Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Honesty

HOW TO USE YOUR MOST POWERFUL WEAPON…

TORAH PORTION: TAZRIA

TAZRIA2Everyone is born with a powerful weapon, which can be used for both good and evil. This weapon grows over time, but remains small and mostly concealed. It’s bumpy, pink and slippery, but can be pulled out and put away in a blink of an eye. This weapon is your tongue. Your tongue is used to create thousands of words every day, and each word has the power to harm or to heal, to hurt or to help. We are defined by how we use our tongues and by the words that leave our lips each day.

This week’s Torah portion, Tazria, teaches us about the strength of words. The ancient Sages believed that leprosy was a punishment for slander and spreading malicious gossip. By gossiping, you hurt someone’s reputation and make them appear poorly in public. In return, you are punished with a skin disease that causes you to appear poorly before others.

Once words are released, they cannot be brought back. Your tongue is like an arrow.  Once unleashed, it cannot be withdrawn. Like arrows, words have the ability to pierce those with whom they come in contact. We must be careful with our most precious weapons, our tongues, and the words they create.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how our words define us, and how words can be both helpful and harmful.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • When have your words hurt someone else?  How did you feel after saying something hurtful?
  • When has another person’s words hurt you? How did it feel?
  • How can you use your words to help others?
  • How will you use your most powerful weapon, your tongue?

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.

MASKS AND IDENTITY…

HOLIDAY: PURIM

PurimFrom the time we are born, our identities begin to evolve.  In certain instances however, our identities become fixed over time, especially as they are formed in relationship to siblings. “She’s the smart one”, we think to ourselves. “He’s the one good at sports”.  “She’s the one with the special needs; I’m the perfect one”.  We often define ourselves in relation to another sibling, especially if parental expectations solidify those identities.  Overstressed parents, who may have a child with problems or special needs, might expect another child to be “perfect” or at least more self-sustaining.  Such expectations might influence how the child will behave at home, not wanting to further stress his/her overtaxed parents.

Purim is the time on the Jewish calendar to play with identities.  We wear masks and costumes and raucously celebrate the story of Esther and Mordechai, where everyone becomes their opposite.  It is a wonderful tale of a Queen who, by overcoming her fear of rejection, or punishment, saves the Jewish people with the help of her cousin Mordechai, a tale that mixes humor and solemnity, danger, and drunkenness.

While Purim is a holiday of pure fun, more serious themes underlie all the celebration.  Themes of having courage in the face of potential annihilation and changing one’s identity are some of the more serious ideas underlying a holiday that is perfectly made for the imagination of children.  The holiday reminds us that whoever we think we are, we can change, especially in the service of a higher purpose, like helping other people.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the way we sometimes change our identity or “mask” depending on the social situation.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Are we different at school or with friends than at home?
  • How are you and your brother and/or sister different?  How are you similar?
  • Are there things your brother and/or sister excel at that you don’t try because you think of it as “their thing”?
  • What, if any, defined roles do you and each of your siblings play in the family dynamic?

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.

SPEAKING SOFTLY…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIGASH

SpeakingSoftlyYoung children are impulsive. They can’t really help it. They feel so intensely they blurt out whatever is on their minds, sometimes with love and sometimes in rage. It’s our job as parents to help them translate the intensity of their feelings into appropriate behavior. They might be angry, but they can’t mistreat their brother or sister, friend or parent. They need to find the right words to express what they are going through. They might want something belonging to a friend or sibling, but they can’t just grab it; they must ask for it respectfully.

In this week’s Torah Portion, Vayigash, Joseph, unrecognizable to his brothers dressed as Egyptian royalty, tests his brothers for having thrown him into a pit and selling him into slavery. He plants his silver goblet in his beloved younger brother Benjamin’s sack, and once it’s discovered declares that Benjamin will be his slave. Judah, an older brother, approaches Joseph with gentleness and softly speaks: “Please, my lord, let your servant speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself”. Doing so, Judah diffuses the tension in the situation. In response, Joseph breaks down and reveals his real identity to his brothers.

By speaking softly at home we can teach children that shouting is not the most effective way. Gentleness can often be more productive than harsh yelling. The more we curb our own compulsions, the more we can show our children that kindness can be more effective in the world.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about what it means to treat someone with loving kindness.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How do you like to be treated?
  • How do you feel when you are treated with less than kindness?
  • How do you feel inside when you are mean to others?
  • What are the results of raising your voice and increasing tensions?

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.

DEALING WITH DISHONESTY…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YETZE

va-yetze2There are times when we all deny the truth, especially when accused. When Adam was accused of eating the apple by God, he blamed it on Eve, and she blamed it on the snake. It’s difficult to confront people directly with the truth when we know they are lying. It can be easier to go along with whatever dishonesty another person is perpetuating rather than confront him or her.

We can take a lesson from our patriarch Jacob in this week’s Torah portion, Vayetze. Laban, his father-in-law, tricked Jacob by giving him Leah first as a wife, when the younger sister Rachel had been promised. Jacob says to him, “It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times”. After twenty years of living under the thumb of his father-in-law, he courageously confronts him directly with the truth.

We can communicate the importance of honesty to our children by being honest ourselves and calling others on their dishonesty, including our children. There are many acts that we don’t want to own up to in our lives. But perpetuating lies by being silent can be very destructive in the life of a family. It can teach children that they should construct a false self to present to the world in order to be safe. Better and more courageous to be as honest as possible in our day-to-day dealings, so that children can learn the same.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about the importance of honesty.

CONNECT WITH THEIR LIVES:

  • Did you ever catch one of your friends in a lie?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • How did you respond?
  • In what other ways could you have responded?

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.

BEING ABSOLUTELY HONEST…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YERA

va-yera1We, as parents, tell our children never to lie. However, as adults we most probably tell white lies fairly often. “How do I look in this dress?” a wife asks her husband as they walk into a party. Is that the moment the husband should tell the absolute truth and say– “darling, I hate to tell you, but that dress makes you look fat”? Or should the husband say, “Beautiful– that color brings out your eyes”. Ethically, are there ever times to lie? Yes. When the truth will hurt someone’s feelings for no good reason. When a three year old on a city bus, for instance, points to an obese man and says loudly, “Why is that man so fat?”, we surely tell him to hush, even though he is surely telling the truth.

In this week’s Torah portion, Sarah, when she hears that she will bear children, says to herself: “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment, with my husband so old?” God amended Sarah’s comment when God repeats it to Abraham, telling him that she said, ‘Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?’ The tradition understands God’s change, leaving out the part about her husband being so old in order to promote something called “shalom bayit”, peace in the household.

So, where does that leave us with our children? Do we tell them lying is wrong? Or do we give them the more complicated version of the truth, that lying is sometimes necessary to spare someone’s feelings in order to maintain peace? It depends on the age of the child. Younger children can only understand clear rules — never lie — as opposed to it’s okay sometimes to lie. But older children begin to understand moral complexity. You can explain the notion of lying for the sake of a greater good. But be careful: this ethic can be dangerous. We can all justify to ourselves that we lied in order to spare someone’s feelings, when the truth is, at times, that we lie because we didn’t have the courage the hard truth requires.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about how destructive lying is, unless there is a special reason to keep feelings from being hurt.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Can you ever trust people who often lie?
  • Why is lying destructive to all concerned?
  • Is it ever acceptable not to tell the truth? If so, when?
  • Would it be acceptable to lie if you or someone with you were being threatened?

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.