Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Courage – Page 2



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.


  • 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.



nitzavim2It’s not too hard, we tell our children, when they want to do something new. It just takes some effort and practice and sometimes courage to do it. It can be difficult, though, to tolerate seeing our children struggle. If we protect our children from struggle and from learning new skills that they are not immediately good at, they won’t understand that taking on new projects requires patience, effort and perseverance.

In our Torah portion this week it says, “It is not in the heavens”; in other words, what the Torah instructs is not beyond us to accomplish. Although much effort is required, the ethical and spiritual precepts of the Torah are eminently attainable as well as rewarding.

It is important that our children see us taking on new and difficult projects. The new project can be as specific as learning a new instrument, or as amorphous as committing oneself to an ethical precept, such as honesty. They will learn from our modeling that some struggle is inherent in accomplishment, even in adulthood. When appropriate, share with your children your struggles so they know what it’s like to strive for something important.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about some of their dreams for what they would like to accomplish.


  • What new thing would you like to try?
  • What things, if any, are you afraid to try?
  • What makes it difficult to try?
  • Have you ever found something to be worth the effort even though you could not fully accomplish what you wanted?

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.



vaechinan1Raising children is not only about teaching our children how to be successful in the future, going to the right schools and finding the right job. It’s also about teaching them ethics that will carry them through their lives. The ethics we teach to our children are meant to last a lifetime and, in fact, to outlive us.

Moses is told in this Torah portion that he will not be able to enter the Promised Land. But he is to teach the people of Israel a body of ethics to serve them in their building of a new society in the Promised Land. This body of ethics is meant to guide the people of Israel in their new lives and into the future, with each new generation.

We too, as parents, may not survive to witness our children or our grandchildren reach their “Promised Lands”. However, the ethics we teach them now will last them through their lives. Whether it’s honesty, or commitment, or kindness to one’s neighbor, or giving to the poor, or gratitude, these ethics will travel the distance through our children’s lives and hopefully even through our grandchildren’s lives. While we our pressured now to raise children who are civilized and obedient, it’s important to take the long view. We teach now, but we also teach ethics for the generations that will follow us.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about how Moses instructed his people on ethics to guide their lives into the future.


  • What does it mean to be good?
  • How should one treat others?
  • Which lessons are hardest to remember in your day-to-day life at school or at home? Which are the easiest to remember?

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.



pinchas1Standing up for oneself is a difficult feat. It might mean defending oneself before the attacks of others, or it might mean asking for what we need at the right time. Whether it is a raise in salary or a change in job title or something more personal, such as confronting a friend over a perceived hurt, it is putting oneself on the line. Faced with the prospect of standing up for ourselves, we may doubt that we deserve what we are requesting, or we may wonder if we will be penalized just for asking.

In our Torah portion of the week, there are four sisters who have no brothers and do not stand to inherit their father’s property because they are women. They daringly stand before Moses, the priests, the chieftains, and the whole assembly and make their request to inherit the property of their father even though they are daughters. Moses confers with God and then fulfills their radical request.

Children too need to learn to be advocates for themselves from an early age. It can happen on the playground when something is taken from them, or when they are being made fun of, but it might also happen in relationship to their parents. They may yearn for rights they have heretofore been denied, or they may feel that they’ve been treated as if they are younger than they are. Maybe they feel that it’s time to be able to cross the street on their own or start cooking a few simple things. Or maybe a child feels it’s time to choose his own clothes and, within reason, wants to decide what to wear to school. It’s important to give children the latitude they need to make these difficult requests and for parents to consider them seriously. Requests like these will pave the way for an adulthood characterized by standing up for oneself.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about the benefits of standing up for yourself.


  • Have you ever tried to stand up for yourself? What happened?
  • Were there times that you’ve wanted to stand up for yourself but you didn’t have the courage? What do you think could have helped you stand up for yourself at those times?
  • When do you think it’s important to stand up for yourself and when is it better to retreat?
  • How do you prepare to present your reasons when advocating for yourself?

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.



balak1Endless choices face us each day, relatively casual choices like what to eat for dinner, and ones that are more profound, such as “should I tell the truth in this situation?”  At times we have a strong feeling about the right choice in a given situation.  But because of undue pressure from family or friends, we might make what we feel to be the wrong decision.  This pressure is multiplied in the lives of children. Peer pressure is unduly strong in a child’s life and can lead to decisions that are not wise or morally sound.

In our Torah parsha this week much pressure is put on a non-Israelite prophet, Bilaam,  to curse the Israelites. God gives explicit instructions to the prophet, telling him that he cannot curse the Israelites.  However, Balaam seems tempted by the riches and honor that he will receive from the King of Moab, if only he would curse the Israelites.   But Bilaam ultimately discovers that he doesn’t have the power to curse the Israelites. He only has the power to bless them, according to God’s will.

To stand up against the pressure of those moving us in the wrong direction, we must have strong internal resources.  Making difficult choices might result in others not liking us or misunderstanding our actions.  It is most difficult for a child to take such risks.  A child worries tremendously about what would happen if he or she alienates friends.  Parents need to stand as supports for children who need to make difficult decisions, encouraging them and showing that constant approval by their friends is not the most important value.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the difficulty at times of making the right decision.


  • What are some difficult decisions you’ve had to make?  What happened as a result of those decisions?
  • How do you know which decisions are right and which are wrong? Who or what can help you to know?
  • Who is the person you can speak to that would help you make the right decision?

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.