Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Leadership

FREEDOM WITH LIMITS…

TORAH PORTION: VA-ERA

FreedomWithLimitsHow many times have you heard, “I’m bored,” from a child? It’s a rare kid who is able to enjoy large amounts of unstructured playtime. Instructions and limits help kids to enjoy themselves. What would happen to your children if they had a full free afternoon with unlimited sweets? How many kids could avoid boredom and a tummy ache? Though they may not like the idea of rules and restrictions, rules enable
fun and even teach kids how to take care of themselves.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-era, Moses demands that Pharaoh free the Israelites from slavery. Moses is clear why he wants people’s freedom: so that they may serve God. Moses is not seeking absolute freedom for the Children of Israel. Rather, he is seeking to take them from Pharaoh’s harsh rule to the loving guidance of God. Moses knows that unbridled freedom would not be beneficial to anyone. He knows that rules and structures will be liberating for the Israelites.

Though we may bristle at the idea of restrictions placed on ourselves, we see how young people flourish when given clear, easily understood rules. Limits, instructions, and guidelines in our own lives help us to accomplish tasks and fulfill our responsibilities. They enable us to find balance. From speed limits to job descriptions, we, like the Children of Israel, can feel more free with such guidelines.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what helps them have fun.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Who makes the rules you follow?
  • What is a rule that you wish more people followed?
  • What do you think makes something a good rule? A bad rule?

By Rabbi Judith Greenberg

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.

BEING RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR ACTIONS…

TORAH PORTION: KI TAYTZAY

kitaytzay2How can we be sensitive to being influenced by, or influencing, those close to us? The behaviors we model for our children often repeat in their actions. Our expressed beliefs, the stories we tell, and the interests we pursue all have an impact on our children. We all know of families that have generations with the same hobbies, business interests, and views on life.

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Taytzay, introduces this idea of individual responsibility. There is in fact a verse that states that parents shall not be punished for the actions of their children, nor shall children be punished for the actions of their parents. This was a unique idea at the time, a true departure from judging individuals based on the actions of their families.

It can sometimes be difficult for us to step up and take responsibility for the choices that we make because it forces us to take ownership over the decisions. It is much easier for us to say that we made a choice because of what someone else said, what we read, or what we saw. It is true that our choices are shaped by our own experiences, but they are ultimately our choices, and the Torah is telling us that we must take responsibility for our actions.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about understanding that they are responsible for their actions.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Can you share a time that you did not take responsibility for your actions? Why didn’t you? What was the result?
  • When is a time that you did take responsibility for your actions although it may have been difficult?
  • What are some of the outside influences that help shape your choices?

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

PARENTS ARE POWERFUL TEACHERS…

TORAH PORTION: EKEV

ekev1When we teach our children, we don’t only teach them with our words. We teach them with every act we do; in fact, we teach them with who we are at heart. If we go through life angry or resentful, our children will learn anger and resentment. If we go through life critical and judgmental, our children will learn criticism and judgment. Or, if we go through life with love and joy, our children will learn love and joy.

In our Biblical portion it says that we should teach the words of the Torah “when you stay at home and when you are on your way, when you lie down and when you get up”. In other words, wherever we are, each and every one of our actions is a teaching moment, an educational opportunity. In fact, these words comprise a part of the all-important words of the Shema, the Jewish prayer said twice daily as well as before bedtime and before death.

There are so many teaching moments we probably don’t think about as teaching moments. If we pack to go on a trip at the last minute and we are full of anxiety and pressure, that communicates one lesson. If we, however, pack in advance, and feel relaxed and confident about the journey we are to take, that communicates another. When we are outside our home, if we greet people with joy and an open heart, we are teaching our children to do the same. However, if we pass people by on the street never stopping because we are in a rush, that imparts yet another kind of lesson. If we stop on the street because someone needs help, that imparts a lesson concerning what kind of neighbors we can be in this world. Of course we can’t be perfect, and parents can be stressed for a multitude of reasons. Yet it’s important to keep in mind that every moment is a potential teaching moment and to do our utmost to be the best models we can be.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about what others learn from their actions. They are models for their friends and siblings.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some of the things you learn from your parents? How do you learn these lessons?
  • What do you think are some of the most important things you learn from your parents?
  • What do you teach others? What do you teach your friends and your brothers or sisters?
  • What do you learn from your friends and from your brothers or sisters?

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.