Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Family

PARENTS AS MODELS…

TORAH PORTION: NASO

Naso3When you live with someone, it’s difficult to become a model.  People who live together see one another’s flaws and weaknesses and all their inconsistencies.  Still, even with that reality, parents must be models for their children.  For better or worse, children learn how to be in the world from their parents.  Parents learn that it’s not what we instruct verbally, but what we do ourselves that is the most powerful teacher of all.

In this week’s Torah portion, the laws of a Nazarite are enumerated for someone who voluntarily takes on stringent rules for a defined period of time.  No wine, no cutting of one’s hair, no contact with the dead.  Samson was an example of a Nazarite whose goal was to achieve a higher-than-required level of holiness.

The example of the Nazarite discipline can lead us to reflect on what we can take on voluntarily to become a better model to our children, ethically and spiritually.  For example, we might think of refraining from speaking ill of our neighbors, friends and family, to commit to a greater level of honesty, or volunteer to do social justice work.  It’s important to choose a few specific areas and set achievable goals.  We don’t want to create the illusion that we are perfect.  That can only lead to disappointment and disillusionment.  It’s important to be honest with our children about our weaknesses even as we try to model our strengths.  If we aren’t open about our vulnerabilities, they are sure to notice!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about areas of ethical behavior they can improve.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Who do you learn from?
  • Who are your heroes and models?
  • What do you learn from them?
  • What areas of your life would you like to improve?

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.

HOSPITALITY…

TORAH PORTION: EMOR

Emor3A great blessing one can have is the ability to give to others.  Hosting guests and taking care of them is an important way to express this.  Guests care much more about your attitude towards them than the expense or beauty of the surroundings.

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, discusses Jewish holidays. We are called upon to celebrate these holidays joyously and always instructed to make sure we are sharing the joy with others – our families as well as guests we can bring into our home.  In fact, we are taught that taking care of a guest’s needs takes precedence over one’s relationship with G-d.

We have so many great gifts, and we should enjoy them fully.  Our gift of the ability to make others happy and to give to them allows us, briefly, to be “G-d like”.  Our own enjoyment of the world is incomplete if we cannot share it with others.  Make the effort to have an open home and bring others into your world.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about making small sacrifices to have guests, such as sharing your room or possessions with a visitor.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever felt uncomfortable in another’s home?
  • What makes you comfortable in any home, no matter how humble?
  • Discuss the difference between entertaining and hosting – my party vs. the guest’s needs.
  • What sacrifices are you willing to make to have a guest and what are you not willing to do?

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.

THE POWER OF WE…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YAK HEL / PEKUDEI

VKH-P1As parents, we all know how much work goes into running a household. Nothing happens by itself; someone must do the dishes, make lunches, drive carpool, go shopping, etc. Children need to have the confidence that they’re cared for, but they should eventually learn about the efforts involved and what they can do to pitch in. How do we balance the two ideals?

In our Portion, the Jewish people constructed the Sanctuary (Mishkan). All members of the community were required to do their part, commensurate with their abilities. Whether the contribution took the form of a donation or volunteering, each and every person’s involvement was a crucial element in reaching the final product. Only with everyone’s participation did the Sanctuary become a special place.

It’s easy to take things for granted. Our children grow up in a society of plentitude and become used to things being there for him or her. Yet, it takes hard work to create anything. A household can only function properly with the labors of hard-working parents, and a special environment can only be achieved by way of planning and effort. Everyone’s contribution, and occasionally sacrifice, is necessary. Young children can be given small tasks in relation to their age and congratulated for pitching in. Putting away clothes, washing dishes, making their bed, all are helpful for the family effort. If we model chores correctly ourselves, they can even be seen as a privilege. Being a part of a family beyond only our own needs, all contributing commensurate with their abilities, makes a home very special.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the power of WE – with everyone working together for the good of all.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Name five actions or activities your parents do for your family.
  • Would you be OK if some of these things were missing?
  • What do you do to pitch in? What more could you do?
  • How do you feel when you know that others appreciate what you do?

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.

CHORES AND “A WILLING HEART”…

TORAH PORTION: TERUMAH

Terumah3Children often complain about homework and chores. Too much of the time they do these things unwillingly, grudgingly. Parents need to coax, chide and threaten before their child’s responsibilities are complete. Moaning and groaning ensue. In the end, most parents see to it that children learn to be responsible, but they are baffled about how to encourage a better attitude in them.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites offer materials and skills to build the sanctuary. However, not everyone has to give, only “everyone whose heart makes him willing”. The people of Israel ultimately give freely and generously with an open heart, each contributing what they can in order to build the sacred sanctuary. In the end, there is more than enough.

In an ideal world, children would fulfill their responsibilities with a “willing heart” instead of whining and complaining their way through their chores. But parents have enough on their plates to see to it that children do what they have to do. No one can really force someone else to have a better attitude. The best that parents can do to is to reason with their children and to model how they themselves fulfill responsibilities. Do they do so with a heavy heart, with complaints, or do what they have to do, gladly and willingly? The more open-hearted and willing parents are, the more they can show their children how to live willingly, even joyfully, amidst the serious obligations of life.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the way they feel about their chores and obligations.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

    • Which chores are hardest for you? Why?
    • Which parts of your homework are hardest for you? Why? What would
      help you get through it?
    • Why are chores and obligations important to do?
    • Could resisting chores be a habit? Could you develop a better attitude if you wanted?

     

 
By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses
Values & Ethics: Through a Jewish Lens is created to bring values/ethics of Judaism into family discussions.

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.