Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Responsibility



Terumah3Children often complain about homework and chores. Too much of the time they do these things unwillingly, grudgingly. Parents need to coax, chide and threaten before their child’s responsibilities are complete. Moaning and groaning ensue. In the end, most parents see to it that children learn to be responsible, but they are baffled about how to encourage a better attitude in them.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites offer materials and skills to build the sanctuary. However, not everyone has to give, only “everyone whose heart makes him willing”. The people of Israel ultimately give freely and generously with an open heart, each contributing what they can in order to build the sacred sanctuary. In the end, there is more than enough.

In an ideal world, children would fulfill their responsibilities with a “willing heart” instead of whining and complaining their way through their chores. But parents have enough on their plates to see to it that children do what they have to do. No one can really force someone else to have a better attitude. The best that parents can do to is to reason with their children and to model how they themselves fulfill responsibilities. Do they do so with a heavy heart, with complaints, or do what they have to do, gladly and willingly? The more open-hearted and willing parents are, the more they can show their children how to live willingly, even joyfully, amidst the serious obligations of life.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the way they feel about their chores and obligations.


    • Which chores are hardest for you? Why?
    • Which parts of your homework are hardest for you? Why? What would
      help you get through it?
    • Why are chores and obligations important to do?
    • Could resisting chores be a habit? Could you develop a better attitude if you wanted?


By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses
Values & Ethics: Through a Jewish Lens is created to bring values/ethics of Judaism into family discussions.



MISHPATIM1“I cannot tell a lie” are the famous words of our first president. Though it is honorable that Washington chose to tell the truth, he could have avoided lying in a different way. He could have considered the potential trouble he would end up in for chopping down the tree.

Mishpatim, this week’s Torah portion, warns to avoid falsehood. The wording is unlike any other instruction or warning in the Torah. Instead of simply saying, “Don’t lie”, it states “keep far away from falsehood”. The Torah is encouraging us to be mindful of our actions and their potential consequences. Stay far away from lying and deception and avoid actions you may need to lie about. If you cannot tell the truth about it, it is probably wrong.

Suppose a child is approached by a classmate who asks him or her to help cheat on an upcoming test. While it may be difficult for children to resist cheating, they certainly would not want to tell anyone they cheated. However, if caught, they will have to choose between admitting to a misdeed and lying. We can “Keep far away” from the temptation to lie by considering the results of our decisions before we make them!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about telling the truth AND being a truthful person.


  • Why is lying wrong?
  • Would you do something bad if you knew you would have to tell someone you did it?
  • Do you trust people that you know tell lies?
  • What about a fraud or deception that doesn’t technically involve a 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.



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.


  • 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.



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.


  • 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.



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.


  • 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.