Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Responsibility

ORDER VS. DISORDER…

TORAH PORTION: BAMIDBAR

Bambidar2There are so many ways that we can make sure that we get the most out of our actions. Our lives are busy and, in our rush to get things done, we risk expending lots of unnecessary energy. When there is little time, what can we do to make sure that we are still creating meaningful moments and maximizing our potential? One way to do that is to create order and build rituals into our everyday lives.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, the Israelites do just that. When traveling in the desert they need to set up their camps. This is no small feat since they must organize so many different things, among them the people, the tents and the ark itself. They manage this by creating a ritual for setting up the camp. This is not a religious ritual, but rather a system put in place to help manage day-to-day events.

Ritual is important in our lives. Whether setting aside time to have dinner as a family, implementing a system to manage the morning rush, or knowing that Wednesday night dinner is spaghetti – when we build order into our lives, we begin to manage the seemingly overwhelming tasks and take comfort in knowing that there are some things that will remain constant in our hurried lives. Sometimes rituals can ground us, adding a sense of calm, and sometimes they can push us, giving us a structure to help us manage all that we take on.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the rituals your family has created.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What is a family ritual that helps you?
  • Is there a family ritual you would like to create?
  • Do you have individual rituals that get you through the week?
  • Where is one place in your life being more organized would help you
    to succeed?

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

RULES…

TORAH PORTION: BECHUKOTAI

Behar3We have all sorts of rules in our lives. Some rules are serious, make sense, are easy to follow, and others are more difficult to obey. They vary greatly from “don’t run into traffic” to “don’t copy a friend’s homework”. Some are more universal rules like “do not steal” and some are household rules like “trash gets taken out on Thursday night”. Some are very clear in how to obey them, such as “do not murder”, and some are more open to interpretation, such as “be kind to others”. No matter what the rules may be we can always ask ourselves: why do we choose to follow them? Is it because we are afraid of the consequences or because we believe in the rules themselves?

The question is no different in this week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai. All Israelites are instructed to follow rules for the betterment of themselves and society. It is each person’s choice to follow the rules; however, there are consequences when rules are broken.

We both break and follow many rules every day. How is it that we decide which ones fall into each category? Do you always follow the “rules” of a nutritious diet or the “laws” of recycling? Maybe you do and maybe you don’t, but is it because of your feelings about the consequences of breaking it, or the reward of following it? Ultimately, we navigate our way through many decisions each day and, no matter what our choices are, it is important
to think about why we are making them.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of rules in their lives.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some rules that are easy to follow? Why are they easy?
  • What are some rules that are harder to follow? Why are they hard?
  • Do you think about the consequences when you are thinking about a rule?
  • Do the consequences affect your decision as to whether you will or won’t follow the rule?
  • What is an example of a rule that you follow simply because you believe in it?

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

KINDNESS TO ANIMALS…

TORAH PORTION: EMOR

Emor1We spend a lot of time reminding ourselves how important it is to be kind to one another. We speak about seeing each person’s humanity and treating others the way that we would want to be treated. But what happens when that “other” is not a person but an animal? We must remember that respect for the living creatures in this world is also an important value.

This week’s Torah portion includes laws about properly treating animals. The very fact that these laws exist says a lot about Judaism’s appreciation of the role of animals in our lives. Humans and animals both have emotions. The Torah is teaching us to be sensitive to the animals we encounter in our lives.

In the theme song from the 1967 musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”, Charlie’s friends list all of the things they like about him. One line reads, “You are kind to all the animals and every little bird.” Being kind to animals can make us better humans. We can measure ourselves by the way we treat the world around us, and animals are part of that world.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about their encounters with animals.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What role do animals play in your life?
  • How have you been kind to or helped an animal?
  • Can you think of an example where an animal is kind to or helps a human?

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

HOW TO USE YOUR MOST POWERFUL WEAPON…

TORAH PORTION: TAZRIA

TAZRIA2Everyone is born with a powerful weapon, which can be used for both good and evil. This weapon grows over time, but remains small and mostly concealed. It’s bumpy, pink and slippery, but can be pulled out and put away in a blink of an eye. This weapon is your tongue. Your tongue is used to create thousands of words every day, and each word has the power to harm or to heal, to hurt or to help. We are defined by how we use our tongues and by the words that leave our lips each day.

This week’s Torah portion, Tazria, teaches us about the strength of words. The ancient Sages believed that leprosy was a punishment for slander and spreading malicious gossip. By gossiping, you hurt someone’s reputation and make them appear poorly in public. In return, you are punished with a skin disease that causes you to appear poorly before others.

Once words are released, they cannot be brought back. Your tongue is like an arrow.  Once unleashed, it cannot be withdrawn. Like arrows, words have the ability to pierce those with whom they come in contact. We must be careful with our most precious weapons, our tongues, and the words they create.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how our words define us, and how words can be both helpful and harmful.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • When have your words hurt someone else?  How did you feel after saying something hurtful?
  • When has another person’s words hurt you? How did it feel?
  • How can you use your words to help others?
  • How will you use your most powerful weapon, your tongue?

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.

ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES…

TORAH PORTION: SHEMINI

Shemini2In the 1600’s, Sir Isaac Newton taught us that for every action in the physical world, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For example, if you press a button with your finger, your finger is also pressed by that button. (Try it!) Newton’s principle not only applies to the physical world; it applies to many areas of our own lives as well. Every action we take produces a reaction. Our actions have consequences.

Centuries before Newton discovered his laws of motion, Aaron’s sons learned this lesson the hard way in this week’s Torah portion. They acted poorly and strangely and were instantly very severely punished. The Torah portion is teaching us that our actions can have important and immediate consequences.

Life brings both good and bad consequences depending on our actions. Sometimes we can predict what the consequences may be. For example, if we hit our baby sister, she will probably cry. Buy our mother flowers, and she will probably give us a big hug and kiss. Do not study, and we will probably not do well on the test. Sometimes, though, we cannot tell what the consequences of our actions will be. We just have to trust that, if we make the right choices, good consequences will follow.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about understanding that their actions have consequences which they did not consider before they acted.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Has there been a time in your life when you have done something without first thinking about the consequences for yourself or for others?
  • Can you think of a time when your actions have had negative, or positive, consequences? How did it make you feel? What did you learn from the experience?
  • Have you ever predicted the consequences of your actions and been surprised by a different outcome?

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.