Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about New Challenges

“IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT…”

TORAH PORTION: NOAH

noah3Snoopy begins each of his stories with the words “It was a dark and stormy night…”  Even if you’re not a beagle living on top of a red doghouse, life can often feel dark and stormy. Where do you go when you’re having a tough day? Whom do you turn to when you’re having a bad night? We often turn to our families to help us through the rough patches in life.

Like Snoopy, Noah had many dark and stormy nights. While it rained and poured for forty days and nights, Noah’s ark protected his family. Though the water raged and flooded the entire world, Noah’s wife and children remained secure. As a family, they made it through the flood safely and were able to start their lives again in peace.

Just as Noah and his family were protected from the flood by their ark, we also have our own arks that guard us from the dark and stormy world. Our families are our arks. We turn to our family when we need protection. Like an ark, our families provide us with shelter and guide us through life. However, in order to make sure that our ark feels safe for each family member, we need to watch how we speak to one another and pay attention to how we handle our differences. Maintaining peace and security in our own families helps us keep the stormy world at bay.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways we can make sure that our family feels safe, like an ark, for each family member.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How is our family like an ark? How can our family be more like an ark?
  • How can we make sure that our family is a safe space for each family member?
  • How do we maintain peace in our home and in our family?

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.

FACING OUR PERSONAL MONSTERS…

TORAH PORTION: HA-AZINU

ha-azinu1Perhaps you’re familiar with this nightly ritual: check under the bed for monsters, turn on the night light, tuck child into bed with blankie and favorite stuffed animal, cover child in kisses, and check under the bed for monsters, again. Whether you’re five, fifteen or fifty years old, you have probably dealt with your own share of irrational fears. Whether it’s a fear of flying, public speaking, or spiders – or a fear of monsters hiding under your bed – there are times when the rational part of ourselves is overpowered by our emotions.

We cannot think logically and our deep, dark fears take over. Yet, we each have a treasure trove of personal strengths, such as the ability to give and receive love, to solve problems, or to stay calm and organized. When the monsters begin gathering under our beds, how can we tap into our strengths?

The Children of Israel, in this week’s Torah portion, Ha-Azinu, also had fears and moments of terror. They were afraid of their enemies and of being teased or judged by the larger nations. As they wandered in the wilderness, there were times when they lost hope in themselves and when they stopped believing in Moses and God. They forgot how to access their strengths.

Like the Children of Israel, we too have moments when we’re overpowered by our fears. When these moments come, our greatest resources are our own internal strengths. Often though, we need the support of our families to help us tap into these strengths – and to remind us that we’re strong enough, brave enough, and smart enough to overcome the obstacles in our way. Together, we can learn how to face the spiders, airplanes, and monsters hiding under each of our beds.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about identifying their personal fears and strengths.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What scares you, and why?
  • What are your personal strengths?
  • How can you use your strengths to overcome your fears?
  • How can your family help you overcome your fears?

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.

FREE WILL & DISCIPLINE…

TORAH PORTION: RE-EH

re-eh2All parents try to discipline their children. They have different methods, but generally parents are trying to influence their children to be moral and to behave appropriately. Imposing any kind of discipline rests on the assumption that children have free will. They can choose what is good and reap rewards, or choose what is bad and suffer the consequences.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re-eh, Moses tells his people: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse”. The people have a choice: they can obey the commandments and reap blessings, or they can fail to listen to the commandments and suffer. It is assumed by the Torah that people have freedom to choose and direct their own actions even when it is difficult to control their impulses.

Children have very powerful impulses. They want to have fun, they want to test limits, they want to feel that they are in control. They aren’t particularly interested in self-control. That is why a system of rewards and consequences is particularly important to shape children’s behavior over time. But how can parents figure out the right amount of discipline and the most effective methods? It’s important to find a balance between being overly strict and too permissive. Teach children to take responsibility for their own actions. Allow them to problem solve with you.

Be consistent in your responses to them. And, most importantly, allow them the freedom to make their own mistakes, the freedom that allows them to discover that their own actions lead them to reward or consequence. As they get older, their sense of self-discipline will grow, and hopefully they won’t need an external system of reward and punishment.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what it means to have free will.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What kinds of choices are hard for you?
  • What have you learned from making a poor choice?
  • What helps you to make the best choices?
  • How do you respond when consequences do not fit the deed?

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.

BALANCING OUR PASSIONS…

TORAH PORTION: PINCHAS

pinchas2Life is a series of choices that we make every day. Some choices don’t feel so important. A bagel versus cereal for breakfast probably won’t make much difference to us, but other choices definitively shape the direction of our lives and the impact we make on this world. Some of us are passionate about. The weighty choices are often tied to the things that we are most passionate about and the most invested in, which also makes them the choices in which we stand to lose the most. So it is no surprise that, when we find ourselves confronted with a choice, we use our passion to help us make our decision. But we must strive to find a balance between that passion and practicality.

In this week’s passage, Pinchas sees a fellow Israelite behaving in a way that he believes to be unjust. His passion is fueled and in his desire to right this injustice, he takes the law into his own hands. He did in fact see the man breaking a law, but does that mean that it was acceptable for him to serve as judge and jury?

Our lives would be empty without passion. The things that we care about – the environment, sports, politics, family, learning – add depth to our character, joy to our lives, and reasons to engage with the world. However, passion has to be tempered with reason. We need a balance in our lives. Sometimes our passion can drive us to take action, but sometimes we need to refrain. This balance can be incredibly difficult to achieve, yet there is great wisdom in it.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how their passions affect their actions.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What activity or interest are you most passionate about?
  • Has there been a time when your passion caused you to act when you should have stood back?
  • What would have happened had you not acted?
  • Have your passions changed as you have grown older?

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

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.