Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Courage

WHAT’S THE USE OF COMPLAINING?

TORAH PORTION: BESHALACH

WhatsTheUseOfComplaining“This is boring!” “When are we going to get there?”  “He has more toys than I do!” Children can get into the habit of complaining and whining again and again.  They often seem not to notice their many gifts and blessings and simply complain as if they live a life of hardship and deprivation, despite how much they have.

In this week’s Torah portion, the children of Israel do likewise. After passing through the Red Sea and arriving safely in the wilderness, the first thing they do is whine. “We don’t have any food or water!” “We’re going to die in the desert!” Though they are granted sweet water to drink and manna falls down from the sky, they continue to complain throughout their time in the wilderness. Their life in Egypt was a period of terrible hardship and enslavement, yet once in the wilderness, they recall it as a time when they had everything they needed.

How can parents help their children feel gratitude for the blessings in their lives, rather than focusing on what they don’t have or what is difficult? Perhaps parents can do a favor for their children by not responding to each complaint. Parents can also shift their own mindset to a sense of gratitude for all the good in their lives when there is an impulse to complain. Doing something as prosaic as keeping a gratitude journal or list makes us more attuned to what we do have than to what may be missing or in short supply. Even if hardship or illness has visited us or those we love, we can still be grateful for the many blessings we have. Stressing the positive aspects of our lives for our children, rather than reinforcing perceived negatives, can be a powerful role model.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of focusing on their many blessings in life and not on what may be missing.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • For what things in your life are you grateful?
  • What do you wish was different in your life and why?
  • Does complaining get results or just release tension?
  • Do you admire people in ill health or in difficult situations who rarely complain?

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.

WOMEN AS HEROES – WHEN TO HAVE THE COURAGE TO DEFY…

TORAH PORTION: SHEMOT

Shemot-WomenAsHeroesHeroes inspire us. They move us to action when otherwise we might remain stagnant. They are especially important for children, who need role models as they figure out how they want to live in the world. Heroes can be found everywhere, not only in the usual places like history and storybooks, but even in your own extended family or neighborhood. It’s possible to find heroes just by opening one’s eyes and ears to those who are standing up for what’s right wherever they happen to be.

Our Torah portion is filled with heroes. All the heroes who sprinkle the beginning of the portion are women, mostly ordinary, but who display extraordinary courage. Pharaoh, the evil Egyptian king, orders the midwives to kill every male child when they deliver Israelite babies. The midwives disobey Pharaoh. Pharaoh then orders every male Israelite baby to be thrown into the Nile. Mosses’ mother, Yocheved, hides Moses, and then his sister Miriam and the daughter of Pharoah save his life. The daughter of Pharaoh adopts him as her very own son and raises him in the Egyptian palace. 

The midwives, Yocheved , Miriam, and Pharaoh’s daughter all have the strength to disobey an evil decree and therefore sustain life. As far as we know, they were not encouraged to do what they did from an outside source, and they did not consult a morals manual. Rather they had a strong sense of right and wrong and acted from that internal compass. The more we expose our children to those who act from an internal sense of right and wrong, the more our children will develop their own internal moral compasses.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about heroes in our Torah portion or local heroes, who had courage and a strong moral compass.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Who are your heroes? Why?
  • What did they do that inspires you?
  • What would you like to do in your life to inspire 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.

STRENGTH AND DEDICATION…

chanukahHOLIDAY: CHANUKAH

It’s that time again. Cold weather brings thoughts of the Christmas holiday. There are Christmas vacations, sales, parties, street lights and more. Children get very excited by images of Santa Claus and colorful Christmas trees with brightly wrapped gifts underneath. It’s hard for Chanukah to compete with all this.

