Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Family

RECONCILIATION & FORGIVENESS…

TORAH PORTION: CHAYE SARAH

chaye2Obviously, people are not all the same. We feel differently about how neat to keep our rooms, what we eat, and the activities we like. It’s easy to dwell on the differences, but there are many core similarities that we share, and we need to focus on them.

Isaac and Ishmael were Abraham’s two sons. They were half-brothers from different mothers and very different in age,  temperament, experiences, mannerisms, and character. Yet this week’s Torah portion, Chaye Sarah, emphasizes that when the time came to bury and mourn for their father Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael did so together. Even Isaac and Ishmael were able to set aside their distance and differences to focus on what united them.

Can we set aside our differences for the common good? Not everyone can or should be the same, and we often feel that another person is very wrong. But we all have much in common. While we must be realistic about acknowledging our differences, we need to focus on what unites us, such as family, values, community, and interests, and seek ways in which we can work together in harmony.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about respecting differences in family members.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Give an example of an insignificant difference between you and another family member.
  • Give an example of a major difference between you and another family member.
  • What do you have in common with that person and how can you work together?
  • Why is this important?

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.

“IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT…”

TORAH PORTION: NOAH

noah3Snoopy begins each of his stories with the words “It was a dark and stormy night…”  Even if you’re not a beagle living on top of a red doghouse, life can often feel dark and stormy. Where do you go when you’re having a tough day? Whom do you turn to when you’re having a bad night? We often turn to our families to help us through the rough patches in life.

Like Snoopy, Noah had many dark and stormy nights. While it rained and poured for forty days and nights, Noah’s ark protected his family. Though the water raged and flooded the entire world, Noah’s wife and children remained secure. As a family, they made it through the flood safely and were able to start their lives again in peace.

Just as Noah and his family were protected from the flood by their ark, we also have our own arks that guard us from the dark and stormy world. Our families are our arks. We turn to our family when we need protection. Like an ark, our families provide us with shelter and guide us through life. However, in order to make sure that our ark feels safe for each family member, we need to watch how we speak to one another and pay attention to how we handle our differences. Maintaining peace and security in our own families helps us keep the stormy world at bay.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways we can make sure that our family feels safe, like an ark, for each family member.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How is our family like an ark? How can our family be more like an ark?
  • How can we make sure that our family is a safe space for each family member?
  • How do we maintain peace in our home and in our family?

By Yael Hammerman

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.

OUR ANCESTORS BEFORE US…

TORAH PORTION: NITZAVIM

Appreciating What We Have Inherited & What We Control

Nitzavim1

Many of us approach parenthood as if we and our children were clean slates. As if, with some coaching from our friends and relatives, and a few good books, we can be exactly the kind of parents we wish to be and our children will turn out exactly how we want them to be. But it doesn’t often, or ever, turn out that way. We are heavily influenced by the way we were brought up, as well as by many factors not totally in our control. Our health, our socioeconomic situation, and the health and character of our children play a large role in our lives and our children’s lives.

In this week’s portion, Nitzavim, Moses declares that God has made a covenant, not only with the current generation, but with generations that came before as well as with future generations. Thus we are part of a long link, connecting us backwards and forwards. It’s not all about us and our own current generation. Rather, our lives depend on those who came before us and bear responsibility to those who come after us.

It’s important to teach our children to think about what they’ve inherited and is largely out of their control, and what is up to them to shape. For example, they may have been born Jewish, but what will they do with that Jewish identity? They may have no choice concerning what family they are born into, but what relationships will they forge to their extended family, their parents, and their siblings? It’s up to us, as usual, to model for our children, navigating with grace what we inherit and what we pass on, what is in our control and what is out of our control.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what they inherited and what they can control.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some of the traits and talents you received from parents and grandparents?
  • How do you plan to take advantage of these gifts you have received?
  • Which of your personality traits and your abilities would you want your children to have?

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.