Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Honesty

LYING, STAY FAR AWAY…

TORAH PORTION: MISHPATIM

MISHPATIM1“I cannot tell a lie” are the famous words of our first president. Though it is honorable that Washington chose to tell the truth, he could have avoided lying in a different way. He could have considered the potential trouble he would end up in for chopping down the tree.

Mishpatim, this week’s Torah portion, warns to avoid falsehood. The wording is unlike any other instruction or warning in the Torah. Instead of simply saying, “Don’t lie”, it states “keep far away from falsehood”. The Torah is encouraging us to be mindful of our actions and their potential consequences. Stay far away from lying and deception and avoid actions you may need to lie about. If you cannot tell the truth about it, it is probably wrong.

Suppose a child is approached by a classmate who asks him or her to help cheat on an upcoming test. While it may be difficult for children to resist cheating, they certainly would not want to tell anyone they cheated. However, if caught, they will have to choose between admitting to a misdeed and lying. We can “Keep far away” from the temptation to lie by considering the results of our decisions before we make them!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about telling the truth AND being a truthful person.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why is lying wrong?
  • Would you do something bad if you knew you would have to tell someone you did it?
  • Do you trust people that you know tell lies?
  • What about a fraud or deception that doesn’t technically involve a lie?

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.

HUMILITY…

TORAH PORTION: BESHALACH

HumilityWhat gives us our sense of value? Is it our own accomplishments or others recognizing that we’ve achieved success? Is it possible to be humble and self-confident at the same time?

We can learn an important message from Moses. In this week’s portion, his authority was challenged by disgruntled members of the Jewish nation. Moses was well aware of his special relationship with God and the responsibility he carried as leader of the nation. Nonetheless, he truly did not view those achievements as reason for arrogance. Moses was a confident leader but a humble man, recognizing that everything he has is a gift and not an entitlement.

We all need to find this balance. We have innate talents and successes we’ve attained through hard work, but we can still be humble, but not with false or crippling humility that does not allow us to acknowledge our strengths. Humility is living with the understanding that we are simply doing our part by making a unique contribution to the world using the tools and strengths that God has given us. We all have those unique capabilities, so let’s respect ourselves and each other while remaining humble.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how to take their own abilities seriously while not insisting that others also take them seriously.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are you are good at, either naturally or through hard work?
  • If you’re confident about your strengths, does it matter if others don’t know?
  • Can you laugh at yourself?
  • Can making yourself small help you feel big inside?

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.

LYING DOES NOT PAY…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIGASH

LyingDoesNotPayMistakes happen, and as self-respecting folks, we don’t like when we ‘mess up’. It is very tempting, and often convincing, to present and/or perceive the facts a bit differently. We can deny ever having said something compromising or running a stop sign, and maybe convince ourselves that we didn’t do anything wrong. The problem is that we can be a little too short-sighted sometimes.

Joseph is sold by his brothers because they decided they wanted to get rid of him. After selling Joseph, his brothers engage in an elaborate deception designed to give their father the impression that Joseph had been torn apart by wild animals. Much to their shock, Joseph pops up many years later as a ruler in Egypt. Now the brothers are faced with the very uncomfortable reality of being caught. Not only did they commit a crime against their brother, but they also lied to their father.

We rarely lie out of malice or a desire to be dishonest. More often than not, we end up lying because it’s more convenient to say an untruth than to admit to an uncomfortable truth at that particular moment. But if someone else saw or heard, we’re in double trouble now that we’ve lied about it. We must remember to keep the long term ramifications of a lie in mind.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about why lying doesn’t pay. If we come clean right away we’ll usually be forgiven anyway.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why are we tempted to lie?
  • Is it bad to lie or just not smart?
  • Is it ever right to lie?

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.

MOVING BEYOND DENIAL…

TORAH PORTION: MI-KETZ

MovingBeyondDenialSometimes the truth is sitting right in front of us. Sometimes the solution to our problems is the palm of our hands, but we just can’t see it. Luckily, we don’t move through this world alone. We have friends, family, and teachers who can help us gain perspective on our own lives. We just need to learn to listen.

In this week’s Torah portion, Mi-Ketz, Joseph’s brothers are blinded by denial. They have come down to Egypt in search of food due to the famine in their own land. None of the eleven brothers can see that the Egyptian official in front of them is their brother, Joseph, whom they sold into slavery years ago, telling their father that he had died. They probably even convinced themselves that he had died. Joseph tries to give them a hint by seating them in age order, an order only a family member would know. But they are unable to notice this. It is not until Joseph, giving up on all subtleties, says to them,: “I am your brother Joseph,” that they realize who he is.

It took the shock of finding their long lost brother to open their eyes to reality. Do we miss important clues in our own lives? Do we hold back from new challenges because we are in denial about our abilities to handle the new challenge? All of us can break out of denial into reality, but it is hard to do alone. We each have people in our own lives who can help us break from unrealistic denial. Parents, teachers, brothers, and sisters are often able to help us see our own world properly. We just need to be open to them.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what clues to their abilities they may be denying.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • When have you learned a lesson about yourself from a friend?
  • What makes it hard to listen when someone is giving you advice?
  • How can we learn to be more open?

By Rabbi Judith GreenbergTorah

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

HONORING PARENTS…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YESHEV

va-yeshev3Words have power. Just as our words can lift someone’s spirit, so too can they can cause damage. Words can sometimes be smokescreens for what is truly taking place, defense mechanisms to shield us from shame and pain. Seeking approval and love, children frequently want to please their parents. However, when accidents, mistakes, and errors in judgment arise, children will go to great lengths, including lying, to shield themselves from punishment and embarrassment in the eyes of those they love most. What most kids don’t realize is that words of truth and transparency are building blocks of loving, secure relationships.

The story of Joseph and his brothers can be seen as a cautionary tale of parenting and brotherhood. All Jacob’s sons desire is their father’s affection, the same kind of attention that Joseph receives. Yet the more Jacob favors Joseph, the more his other sons resent their brother with the multi-colored coat. We may wonder whether Jacob was aware of how his special attention to Joseph affected his other children. In our Torah potion the brothers act out in anger against Joseph by selling him as a slave, thereby sending him far, far away. Upon realizing the foolishness of their actions, they betray their father’s trust by leading Jacob to believe that Joseph has been eaten by a wild animal. Instead of owning up to their mistakes, Jacob’s sons attempt to save face. Rather than speaking openly about their needs, the brothers end up breaking their father’s heart. How many of us have told a lie or withheld the truth to protect ourselves?

Our children don’t always know how to express their needs, including their desire for our time and affection. They may even tell tall tales or act out in order to get our attention. It is important that our children know that we love them not only when they excel, but also when they have made a mistake. As parents, we can teach our children that the best way to honor their parents is by being honest and using words to create clarity and stronger relationships.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about telling the truth and being honest about their needs.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever withheld the truth to avoid getting into trouble?
  • Is there a difference between telling a lie and withholding information?
  • Did you ever tell a tall tale to get your parent’s attention?
  • Do you have a way of telling your parents that you need them?

By Rabbi Charlie Savenor

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