Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Problem Solving

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.

TEMPTATIONS…

TORAH PORTION: BALAK

balak2It is hard to resist temptation. In order to do so, one must have a strong sense of right and wrong and be able to assess the situation rationally. Temptation exists everywhere in our world in varying degrees. Sometimes it comes in the question of an extra piece of dessert. Sometimes it is a less than honest way to get a better grade, and sometimes it takes even a more serious form. But there is always a price when we give in to temptation, and that price is transgressing one of our own values or ethics. In the case of the candy, it might be a promise to oneself to eat healthier, and in the case of the grades it is honesty.

In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, the Israelites are camped in the desert near the Midianites. The Israelites find themselves tempted in many ways by this foreign culture. They are drawn to their foreign food, their foreign gods, and their foreign women. They indulge their temptations, and it causes havoc in the community.

Our tradition and our lives are full of stories of temptation. People weaken for financial gain, or we become so absorbed in ourselves that we ignore people we care about. Whatever temptation lies on one end of the scale, there is a value that we hold dear on the other. It is important that we know what our values are so that we can make sure that they outweigh the temptations we encounter.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about using their values to avoid temptation.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some things that tempt you?
  • What do you do to resist those temptations?
  • Are their temptations that you give in to?
  • How do you decide which temptations are “OK” and which are not?

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

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.