Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about New Challenges

WHY ALL THOSE RITUALS?

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIKRA

vayikra2Living our lives can get messy at times. Relationships do not always go smoothly. Even when we do not mean to, we can annoy others by accident. Miscommunications can strain relationships. Life is a beautiful adventure, but it can also be a little difficult to navigate.

This week’s Torah portion spells out many religious rituals. Why are there so many to perform? Turns out those routines are much easier to perform correctly than acting properly in real life. Lighting Shabbat candles on Friday night is much easier to do once instructed, than properly managing many aspects of our lives. The feelings created by prayer during rituals are much more meaningful to us than our words. Prayer gives us a chance to focus on our lives and to be consciously grateful for the blessings and gifts we often take for granted. Prayer also gives us a chance to focus privately on strengthening our weaknesses, which we all have. The more we reinforce and rededicate ourselves to change, the better chance our weaknesses will become smoothly integrated assets in our lives.

Rituals are very much a part of all our lives. Daily we perform the routines of brushing our teeth, showering, reading, and exercising because we know the benefits these bring. Many rituals infuse physical, mental, or spiritual growth into our lives. Are we open to new routines? Parents can guide children in what areas of their lives need improvement and in developing rituals to help reach goals. Rituals that lead to growth are much easier to perform properly than taking on life’s challenges unrehearsed.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being open to expanding routines in their lives.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Which rituals that you perform are the easiest to complete?
  • Which routines in your life are most meaningful to you?
  • What areas in your life are most in need of changing?
  • Can you think of any routines that could help you master your challenges?

By Fred Claar

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

WHAT IS INSIDE US IS MOST IMPORTANT…

TORAH PORTION: TERUMAH

TERUMAH2As we grow, we are trying to develop ourselves. We spend time on how we look, the styles we like, and how we wear our hair. Often we spend more time on what is outside us than what is inside.

This week’s Torah portion Trumah deals with building the sanctuary in the desert. Instructions are clear that the outside should be plain, orderly, neat, and clean but not showy. The inside is clearly the more important place where it is permissible to exhibit the most beautiful decorations and objects. Our bodies are our own sanctuary. Clearly, in Judaism how we develop our inside, the inner us, is most important.

Of course, it is important for people to feel good about how they look on the outside. Judaism is saying that you should look good on the outside but never
forget to focus especially on your inner development. As parents, we can help our kids develop their inner qualities. Peers have a large amount of influence over the way our kids like to look. Parents have the opportunity to be teachers to help their children develop beautiful and meaningful values that they can always carry around inside themselves.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of developing inner values and ethics.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are the best qualities inside you?
  • What other qualities would you like to possess inside?
  • How could you develop other good qualities inside?

By Fred Claar

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

WHAT’S THE USE OF COMPLAINING?

TORAH PORTION: BESHALACH

WhatsTheUseOfComplaining“This is boring!” “When are we going to get there?”  “He has more toys than I do!” Children can get into the habit of complaining and whining again and again.  They often seem not to notice their many gifts and blessings and simply complain as if they live a life of hardship and deprivation, despite how much they have.

In this week’s Torah portion, the children of Israel do likewise. After passing through the Red Sea and arriving safely in the wilderness, the first thing they do is whine. “We don’t have any food or water!” “We’re going to die in the desert!” Though they are granted sweet water to drink and manna falls down from the sky, they continue to complain throughout their time in the wilderness. Their life in Egypt was a period of terrible hardship and enslavement, yet once in the wilderness, they recall it as a time when they had everything they needed.

How can parents help their children feel gratitude for the blessings in their lives, rather than focusing on what they don’t have or what is difficult? Perhaps parents can do a favor for their children by not responding to each complaint. Parents can also shift their own mindset to a sense of gratitude for all the good in their lives when there is an impulse to complain. Doing something as prosaic as keeping a gratitude journal or list makes us more attuned to what we do have than to what may be missing or in short supply. Even if hardship or illness has visited us or those we love, we can still be grateful for the many blessings we have. Stressing the positive aspects of our lives for our children, rather than reinforcing perceived negatives, can be a powerful role model.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of focusing on their many blessings in life and not on what may be missing.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • For what things in your life are you grateful?
  • What do you wish was different in your life and why?
  • Does complaining get results or just release tension?
  • Do you admire people in ill health or in difficult situations who rarely complain?

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.

THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YESHEV

va-yeshev2Have you been pushed to go to an event that you did not want to attend, and then had a great time? Ever start out disliking a very demanding teacher who later in the year becomes appreciated for making you a much better student? In life many times “things might not be what they seem at first”.

This week’s Torah portion, Va-yeshev, contains what might be one of the most famous examples of the idea that things which start off badly might come to a good end. Joseph, the favored youngest son of Jacob, is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. He seems destined for a life of enslavement in Egypt when a turn of fortune brings him into good graces with the Pharoah. Joseph’s life quickly changes as he rises to the top of Egyptian society, gaining fame, security and fortune. This is a very positive end to a dreadful beginning.

Sometimes we simply need to look a little harder to find the good in what feels bad. Often we just need patience to wait for changes. It can be hard to hold out hope when things feel as though they are not going your way, but a positive outlook on the world can go a long way towards making situations feel more manageable. Being able to look forward and see a “light at the end of the tunnel” can help make the journey there much easier.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about some positive unexpected outcomes in their life and in yours.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • When was a time in your life that you had an unexpected outcome?
  • How does it make you feel when events don’t turn out the way you expect?
  • How do you manage when things don’t feel like they are going your way?

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

IT IS NOT BEYOND REACH…

TORAH PORTION: NITZAVIM

nitzavim2It’s not too hard, we tell our children, when they want to do something new. It just takes some effort and practice and sometimes courage to do it. It can be difficult, though, to tolerate seeing our children struggle. If we protect our children from struggle and from learning new skills that they are not immediately good at, they won’t understand that taking on new projects requires patience, effort and perseverance.

In our Torah portion this week it says, “It is not in the heavens”; in other words, what the Torah instructs is not beyond us to accomplish. Although much effort is required, the ethical and spiritual precepts of the Torah are eminently attainable as well as rewarding.

It is important that our children see us taking on new and difficult projects. The new project can be as specific as learning a new instrument, or as amorphous as committing oneself to an ethical precept, such as honesty. They will learn from our modeling that some struggle is inherent in accomplishment, even in adulthood. When appropriate, share with your children your struggles so they know what it’s like to strive for something important.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about some of their dreams for what they would like to accomplish.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What new thing would you like to try?
  • What things, if any, are you afraid to try?
  • What makes it difficult to try?
  • Have you ever found something to be worth the effort even though you could not fully accomplish what you wanted?

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.