Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Rituals

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.

WHY ALL THOSE RITUALS?

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIKRA

vayikra2Living our lives can get messy at times. Relationships do not always go smoothly. Even when we do not mean to, we can annoy others by accident. Miscommunications can strain relationships. Life is a beautiful adventure, but it can also be a little difficult to navigate.

This week’s Torah portion spells out many religious rituals. Why are there so many to perform? Turns out those routines are much easier to perform correctly than acting properly in real life. Lighting Shabbat candles on Friday night is much easier to do once instructed, than properly managing many aspects of our lives. The feelings created by prayer during rituals are much more meaningful to us than our words. Prayer gives us a chance to focus on our lives and to be consciously grateful for the blessings and gifts we often take for granted. Prayer also gives us a chance to focus privately on strengthening our weaknesses, which we all have. The more we reinforce and rededicate ourselves to change, the better chance our weaknesses will become smoothly integrated assets in our lives.

Rituals are very much a part of all our lives. Daily we perform the routines of brushing our teeth, showering, reading, and exercising because we know the benefits these bring. Many rituals infuse physical, mental, or spiritual growth into our lives. Are we open to new routines? Parents can guide children in what areas of their lives need improvement and in developing rituals to help reach goals. Rituals that lead to growth are much easier to perform properly than taking on life’s challenges unrehearsed.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being open to expanding routines in their lives.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Which rituals that you perform are the easiest to complete?
  • Which routines in your life are most meaningful to you?
  • What areas in your life are most in need of changing?
  • Can you think of any routines that could help you master your challenges?

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.

REJUVENATE YOURSELF WEEKLY…

TORAH PORTION: KI TISSA

KiTisa1Our lives are full of commitments, responsibilities, school, and work. Often we are caught up in the demands of our lives and easily forget to focus on what is most important to us: our families and our “inner selves”. When the pressure of our daily life takes us over without a break, difficulties often eventually strike.

Thousands of years ago, before the Torah, time was broken only into months by the moon. The Torah introduced the concept of weeks for the first time in history. Not only did the Torah break time into weeks, it also created, for the first time, the concept of a day of rest each week, Shabbat. Shabbat sanctifies time and is the antidote to our busy pressure-filled lives, presenting us with limits that are healthy for us. Shabbat allows us time to express gratitude for our blessings, time to relax and enjoy our family and community.

Celebrating Shabbat is not always easy. It is a worthwhile challenge to cut back a busy pressure-filled life, but it can not be accomplished overnight. Think about celebrating Shabbat as learning a musical instrument. Nobody goes from a beginner to expert immediately. Start with small doable steps like part of the day at first. On Shabbat do things that are different from other days, making your rest special. Your body, soul, and family require rejuvenation. Give them all a break.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of having sacred time in their lives each week.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Do you think a day of rest each week is a good idea?
  • How could you begin to bring sacred time each week into your life?
  • What goals would you like to accomplish in special sacred time weekly?

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.

FAMILY STORIES FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION…

TORAH PORTION: BO

FamilyStoriesThere are certain stories we tell our children again and again — stories of our own growing up and how we came to be who we are and do what we do. Stories that our parents taught us, stories that often include immigration and making it in America, as well as how life used to be in the “olden” days, feed our children’s imagination, giving them a sense of who they are in the world as well as resources with which to face their own daily struggles. Those stories are telling (so to speak!) what we want to transmit to our children, and through them, to the following generations.

In our Torah portion this week, the plagues start, and it is a story that is to be told to our children and grandchildren. The story of our liberation from Egypt is our story of origin; it is how we came to be who we are as a people. In fact there are many Jewish rituals performed in the name of remembering that we were slaves in Egypt and were freed by God, including observing the Sabbath and the Passover Seder.

Storytelling is vital in any family, but it is important to be aware that there are different genres of storytelling, all vital in their own way. There are fairytales and myths and stories of what children face as they grow up. There are family stories, and then there are the stories of our people, the foundational stories that make up who we are collectively and are transmitted from generation to generation. Stories, for example, about what the Israelites experienced as slaves in Egypt and how they were delivered from slavery can promote moral development and create a sense that we belong to something larger. These stories remind us that we are an ancient people who have survived to this day to tell the tale.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about some of the foundational stories of your family and of the Jewish people.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are your favorite stories?
  • What do you like best about your favorite?
  • Which stories do you like to tell?
  • Who are some of your favorite heroes?
  • Why is it important that we continue to tell stories?

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.

STRENGTH AND DEDICATION…

chanukahHOLIDAY: CHANUKAH

It’s that time again. Cold weather brings thoughts of the Christmas holiday. There are Christmas vacations, sales, parties, street lights and more. Children get very excited by images of Santa Claus and colorful Christmas trees with brightly wrapped gifts underneath. It’s hard for Chanukah to compete with all this.

Showing children that there is something from their own tradition that can bring them light and joy is an important message. While Chanukah, within the scope of Jewish tradition, is a relatively minor holiday, it carries with it some important messages, as well as lots of fun for children. Just as Christmas and many other festivals worldwide do, Chanukah brings light into the darkness. Lighting the menorah brings a distinctive Jewish message regarding the strength and dedication of a minority against a majority. The Syrian Greeks tried to force the Jews to abandon their traditions, but the Maccabees, Jewish warriors, fought against them. After the Greeks destroyed the Temple, the Jews returned to find enough oil for one day. The miracle, according to tradition, was that that oil was sufficient for eight days. Holding on to our traditions is valuable not just during holidays, but throughout the year.

The holiday is now commemorated for eight days by lighting the menorah, giving gifts, playing with a dreidel, and eating latkes or other foods fried in oil. There are wonderful songs to sing and children’s books to read. With some preparation, the celebration of this holiday has a real magic for children.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the tenacity of the Jewish people to maintain their traditions through time in the face of outside pressure or persecution.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why is it important to know about your heritage and history?
  • What is your favorite (family) Jewish tradition?
  • Do you ever feel embarrassed to be Jewish? Why?

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.