Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Honesty – Page 2



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.


  • 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.



ha-azinuEvery so often we get caught, or catch ourselves, doing something wrong. Very often we come up with creative justifications for what we did. The person I snapped at was rude to me first. Or I stole a video because the store makes too much money anyway.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses reminds us that when we do things that are wrong, we must focus on the imperfection in ourselves and not use twisted logic to find another source of blame. Actually, modern psychological studies show that all people think they are basically good, regardless of how bad their actions. That is because people judge themselves by their motives, not by their actions. Interestingly, early Rabbis said, “All of a person’s ways are right in their eyes.” (Proverbs 16:2)

There is no way to correct our bad actions if we do not see them as wrong. There are people in your life who have the ability to think straight: parents, teachers, coaches, friends, siblings, or grandparents. Look to those in your life who exemplify “untwisted” thinking and objectivity. They are the ones to look up to and try to learn from them.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about self-justification being a road to nowhere.


  • Why is it “twisted” to blame someone else for your mistakes?
  • Suppose the other guy or girl really is wrong: why is it helpful to focus away from them and into yourself?
  • Think of two older people you know who are wise, mature, and model clarity of thought.

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.



ki-taytzay“You can run, but you can’t hide”. We all have our demons, the parts of ourselves that we wish were better or wish didn’t exist within us. The best way to deal with them is to acknowledge their reality, confront them, and challenge them. Only then do we stand a chance of working them out of our system.

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Taytzay, contains a wonderful mitzvah. We are instructed to return lost objects that we may find lying in the street. Though I may be appreciative of this when I am the owner who lost the wallet, it’s not always an easy mitzvah to fulfill when I’m the finder. The Torah therefore reminds us, “You shall not be able to ignore it”, a profound reminder of your obligation.

Addicts always lie about their addictions, even when it seems comical to the observer. Denying the reality of the addiction is an inherent part of the disease. When it comes to correcting mistakes or dealing with our issues of anger, bigotry, or even lesser things like a desire to get in shape, the first step is acknowledgment. The issue must be confronted directly. Don’t look for other people or situations to blame, and don’t make excuses for mistakes. Take ownership of the issue and tackle it. You can succeed at overcoming it.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being not deceiving themselves.


  • Why does the Torah say that you won’t be able to ignore a lost object?
  • Who benefits from my action when I pick up the wallet and return it?
  • Give an example of something that you can choose to blame on a friend but could also take responsibility for.

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.



va-etchananWe often do not think of the potential consequences before we take action.  Hopefully, we stop to think about the impact on our surroundings when we are making big decisions that require a lot of thought.  But in the moment when we react quickly or when a decision doesn’t seem as though it has far-reaching implications, it is unlikely that we are running through all possible scenarios in our minds.  So what happens when we are later faced with the consequences of those actions?

In this week’s Torah portion, we see Moses dealing with the consequences of his actions. The Israelites arrive at the promised land, and Moses only catches a glimpse of it before finding out that he will not be allowed to enter. A reason is because of something he did in a moment of frustration while traveling in the desert, many chapters back.

How do we act when we are confronted with our actions and asked to take responsibility for them, especially when we find ourselves surprised by the unintended consequences? It is easy to be defensive and full of excuses, explaining that we didn’t mean to hurt someone or to cause harm. However, regardless of our original intention, our challenge is to accept the fact that our actions brought about these consequences. There are times when apologies can begin to make things right, and there are times when, like Moses, we simply need to accept what results from our actions.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about facing up to the consequences of their actions.


  • When was a time you hurt someone and didn’t realize it?
  • How did you act when you found out?
  • Have you been hurt by someone who didn’t know?
  • Did you choose to tell the person, and if so, how?
  • How often do you think of the consequences before you do something?

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



matot4Picture this: Mom comes home and finds broken glass in the kitchen, sticky juice and muddy footprints all over the floor, and no one in sight. Three kids and the dog are watching TV in the den. When mom comes in, everyone shouts “It wasn’t me!” and points their finger across the room. Sound familiar? It’s always easier to blame a younger sibling or the dog. It’s less scary to point your finger at someone else than to point it at yourself.

Even Moses falls into this trap in this week’s Torah reading. Moses accuses Israel’s enemies of tempting the Israelite men to sin, instead of placing the blame on the Israelites themselves.

Is it helpful to place the blame on someone else? Does accusing others fix the problem? When you claim that a mistake is someone else’s fault, not only are you still left with broken glass and a sticky floor, but you have also hurt someone else’s reputation and damaged your relationship. It’s more complicated to improve a reputation and mend a relationship than it is to clean the kitchen. As difficult as it can be to take responsibility for your own actions, try pointing your finger at yourself and admitting truthfully, “It’s my fault.”

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about taking responsibility for their own actions.


  • Have you ever blamed someone else for your actions?  Why?
  • Have you ever been blamed for someone else’s mistake? How does it feel to be accused?
  • What is the downside of being consistently truthful?
  • Why do we usually trust people who are consistently truthful?

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.