Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Compassion – Page 2

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.

SPEAKING SOFTLY…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIGASH

SpeakingSoftlyYoung children are impulsive. They can’t really help it. They feel so intensely they blurt out whatever is on their minds, sometimes with love and sometimes in rage. It’s our job as parents to help them translate the intensity of their feelings into appropriate behavior. They might be angry, but they can’t mistreat their brother or sister, friend or parent. They need to find the right words to express what they are going through. They might want something belonging to a friend or sibling, but they can’t just grab it; they must ask for it respectfully.

In this week’s Torah Portion, Vayigash, Joseph, unrecognizable to his brothers dressed as Egyptian royalty, tests his brothers for having thrown him into a pit and selling him into slavery. He plants his silver goblet in his beloved younger brother Benjamin’s sack, and once it’s discovered declares that Benjamin will be his slave. Judah, an older brother, approaches Joseph with gentleness and softly speaks: “Please, my lord, let your servant speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself”. Doing so, Judah diffuses the tension in the situation. In response, Joseph breaks down and reveals his real identity to his brothers.

By speaking softly at home we can teach children that shouting is not the most effective way. Gentleness can often be more productive than harsh yelling. The more we curb our own compulsions, the more we can show our children that kindness can be more effective in the world.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about what it means to treat someone with loving kindness.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How do you like to be treated?
  • How do you feel when you are treated with less than kindness?
  • How do you feel inside when you are mean to others?
  • What are the results of raising your voice and increasing tensions?

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.