Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Gratitude – Page 2

TREES ENHANCE OUR LIVES…

HOLIDAY: TU B’SHEVAT

TUBSHEVATOn our daily journeys we pass by so much of value that we barely notice. For instance: trees. Our very lives depend on trees. They provide us with fruit, shade, paper, often the homes we live in, and much of our furniture and other objects that we use on a daily basis. They are also a source of beauty and respite. Despite their importance, they tend to become the backdrop for our lives– easy to pass by with barely a thought or a glance.

Jewish tradition celebrates the New Year of the trees. It is called Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Shevat. On Tu B’Shevat trees are planted and rituals of eating fruits and nuts and drinking wine are observed. It is a kind of birthday of the trees, and in Israel it is the time when the first fruit-bearing trees
awaken from their winter sleep and begin their cycles.

Judaism teaches that we should plant and protect trees. We should plant trees, no matter how old we are, so that future generations can enjoy their beauty, shade, and usefulness. We should protect trees, especially those that bear fruit, for the benefit of all society. Tu B’Shevat can be observed traditionally in a kind of seder with plates of dried fruits and nuts, fresh fruit, grape juice, or wine. Or it can simply be a special day for you and your children to notice the value and beauty of trees in your lives. Even at the coldest time of year, we can have faith that spring and renewal will come soon again.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about trees and all that they give us.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Which kinds of trees do you like and why?
  • What are some of the wooden objects you use in your everyday lives?
  • Why plant a tree that takes so long to grow and mature?
  • How do our lives depend upon trees?

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.

WHAT’S THE USE OF COMPLAINING?

TORAH PORTION: BESHALACH

WhatsTheUseOfComplaining“This is boring!” “When are we going to get there?”  “He has more toys than I do!” Children can get into the habit of complaining and whining again and again.  They often seem not to notice their many gifts and blessings and simply complain as if they live a life of hardship and deprivation, despite how much they have.

In this week’s Torah portion, the children of Israel do likewise. After passing through the Red Sea and arriving safely in the wilderness, the first thing they do is whine. “We don’t have any food or water!” “We’re going to die in the desert!” Though they are granted sweet water to drink and manna falls down from the sky, they continue to complain throughout their time in the wilderness. Their life in Egypt was a period of terrible hardship and enslavement, yet once in the wilderness, they recall it as a time when they had everything they needed.

How can parents help their children feel gratitude for the blessings in their lives, rather than focusing on what they don’t have or what is difficult? Perhaps parents can do a favor for their children by not responding to each complaint. Parents can also shift their own mindset to a sense of gratitude for all the good in their lives when there is an impulse to complain. Doing something as prosaic as keeping a gratitude journal or list makes us more attuned to what we do have than to what may be missing or in short supply. Even if hardship or illness has visited us or those we love, we can still be grateful for the many blessings we have. Stressing the positive aspects of our lives for our children, rather than reinforcing perceived negatives, can be a powerful role model.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of focusing on their many blessings in life and not on what may be missing.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • For what things in your life are you grateful?
  • What do you wish was different in your life and why?
  • Does complaining get results or just release tension?
  • Do you admire people in ill health or in difficult situations who rarely complain?

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.

WOMEN AS HEROES – WHEN TO HAVE THE COURAGE TO DEFY…

TORAH PORTION: SHEMOT

Shemot-WomenAsHeroesHeroes inspire us. They move us to action when otherwise we might remain stagnant. They are especially important for children, who need role models as they figure out how they want to live in the world. Heroes can be found everywhere, not only in the usual places like history and storybooks, but even in your own extended family or neighborhood. It’s possible to find heroes just by opening one’s eyes and ears to those who are standing up for what’s right wherever they happen to be.

Our Torah portion is filled with heroes. All the heroes who sprinkle the beginning of the portion are women, mostly ordinary, but who display extraordinary courage. Pharaoh, the evil Egyptian king, orders the midwives to kill every male child when they deliver Israelite babies. The midwives disobey Pharaoh. Pharaoh then orders every male Israelite baby to be thrown into the Nile. Mosses’ mother, Yocheved, hides Moses, and then his sister Miriam and the daughter of Pharoah save his life. The daughter of Pharaoh adopts him as her very own son and raises him in the Egyptian palace. 

The midwives, Yocheved , Miriam, and Pharaoh’s daughter all have the strength to disobey an evil decree and therefore sustain life. As far as we know, they were not encouraged to do what they did from an outside source, and they did not consult a morals manual. Rather they had a strong sense of right and wrong and acted from that internal compass. The more we expose our children to those who act from an internal sense of right and wrong, the more our children will develop their own internal moral compasses.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about heroes in our Torah portion or local heroes, who had courage and a strong moral compass.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Who are your heroes? Why?
  • What did they do that inspires you?
  • What would you like to do in your life to inspire others?

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.

SELF-ESTEEM…

TORAH PORTION: MIKETZ

Self-EsteemWe naturally want to make life good for our children. We may be uncomfortable seeing them struggle with homework, and we give them a little more help than we should. Deep down we know that, when they complete the task themselves, they’ll feel much better about themselves and will have learned a lot more about the material and their abilities.

Joseph was abducted and sold by his brothers into slavery. Years later in this week’s Torah portion, when he has become viceroy to the King of Egypt and wields tremendous power, his brothers come to Egypt from Canaan to buy food for their families. As they enter to be interviewed by Joseph, he immediately recognizes his brothers, but they do not know him. Instead of immediately revealing himself or punishing them, he puts them through a series of tests. He gives them the opportunity to show that they had learned to look out for each other and put differences aside. He allows them to redeem themselves in his own eyes and in the eyes of their father Jacob.

The most important thing we give our children is life. The second most important gift we can give them is a healthy self-esteem to enable them to make the most of the life we gave them. Joseph chose the long route, the one that allowed the brothers to look at him, at their father, and at themselves once again. Sometimes we have to be willing to guide our children through a slow process instead of jumping in and fixing things for them, even if it’s difficult for us to watch. Perhaps that means pushing children to complete projects they have chosen or encouraging them to resolve a spat on their own. Give them opportunities to view themselves as successes.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the empowerment of knowing one’s abilities.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Give an example of something you think you are good at doing.
  • Give an example of something you know you could become better at doing.
  • What is the difference between self-esteem and inflated ego?
  • How do self-esteem and humbleness relate?

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 GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE”…

TORAH PORTION: LECH-LECHA

lechlecha2Jealousy rears its ugly head when we’re least expecting it. We may feel jealous of our friend’s summer vacation plans, our brother’s charisma and charm, or our colleague’s corner office. We may be envious of people we love and people we don’t even know. We might resent a model’s shiny hair, thin waist and radiant smile, or a singer’s ability to hit an F-sharp. However, envy fogs our ability to think straight and make good choices.

In this week’s Torah reading, Lekh-Lekha, Sarah was jealous of her maid Hagar. Hagar easily became pregnant while Sarah struggled to conceive. Resentment of Hagar’s good fortune caused Sarah to treat Hagar harshly.

There will always be times when we find ourselves fueled by jealousy. However, like Sarah, we must realize that envy leads us to make poor choices and treat others unfairly. Moreover, jealousy leads us to feel dissatisfied with our own lives so that we don’t appreciate our own good fortune. As opposed to looking over someone else’s shoulder and wanting what he or she has, try to examine the blessings in your own life. When you feel jealous, remember that others are probably jealous of you as well. Try to stand in their shoes and appreciate all the wonderful things you have in your life.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the dangers of jealousy.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • When have you been jealous of others?
  • Why would someone feel jealous of you?
  • How can you remember your own good fortune when you feel envious of others?

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.