Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Family

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.

REJUVENATE YOURSELF WEEKLY…

TORAH PORTION: KI TISSA

KiTisa1Our lives are full of commitments, responsibilities, school, and work. Often we are caught up in the demands of our lives and easily forget to focus on what is most important to us: our families and our “inner selves”. When the pressure of our daily life takes us over without a break, difficulties often eventually strike.

Thousands of years ago, before the Torah, time was broken only into months by the moon. The Torah introduced the concept of weeks for the first time in history. Not only did the Torah break time into weeks, it also created, for the first time, the concept of a day of rest each week, Shabbat. Shabbat sanctifies time and is the antidote to our busy pressure-filled lives, presenting us with limits that are healthy for us. Shabbat allows us time to express gratitude for our blessings, time to relax and enjoy our family and community.

Celebrating Shabbat is not always easy. It is a worthwhile challenge to cut back a busy pressure-filled life, but it can not be accomplished overnight. Think about celebrating Shabbat as learning a musical instrument. Nobody goes from a beginner to expert immediately. Start with small doable steps like part of the day at first. On Shabbat do things that are different from other days, making your rest special. Your body, soul, and family require rejuvenation. Give them all a break.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of having sacred time in their lives each week.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Do you think a day of rest each week is a good idea?
  • How could you begin to bring sacred time each week into your life?
  • What goals would you like to accomplish in special sacred time weekly?

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.

LET EVERYONE SHINE…

TORAH PORTION: TETZAVEH

Tetzevah2We all have talents and abilities, as do our siblings and friends. At times we have difficulty recognizing a sister’s talents; at other times we may be jealous of a sibling’s unique capabilities. We must develop the confidence in our own roles to the point that we can let our brothers and sisters shine.

This week’s Torah portion teaches us about the appointment of Aaron as High Priest and of his descendants as priests forever. This is a permanent and dramatic role that is being granted to Aaron and his family. Moses, who spent his life fighting for the freedom of the Jewish nation, does not receive this honor. The descendants of Moses receive no particular place in the future of the Jewish nation. Yet Moses readily and happily steps aside to allow Aaron to come forth and to shine in his priestly glory.

Families are made up of individuals, but together those individuals form a unit. Just as our bodies have different limbs for different functions, but is still one body, so does a family have different members with different strengths. Allowing each individual’s particular talents to find expression strengthens the entire unit. By acknowledging and celebrating a sibling’s personality, we not only affirm his or her importance as an individual but strengthen ourselves as well. All get their day in the sun – if we let them!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how each family member has unique talents and that, like Moses, we all need to know when to step aside and let others shine.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some unique strengths your siblings have?
  • What is a unique strength you have?
  • Is it hard to think of or acknowledge the strengths of others?
  • What can you do to help affirm a sibling’s talents?

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.

FAMILY STORIES FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION…

TORAH PORTION: BO

FamilyStoriesThere are certain stories we tell our children again and again — stories of our own growing up and how we came to be who we are and do what we do. Stories that our parents taught us, stories that often include immigration and making it in America, as well as how life used to be in the “olden” days, feed our children’s imagination, giving them a sense of who they are in the world as well as resources with which to face their own daily struggles. Those stories are telling (so to speak!) what we want to transmit to our children, and through them, to the following generations.

In our Torah portion this week, the plagues start, and it is a story that is to be told to our children and grandchildren. The story of our liberation from Egypt is our story of origin; it is how we came to be who we are as a people. In fact there are many Jewish rituals performed in the name of remembering that we were slaves in Egypt and were freed by God, including observing the Sabbath and the Passover Seder.

Storytelling is vital in any family, but it is important to be aware that there are different genres of storytelling, all vital in their own way. There are fairytales and myths and stories of what children face as they grow up. There are family stories, and then there are the stories of our people, the foundational stories that make up who we are collectively and are transmitted from generation to generation. Stories, for example, about what the Israelites experienced as slaves in Egypt and how they were delivered from slavery can promote moral development and create a sense that we belong to something larger. These stories remind us that we are an ancient people who have survived to this day to tell the tale.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about some of the foundational stories of your family and of the Jewish people.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are your favorite stories?
  • What do you like best about your favorite?
  • Which stories do you like to tell?
  • Who are some of your favorite heroes?
  • Why is it important that we continue to tell stories?

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.