Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Responsibility

FREE WILL…

TORAH PORTION: VA-ERA

FreeWillTry telling a teacher, parent, or friend that you just HAD to do something they deem inappropriate. Nine times out of ten, the response will be “That’s ridiculous! Nobody can force you to do something!” We have a deep belief in, and awareness of, our freedom to choose when making decisions.

In Va’era, this week’s Torah portion, God informs Moses that He will harden Pharoah’s heart and Pharoah will refuse to release the Jews from captivity. Pharoah’s heart is ‘artificially’ hardened, but the rest of us are in fact free to choose between right and wrong. The contrast is deliberate.

Throughout life, one encounters decisions. As we grow, the nature of these challenges shift, but what remains constant is our ability to choose our own path. For the adolescent this may take the form of taking school seriously, resisting smoking, or being kind to others. For people facing serious hardships, all they may have left to choose is how to react and set their attitude. There is always a choice to be made. Let’s celebrate the gift of choice!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about free will and our ability to turn every moment into a victory by making proper choices.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What have friends pressured you to do that you didn’t want to do?
  • Do you have any red lines? Anything you won’t do no matter what?
  • What decisions are you most proud of that were hard to make?

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.

LYING DOES NOT PAY…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIGASH

LyingDoesNotPayMistakes happen, and as self-respecting folks, we don’t like when we ‘mess up’. It is very tempting, and often convincing, to present and/or perceive the facts a bit differently. We can deny ever having said something compromising or running a stop sign, and maybe convince ourselves that we didn’t do anything wrong. The problem is that we can be a little too short-sighted sometimes.

Joseph is sold by his brothers because they decided they wanted to get rid of him. After selling Joseph, his brothers engage in an elaborate deception designed to give their father the impression that Joseph had been torn apart by wild animals. Much to their shock, Joseph pops up many years later as a ruler in Egypt. Now the brothers are faced with the very uncomfortable reality of being caught. Not only did they commit a crime against their brother, but they also lied to their father.

We rarely lie out of malice or a desire to be dishonest. More often than not, we end up lying because it’s more convenient to say an untruth than to admit to an uncomfortable truth at that particular moment. But if someone else saw or heard, we’re in double trouble now that we’ve lied about it. We must remember to keep the long term ramifications of a lie in mind.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about why lying doesn’t pay. If we come clean right away we’ll usually be forgiven anyway.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why are we tempted to lie?
  • Is it bad to lie or just not smart?
  • Is it ever right to lie?

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.

HONORING PARENTS…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YESHEV

va-yeshev3Words have power. Just as our words can lift someone’s spirit, so too can they can cause damage. Words can sometimes be smokescreens for what is truly taking place, defense mechanisms to shield us from shame and pain. Seeking approval and love, children frequently want to please their parents. However, when accidents, mistakes, and errors in judgment arise, children will go to great lengths, including lying, to shield themselves from punishment and embarrassment in the eyes of those they love most. What most kids don’t realize is that words of truth and transparency are building blocks of loving, secure relationships.

The story of Joseph and his brothers can be seen as a cautionary tale of parenting and brotherhood. All Jacob’s sons desire is their father’s affection, the same kind of attention that Joseph receives. Yet the more Jacob favors Joseph, the more his other sons resent their brother with the multi-colored coat. We may wonder whether Jacob was aware of how his special attention to Joseph affected his other children. In our Torah potion the brothers act out in anger against Joseph by selling him as a slave, thereby sending him far, far away. Upon realizing the foolishness of their actions, they betray their father’s trust by leading Jacob to believe that Joseph has been eaten by a wild animal. Instead of owning up to their mistakes, Jacob’s sons attempt to save face. Rather than speaking openly about their needs, the brothers end up breaking their father’s heart. How many of us have told a lie or withheld the truth to protect ourselves?

Our children don’t always know how to express their needs, including their desire for our time and affection. They may even tell tall tales or act out in order to get our attention. It is important that our children know that we love them not only when they excel, but also when they have made a mistake. As parents, we can teach our children that the best way to honor their parents is by being honest and using words to create clarity and stronger relationships.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about telling the truth and being honest about their needs.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever withheld the truth to avoid getting into trouble?
  • Is there a difference between telling a lie and withholding information?
  • Did you ever tell a tall tale to get your parent’s attention?
  • Do you have a way of telling your parents that you need them?

By Rabbi Charlie Savenor

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

TITHING…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YETZE

va-yetze3We all have something to give. By giving, we show that we are responsible for those less fortunate in our communities and, more broadly, in the world. We can give financially, starting as small as a child setting aside a small part of his or her allowance. Or we can give by volunteering our time. Especially when we feel things are missing in our own lives, helping others can help us realize how we are blessed in different ways.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-Yetze, Jacob promises to give a tenth of everything he receives. At this point, he has nothing. He has just run away from home and left everything behind. Having no idea what is before him, he makes this promise. If he remains poor, a tenth would be a small gift, but a dear sacrifice. If he grows wealthy, a tenth would be a much larger gift, but perhaps easier to part with. Jacob makes this promise: whatever comes his way, he will give a tenth of it.

Giving to those less fortunate than ourselves can help us recognize the great blessings in our lives. It reminds us that we cannot take full credit for the richness we receive. Just as Jacob did not know what was before him, we do not know what the future will bring for us. But, like Jacob, we should not wait for a better day to help others; we should commit to help today – and every day.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways your family is able to help others.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • In what ways do you feel blessed?
  • Who in your community needs your help? Who in the broader global community?
  • How does it feel to give to those less fortunate than you when you don’t feel that you have a lot to give?
  • Does giving of our time bring a different kind of satisfaction from giving money or objects?

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.

DOES GRATITUDE COME NATURALLY…

TORAH PORTION: KI TAVO

Showing Gratitude for Your Blessings

Showing Gratitude - Torah Portion KI TAVOWe have many magic moments in our families. There are times for us to appreciate our accomplishments and the people in our lives. Yet gratitude does not come naturally to most people, especially children. “Don’t forget to say thank you!”… Sound familiar? We try to teach our children gratitude.

Being reluctant to express thanks is common in children. It is important to help children overcome this resistance. This week’s portion, Ki Tavo, relates the story of a farmer who has successfully produced a new crop. The first fruits have to be selected for a special ceremony to give the farmers an opportunity to think about their blessings and to say thank you properly.

Saying ‘Thank You’ is not just good manners. It is an attitude. If I feel a sense of entitlement, I will not be able to express gratitude for something I’ve received. Children often feel entitled, and we must teach them to appreciate the wonderful things in their lives. Most importantly, we must make sure to be properly grateful for our own blessings!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being grateful for what they have.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What blessings are in your life?
  • What special gifts do you possess?
  • Why should we be thankful? How should we express it?
  • Can one person do everything alone?
  • For older children – discuss the concepts of dependence, independence, and interdependence.

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.