Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Problem Solving

KEEPING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE…

TORAH PORTION: SHELACH LECHA

shelach2Mishaps can happen to anyone. Whether it’s stubbing your toe as you get out of bed in the morning, or something more serious like forgetting your lunch at home, we all have our share of annoyances and challenges. The trick is to make sure we stay in charge of our reactions and not let a small mishap escalate to a full-blown crisis.

Our Torah portion, Shelach Lecha, recounts the story of the scouts sent by the Jews to check out the Land of Israel as they drew closer. The spies’ report was very unfavorable. In fact, they seemed to have perceived everything they saw negatively. This attitude rubbed off on the nation; instead of making a realistic evaluation of the report and planning accordingly, they mourned and lamented the fate they were sure awaited them. Their reaction brought about the tragic result of unnecessarily lengthening their stay in the desert by 39 years.

We all “mess up” occasionally. Sometimes we say the wrong word to someone at the wrong time and offend him or her. We can dig in deeper and get upset at the other person’s reaction or we can take control of the situation and apologize properly. Perhaps a spouse left the steaks on for a minute too long. True, I may really enjoy my meat better if it’s rare, but does it really warrant an argument or criticism? Mistakes and mishaps can happen, but we are responsible for our reactions and can ensure that a small mishap remains nothing more than a small bump along the journey of life.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT how well they keep life’s challenges in proper perspective.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Give an example of a minor annoyance or mishap.
  • Give an example of a major crisis or tragedy.
  • In what way should your reaction be different in the two situations?
  • Why is it bad to “make a mountain out of a molehill”?

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.

MISTAKES MAKE GREAT LESSONS…

TORAH PORTION: NASO

Naso2Everyone makes a mistake once in a while. It’s natural to try to run from mistakes, cut losses, hope nobody notices or makes a fuss, and move on. In reality, though, our mistakes are precious opportunities. They give us insight into life and ourselves and allow us to become stronger by learning to avoid the same pitfalls in the future.

In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, we learn about the comeback process after making a big mistake. The verse introduces the topic with the words “And when you shall…”, not “if you shall…”. Mistakes are a built in feature of life and they happen for a very good reason. When they do happen there’s an acknowledgment of error and a process of improvement.

We like to think of ourselves as good people, which we usually are. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect though. Life is a journey of growth and development, and we can only grow if we know where we are deficient. A mistake supplies that piece of the puzzle. Our mistakes teach us what not to do in the future and shine a light on character traits we can improve. Sometimes they can be funny, too!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT the how to benefit by learning from mistakes.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Did you ever learn something from a mistake?
  • Have you ever made the same really bad mistake twice?
  • What’s better: avoiding embarrassment for a few minutes by denying a mistake (even if you’re just fooling yourself) or gaining the confidence of having learned something?

By Rabbi Moshe Becker © 2012 Joyce and Fred Claar

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

IS FREEDOM FREE?

HOLIDAY: PASSOVER

Passover2Freedom is such an attractive concept to us all. We like the idea of doing what we want, when we want. Often we think that being free of rules, regulations, and requirements are important for us to feel free. Could we be wrong in expecting too much of freedom? What if people did exactly as they pleased, whenever they wanted. Life could get very confusing, complicated, and dangerous.

On Passover, we celebrate our freedom from slavery with a Seder. Interestingly the word Seder means order, and our special celebration of freedom starts with 15 steps to follow. None of our other meals has so many requirements. Why does this special meal require us to follow 15 proscribed steps? First a cup of wine, then washing hands, dipping vegetables, breaking the middle matza, storytelling. . .and that is only 40% of the steps.

The wisdom of our tradition teaches that to be free we need order in our lives. Only within a structure of order and responsibility can we be free to pursue our desires. Imagine if others were free to harm themselves or us. Imagine if everyone was so free and did not have to follow rules; chaos would result. In chaos, none of us could accomplish what we want. There is wisdom in realizing how much our freedom depends on a structure of rules and laws for the benefit of all.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT how rules are important for our safety and our freedom.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What do we like most about freedom?
  • Are there parts of your life in which you feel you do not have freedom?
  • Has there ever been a situation when you wished you did not have so much freedom?

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.

LET EVERYONE SHINE…

TORAH PORTION: TETZAVEH

Tetzevah2We all have talents and abilities, as do our siblings and friends. At times we have difficulty recognizing a sister’s talents; at other times we may be jealous of a sibling’s unique capabilities. We must develop the confidence in our own roles to the point that we can let our brothers and sisters shine.

This week’s Torah portion teaches us about the appointment of Aaron as High Priest and of his descendants as priests forever. This is a permanent and dramatic role that is being granted to Aaron and his family. Moses, who spent his life fighting for the freedom of the Jewish nation, does not receive this honor. The descendants of Moses receive no particular place in the future of the Jewish nation. Yet Moses readily and happily steps aside to allow Aaron to come forth and to shine in his priestly glory.

Families are made up of individuals, but together those individuals form a unit. Just as our bodies have different limbs for different functions, but is still one body, so does a family have different members with different strengths. Allowing each individual’s particular talents to find expression strengthens the entire unit. By acknowledging and celebrating a sibling’s personality, we not only affirm his or her importance as an individual but strengthen ourselves as well. All get their day in the sun – if we let them!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how each family member has unique talents and that, like Moses, we all need to know when to step aside and let others shine.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some unique strengths your siblings have?
  • What is a unique strength you have?
  • Is it hard to think of or acknowledge the strengths of others?
  • What can you do to help affirm a sibling’s talents?

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.

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.