Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Compassion – Page 2

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.

BEING CONTENT WITH WHAT YOU HAVE…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YISHLACH

va-yishlach2Everyone has his or her own methods for calculating happiness. We all have different criteria that we think are important and often judge our level of comfort based on these things. While it is often easy to list all that we wish we had, sometimes it is harder to take stock of what we already have. Sometimes, we simply need a reminder to be appreciative of our lives and give proper value to what we might take for granted.

This week’s Torah portion, Va-Yishlach, contains the story of two brothers, Jacob and Esau. At one point in the story Esau expresses to Jacob that he has enough, and Jacob should keep what is his so that he too can have enough. This seems to show a great self-awareness on Esau’s part. Not only is he content with his portion, but he wants others to recognize their bounty as well.

One of our sages asks, “Who is rich”? His answer is, “The one who appreciates what he has.” While this seems like such simple advice, in this age of plenty we still often struggle to follow it. First we have to be aware enough to recognize what we have, and only then can we be truly appreciative of it. As we become better at doing this for ourselves, we can also help others in our lives to recognize their own good fortune.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being appreciative for what they have.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What aspects of your life do you appreciate?
  • How do you show your appreciation?
  • What are some things that you wish were different and why?
  • In what ways can you work with those feelings while still being thankful for what you have?

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

SIBLING RIVALRY…

TORAH PORTION: BERESHIT

bereshit1Family tensions are easily created between siblings. Feeling overshadowed because of the accomplishments of our brother or sister, or feeling overlooked by parents, are frequent causes. How can we avoid these common family dilemmas?

This week’s Torah portion, Bereshit, includes the story of Cain and Abel and man’s first violent act: a lashing out of brother against brother based on family tension, jealousy and perceived favoritism. When Cain is asked, after he killed Abel, where his brother is, he answers, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Torah is clearly teaching that the answer is definitely YES to Cain’s question.

What can we do in our families to reduce tensions, manage jealousies, and create positive family dynamics? Recognize the special qualities of each child. Let children know how much each is appreciated by the whole family for his or her uniqueness. Parents need to be careful about expressing favoritism by balancing praise with sensitivity to the feelings of their other children. When kids know that their parents appreciate and love them for who they are, they have a better chance of dealing with the inequities they  will face in the outside world without directing anger at their siblings. Children should be taught by parents to value their brothers and sisters as family forever and life-long friends.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways to create healthy family dynamics.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some of the things you like about the way your family functions?
  • What are some things that you would like to change?
  • How do you discuss things when there are problems?
  • Do you feel heard and appreciated in your family?
  • How can you and your family all work together to respect each other?

By Fred Claar

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

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PERSONAL GROWTH…

HOLIDAY: ROSH HASHANAH

rosh-hashanahRosh Hashanah is perceived as the Jewish New Year, but it is so much more than that. It is time to reflect on the quality of relationships with friends and family and compare yourself to the way you were a year ago. Rosh Hashanah, according to the tradition, gives you a time to make amends to family and friends.

Use the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah to go through a process of introspection and evaluation with your family, thinking and talking about habitual problems and conflicts that are difficult to change. Seeing other family members, regardless of age, struggle with their problems provides children with a measure of comfort and a dose of reality.

Give your children specific examples to think about as they make their own moral inventory of transgressions. Maybe they didn’t treat a sibling well or didn’t share. Perhaps they lied to a friend or didn’t act with respect toward an elder.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT how they could improve in their relationships.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Could you be nicer to your brother or sister?
  • Could you be a better member of your classroom?
  • Do you treat your friends the way you would like to be treated?
  • Do you act respectfully to your parents and grandparents?
  • How does it feel to tell someone you are sorry for the way you may have treated him/her?

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.

SHARING WHAT WE HAVE…

TORAH PORTION: KI TAVO

kitavo1Many of us in this country have an overabundance of goodness in our lives. But sometimes in our society, with its saturation of goods and services, it is difficult to be aware of this abundance. If we have enough to eat, a place to sleep, and clothes to wear, we already have more than many people in the world. Becoming aware of how much we have, we naturally begin to think about what it means to give back to this world from which we’ve so plentifully received.

In this Torah portion we are required to take a tenth of our yield and give it to those who are needy: the stranger, the orphan and the widow. The Torah ensures that those who are needy are taken care of by their community.

Teaching children to give from what they have is also important. Can they give some of their toys and books and clothes to those needier than they are? Can they share what they have? Do you have a tzedakah (charity) box in your home and put aside something every week from allowance or income? It’s important to model giving from what we have to those who need it so that children can grow up having a sense of the importance of sharing what they have.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about the importance of giving to others less fortunate.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why do you think some people have more than others?
  • What are some of the ways you can give to others who are needy?
  • How do you feel when you give to others?

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.