Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Honesty

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.

BREAKING THE CYCLE OF DECEIT…

TORAH PORTION: TOLDOT

toldot3Nothing gets you attention at summer camp like pulling a good prank. The pranks start out small:  first the boys bunk toilet papers the girls’ cabin. The girls retaliate by short-sheeting the boys’ beds. The boys hit back by putting the girls’ luggage in the dumpster and soon the boys find their own sleeping bags filled with shaving cream. Before you know it, a full-blown prank war spirals out of control between all the boys and girls in the eldest division.

No one is safe from the practical jokes – or from punishment from the Camp Director. What began with one roll of toilet paper and a small act of trickery quickly erupts into a serious situation with serious consequences. In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Toldot, Jacob pulls the ultimate prank on his father Isaac. He pretends to be his twin brother Esau in order to receive the blessing reserved for Isaac’s firstborn son. Though Jacob fled from his father’s house, he could not escape his deceitful act. Just as Jacob fooled his own father, Jacob himself was deceived in turn by his father-in-law Laban and by his own sons.

Just as Jacob could not escape from his history of trickery, our misdeeds follow us in unimaginable ways as well. As one deceitful act leads to the next, it can feel like we are stuck in a never-ending prank war. It’s hard to break the cycle. However, before the deceit follows us with serious consequences, we must figure out how to call a truce.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the ways our deceitful acts follow us.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever pulled a prank? Has anyone ever pulled a prank on you?
  • What was it like to pull the prank? What was it like to be on the receiving end?
  • Have you ever deceived anyone? Has anyone ever deceived you? How did it feel?
  • Have your actions ever come back to haunt you?
  • How can you break the cycle?

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.

KEEPING YOUR WORD: IT’S EASIER SAID THAN DONE…

TORAH PORTION: MATOT

matot1Words flow around us all day long and sometimes are taken lightly. Promises also can be made easily, but keeping them often is another matter. Adults might make too many promises to children about what they can have in the future, or children make may promises to adults about behaving better, which they are not always able to keep. It is important to check inside ourselves on our ability to fulfill a promise before we make it. Otherwise, our words will have little value and will not be taken seriously by our children.

This week’s Torah Parsha discusses vows and the importance of not breaking a pledge. Judaism teaches not to make a verbal commitment unless you really mean it. Such a commitment is something one is morally obligated to honor, even if it later becomes inconvenient.

Even apart from the seriousness of promises, there is the issue of what we say in daily discourse. It is easy to say what we do not ultimately mean. Think for a moment about how often we say “No” and subsequently our children by the very strength of their bargaining powers, or, for that matter their whining, turn it into a “Yes”. While saying no is not exactly a promise, our children will begin to believe that we do not mean what we say. It is important to think before we speak, not to make promises lightly and not even to say “No” or “Yes” if we don’t believe that we can stand by our words.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of keeping promises.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever broken a promise?
  • Has anyone ever broken a promise made to you? How did you feel?
  • When do you think you should make promises?
  • Should some promises have a specific time stated for completion?

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.

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.