Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Fighting

AVOIDING HURTING WORDS…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YERA

va-yera3We use words to express so many different things: from basic things like “I’m hungry” to deeper things like “I love you.” Words have power to do good, but it is easy to forget how much harm we can do with them. We often think that our words cannot be hurtful if the person we are speaking about is not around. But with the prevalence of e-mail, texting, and twitter, seldom do our words end when we first express them. It is safe to assume that any words we say will be heard again.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-Yera, Sarah’s words would be hurtful to Abraham. Thinking he cannot hear, she laughs about her aged husband’s ability to father a child in his old age. Imagine how Abraham would feel if he had heard Sarah’s laughter. Later in speaking to Abraham, God rephrases Sarah’s words so as not to hurt Abraham’s feelings. The Torah is teaching us to avoid hurtful speech.

How often do we speak carelessly and hurt those we love? Sarah shows us how easy this is to do. This lesson shows us how to communicate when we are upset. We learn from them that being in a relationship means using our words to heal, not only after we have been hurt but also after we have hurt someone else. Pausing to take a deep breath and counting to ten helps us to rephrase or avoid hurtful words. Shalom bayit, peace in the house, is the responsibility of each family member.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being careful with their words.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What can you do to avoid speech that hurts others?
  • What are words that you can say after you have hurt someone?
  • What is a good way to express your feelings when you have been hurt by someone else’s words?
  • When is it hard to forgive? What makes it easier?

By Rabbi Judith Greenberg

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

CHOOSE HARMONY…

TORAH PORTION: LECH LECHA

lechlecha3As parents, we are often handling disputes between our children. Isn’t it amazing how each child thinks he or she is justified, correct, and not at fault? Because fighting within a family is very common, our efforts have to focus everyone on the importance of living in peace. Disagreements will happen, and we may feel very justified in our positions, but that doesn’t mean that acrimony must prevail.

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, Abraham feels forced to asks his nephew Lot to part ways. Lot had accompanied Abraham through many of his travels, but staying together has become too difficult because their shepherds are constantly fighting. Abraham realizes that the disagreement is bound to continue, as each side was very sure of its position. Instead of allowing matters to deteriorate, Abraham chooses to put distance between himself and Lot. His goal is to preserve the harmony between them.

Separation is an extreme solution to a problem that could be handled by being willing to try to understand others. We can make that choice even when we think (or know) that the other person is wrong. Whether with a colleague, friend, or family member, there is almost always a way to maintain harmony in the face of different views, even if the solution is to agree to disagree. With creative thinking, humility, and acceptance, useless fighting can be avoided. Teach your kids to show humility, understanding, and acceptance of the views of others so they can avoid useless fighting.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being smart enough to choose peaceful solutions.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Give an example of a fight that you could have avoided.
  • What possible compromises can you think of that would have prevented ongoing fighting?
  • Should we always be so sure that we’re right?

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.

CONTROLLING ANGER…

TORAH PORTION: EKEV

ekev2What do you do when you get angry? Slam a door? Yell at someone? Just sulk? Well, if you never get angry, that’s fantastic. However, most of us do struggle with feelings of anger. We are confident that everything should be the way we want it, and when things go awry, we become insecure and angry.

This week’s Torah portion, Ekev, encourages us to disavow idol worship in all its forms, even physically destroy idols. Sometimes though, the ‘idol’ isn’t really an image or sculpture; it is ourselves. Anger is a self-centered indulgence, a modern form of idolatry.

Anger is our reaction to things not going the way we think they should. I’ve put myself and my wants on such a high pedestal that nothing else matters. I’m so sure that things should go my way that, when they don’t, I feel threatened and out of control. I’ll attempt to exercise my control over something else to compensate. I may break an object or yell at someone to regain a feeling of security. All I see is myself. In that case my idol is what looks back at me in the mirror.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the ways they handle feelings of anger.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Talk about a few things that have made you angry.
  • How could you have reacted differently?
  • Is it ever good to get angry?
  • Is it possible to think rationally about anger while you’re getting angry?
  • Does taking a break before responding help to calm you down?

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 TONE OF YOUR VOICE…

TORAH PORTION: DEVARIM

devarimAll kids use sarcasm at a certain point in their lives. It can be light-hearted or disrespectful and mean-spirited. Parents are often at a loss as to how to respond to it. If you call your children on it, they often say, “I was only joking”. Sarcasm is a slippery behavior, often hard to pinpoint.

This week’s Torah portion, Devarim, retells the story of the spies who traveled to the Promised Land and come back with a negative report to the Israelites camped in the desert. God is angry with them, not only for the negative things they say and the way they demoralize the rest of the people, but also for their tone of voice.

This teaches us that respect actually involves more than the words we use. The tone of one’s voice and body language are also powerful vehicles of meaning. The question is how to teach this to our children. One strategy is to ignore sarcastic remarks. When they are not fed with the oxygen of attention, they are often extinguished. Beyond that, parents should generally insist on respectful communication with them and with their siblings. Furthermore, parents should not exhibit sarcasm with one another or to their children. Children hear it enough from their peers.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of respectful discussion.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • In what kind of situations do others use sarcasm? Why?
  • What response lessens the sting of another person’s sarcasm?
  • How are you affected by the tone of voice of others?
  • Do you raise your voice to make a point? Is it effective?

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.

BULLYING & NAME CALLING…

TORAH PORTION: CHUKAT

chukat2Often children label entire groups as “weird” or “bad” or “uncool”. Sometimes they join cliques or engage in a kind of social warfare at school, with one group pitted against another. The worst example of social warfare becomes violent, such as bullying or joining gangs. Even if their children don’t engage in the worst examples of social warfare, many parents wish their children wouldn’t be so judgmental and would be more socially open to others.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, the Children of Israel are traveling through the desert when their beloved leader, Miriam, dies. Then there is no water for the community. They complain to Moses, saying “Why did you take us from Egypt in order to bring us to this evil place?” God tells Moses to speak to the rock to draw forth water from it. Instead, Moses angrily hits the rock saying: “Listen now, O rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?” In his anger, Moses uses a destructive label for his people in public.

How can parents teach their children to be more open to others? Showing tolerance and respect for others, despite their shortcomings, can teach children to do the same. Rejecting others, on the other hand, for how they dress, or how they raise their children, to name two examples, can be internalized by children as the way to behave with their friends. Parents can discourage labeling others at home. In this way, children can learn, over time to have a healthy respect for others who are different from them, rather than putting others down in order to raise up their own self-worth.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about social groups and cliques in school and how they can be hurtful.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How is social life at school organized? Do some kids publicly reject others?
  • Is there ever name-calling at school? Bullying?
  • How should one respond to such behavior?
  • Does picking on others make the doer feel better or worse about himself?

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.