Showing children that there is something from their own tradition that can bring them light and joy is an important message. While Chanukah, within the scope of Jewish tradition, is a relatively minor holiday, it carries with it some important messages, as well as lots of fun for children. Just as Christmas and many other festivals worldwide do, Chanukah brings light into the darkness. Lighting the menorah brings a distinctive Jewish message regarding the strength and dedication of a minority against a majority. The Syrian Greeks tried to force the Jews to abandon their traditions, but the Maccabees, Jewish warriors, fought against them. After the Greeks destroyed the Temple, the Jews returned to find enough oil for one day. The miracle, according to tradition, was that that oil was sufficient for eight days. Holding on to our traditions is valuable not just during holidays, but throughout the year.

The holiday is now commemorated for eight days by lighting the menorah, giving gifts, playing with a dreidel, and eating latkes or other foods fried in oil. There are wonderful songs to sing and children’s books to read. With some preparation, the celebration of this holiday has a real magic for children.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the tenacity of the Jewish people to maintain their traditions through time in the face of outside pressure or persecution.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why is it important to know about your heritage and history?
  • What is your favorite (family) Jewish tradition?
  • Do you ever feel embarrassed to be Jewish? Why?

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.

THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YESHEV

va-yeshev2Have you been pushed to go to an event that you did not want to attend, and then had a great time? Ever start out disliking a very demanding teacher who later in the year becomes appreciated for making you a much better student? In life many times “things might not be what they seem at first”.

This week’s Torah portion, Va-yeshev, contains what might be one of the most famous examples of the idea that things which start off badly might come to a good end. Joseph, the favored youngest son of Jacob, is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. He seems destined for a life of enslavement in Egypt when a turn of fortune brings him into good graces with the Pharoah. Joseph’s life quickly changes as he rises to the top of Egyptian society, gaining fame, security and fortune. This is a very positive end to a dreadful beginning.

Sometimes we simply need to look a little harder to find the good in what feels bad. Often we just need patience to wait for changes. It can be hard to hold out hope when things feel as though they are not going your way, but a positive outlook on the world can go a long way towards making situations feel more manageable. Being able to look forward and see a “light at the end of the tunnel” can help make the journey there much easier.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about some positive unexpected outcomes in their life and in yours.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • When was a time in your life that you had an unexpected outcome?
  • How does it make you feel when events don’t turn out the way you expect?
  • How do you manage when things don’t feel like they are going your way?

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

BEING ABSOLUTELY HONEST…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YERA

va-yera1We, as parents, tell our children never to lie. However, as adults we most probably tell white lies fairly often. “How do I look in this dress?” a wife asks her husband as they walk into a party. Is that the moment the husband should tell the absolute truth and say– “darling, I hate to tell you, but that dress makes you look fat”? Or should the husband say, “Beautiful– that color brings out your eyes”. Ethically, are there ever times to lie? Yes. When the truth will hurt someone’s feelings for no good reason. When a three year old on a city bus, for instance, points to an obese man and says loudly, “Why is that man so fat?”, we surely tell him to hush, even though he is surely telling the truth.

In this week’s Torah portion, Sarah, when she hears that she will bear children, says to herself: “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment, with my husband so old?” God amended Sarah’s comment when God repeats it to Abraham, telling him that she said, ‘Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?’ The tradition understands God’s change, leaving out the part about her husband being so old in order to promote something called “shalom bayit”, peace in the household.

So, where does that leave us with our children? Do we tell them lying is wrong? Or do we give them the more complicated version of the truth, that lying is sometimes necessary to spare someone’s feelings in order to maintain peace? It depends on the age of the child. Younger children can only understand clear rules — never lie — as opposed to it’s okay sometimes to lie. But older children begin to understand moral complexity. You can explain the notion of lying for the sake of a greater good. But be careful: this ethic can be dangerous. We can all justify to ourselves that we lied in order to spare someone’s feelings, when the truth is, at times, that we lie because we didn’t have the courage the hard truth requires.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about how destructive lying is, unless there is a special reason to keep feelings from being hurt.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Can you ever trust people who often lie?
  • Why is lying destructive to all concerned?
  • Is it ever acceptable not to tell the truth? If so, when?
  • Would it be acceptable to lie if you or someone with you were being threatened?

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.