Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Courage – Page 2

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.

IT IS NOT BEYOND REACH…

TORAH PORTION: NITZAVIM

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.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • 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.

TEACHING ETHICS TO LAST A LIFETIME…

TORAH PORTION: VA-ETCHANAN

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.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • 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.

STANDING UP FOR ONESELF…

TORAH PORTION: PINCHAS

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.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • 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.