rest each week”.  Before our Torah, nobody divided time into weeks.  All time was in months based on the moon.)

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.

“THNX GOD!!!”

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIKRA

vayikra3In a world of text messaging and twitter, writing a proper thank-you note has become a lost art. We express our appreciation by quickly texting THNX!!! while out-and-about and multitasking on smart phones. In contrast, in order to write a thank-you note you must sit at a desk and have a pen, stationery, and a stamp on hand. You need to write legibly, know your recipient’s street address, and have ample time and quiet to focus on expressing sincere gratitude. Unlike texting, however, sending a thankyou note shows that you are willing to sacrifice precious time to appreciate fully what you have been given.

In Torah portion Vayikra, God commands the Israelites to donate the first fruits of their harvest to the Temple. Though the Israelites worked hard all year to grow their crops and waited anxiously to see the fruits of their labor, they were required to give away their best produce instead of enjoying it themselves. Donating their first fruits to the Temple was an expression of gratitude for all the goodness in their lives.

A properly handwritten thank-you note would have been insufficient for the Israelites to thank God for the blessings in their lives. Like the Israelites, we too have much to be thankful for in our lives. But how do we express our gratitude? How do we sincerely thank the people in our lives who give us the gifts of time, support, and love? The next time you have the urge to quickly type THNX!!!, take a moment instead to express your appreciation more slowly and thoughtfully. The fruits of your labor will be greatly appreciated in return.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what they are thankful for and how they express their gratitude.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are you thankful for?
  • How do you express your gratitude – to your friends, your family and your teachers?
  • Have you ever written a thank-you note? Have you ever received a thank-you note? What did it say? How did it make you feel?
  • If you could write a thank-you note to God, what would it say?

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.

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.