Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Compassion

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.

THE TONE OF YOUR VOICE…

TORAH PORTION: DEVARIM

devarimAll kids use sarcasm at a certain point in their lives. It can be light-hearted or disrespectful and mean-spirited. Parents are often at a loss as to how to respond to it. If you call your children on it, they often say, “I was only joking”. Sarcasm is a slippery behavior, often hard to pinpoint.

This week’s Torah portion, Devarim, retells the story of the spies who traveled to the Promised Land and come back with a negative report to the Israelites camped in the desert. God is angry with them, not only for the negative things they say and the way they demoralize the rest of the people, but also for their tone of voice.

This teaches us that respect actually involves more than the words we use. The tone of one’s voice and body language are also powerful vehicles of meaning. The question is how to teach this to our children. One strategy is to ignore sarcastic remarks. When they are not fed with the oxygen of attention, they are often extinguished. Beyond that, parents should generally insist on respectful communication with them and with their siblings. Furthermore, parents should not exhibit sarcasm with one another or to their children. Children hear it enough from their peers.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of respectful discussion.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • In what kind of situations do others use sarcasm? Why?
  • What response lessens the sting of another person’s sarcasm?
  • How are you affected by the tone of voice of others?
  • Do you raise your voice to make a point? Is it effective?

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.

KINDNESS TO ANIMALS…

TORAH PORTION: EMOR

Emor1We spend a lot of time reminding ourselves how important it is to be kind to one another. We speak about seeing each person’s humanity and treating others the way that we would want to be treated. But what happens when that “other” is not a person but an animal? We must remember that respect for the living creatures in this world is also an important value.

This week’s Torah portion includes laws about properly treating animals. The very fact that these laws exist says a lot about Judaism’s appreciation of the role of animals in our lives. Humans and animals both have emotions. The Torah is teaching us to be sensitive to the animals we encounter in our lives.

In the theme song from the 1967 musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”, Charlie’s friends list all of the things they like about him. One line reads, “You are kind to all the animals and every little bird.” Being kind to animals can make us better humans. We can measure ourselves by the way we treat the world around us, and animals are part of that world.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about their encounters with animals.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What role do animals play in your life?
  • How have you been kind to or helped an animal?
  • Can you think of an example where an animal is kind to or helps a human?

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

GIVING IS JUSTICE IN ACTION…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YAK HEL

VKH-P3Giving charity is for everyone. Tzedakah, the Hebrew word for charity, actually correctly translates as justice. Whether one has a lot or a little, giving is an integral part of a Jewish life. Even the poor are required to give a little charity. Money, food, our time, out-grown clothes, older toys, all can be useful to others in need. A community is only as strong as the willingness of its members to help each other.

This week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel, stresses that every member of the community must participate in contributing to the building of the Mishkan, or Tabernacle. All Jews are called upon to be ‘generous of spirit’ and donate to the Tabernacle construction. All can be generous of spirit even with a small contribution.

We should think of our money, time, and possessions as tools we can use, beyond our own needs, to benefit others. When we are willing to stand up and be counted for a charitable cause or for helping individuals in need, we become ‘generous of spirit’ and display gratitude for what we have.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of helping others and being a part of a strong community.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why is charity important?
  • How does the giver benefit from giving charity?
  • How can small amounts make a big difference? (Think of a savings account after many years.)
  • Is it necessary to be recognized by others when giving?

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.

INSULTS LEAVE A LASTING IMPACT…

TORAH PORTION: MISHPATIM

MISHPATIM2We must carefully value our speech. Words are a powerful tool. They can bring people closer or they can distance them. They can hurt or they can heal. Whether we are speaking to a family member, a friend, a teacher, a neighbor, or a stranger, our words always have an impact. Even if the person we’re speaking to doesn’t seem to care, everyone is affected by our tone and manner of speaking. If we are often insulting or disrespectful, we become a problem both to others and to ourselves.

This week our Torah portion emphasizes that the words we speak to others have definite consequences. In a moment of anger, a person may lash out and say something unacceptable. The Torah is telling us to be very careful and to measure our words, for insults are easy to give but hard to retract. This topic is so very important to Judaism that our prayer services always emphasize the importance of proper speech.

Learning to speak in a thoughtful and considerate way takes repeated practice throughout life. When we are tired, upset, or distracted, a quick insulting remark or response is possible. Speech may insult others not only in what we say, but also in the tone of voice we choose. We all get angry and are easily susceptible to feeling attacked. Therefore, we all need tools to remind us to speak kindly and thoughtfully so that we can learn to avoid verbal damage.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT being aware of the lasting impact insults can have in their speech.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • In what way can speech be used positively?
  • In what way can speech be used negatively?
  • How should one speak if angry or feeling attacked?
  • What’s the best way to react if you’re insulted by someone?

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.