Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Rituals

CONSTANTLY FEEDING OUR INTERNAL SPARK…

TORAH PORTION: TZAV

tzav3Jewish learning is a continuous process of discovering the richness and relevance of our tradition.  Many people think learning can stop when school stops.  Stopping Jewish studies after 13 is all too common.

This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, instructs that a small fire must burn permanently on the Altar represent the desire within each of us to connect to something bigger and higher, just as a fire always reaches upwards.  This small flame also reminds each of us that we have a spark to learn and improve within us.  It is our responsibility to nurture our spark by feeding it through continued learning.

The smallest commitment today to Jewish learning and knowledge can feed a blaze for generations.  Our books, texts, and traditions bring new meaning to us at different stages of our life.  An easy way to re-start our Jewish journey is to visit www.myjewishlearning.com and explore its rich treasures of information.  Consider signing up for one or more of their special interest weekly emails.  Let’s show our children why exploring our traditions is important by displaying our own passion for constant learning.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of being life-long learners.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Did you know that the brilliance and wisdom of the Torah’s values/ethics are available to everyone, disbeliever or believer?
  • Did you know that our Torah is a great collection of wisdom that has positively affected other religions and even the founding fathers of America?
  • Did you know that Jewish wisdom is relevant to EVERONE’S life today?  (A small example is “a day of rest each week”.  Before our Torah, nobody divided time into weeks.  All time was in months based on the moon.)

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.

THE POWER OF WE…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YAK HEL / PEKUDEI

VKH-P1As parents, we all know how much work goes into running a household. Nothing happens by itself; someone must do the dishes, make lunches, drive carpool, go shopping, etc. Children need to have the confidence that they’re cared for, but they should eventually learn about the efforts involved and what they can do to pitch in. How do we balance the two ideals?

In our Portion, the Jewish people constructed the Sanctuary (Mishkan). All members of the community were required to do their part, commensurate with their abilities. Whether the contribution took the form of a donation or volunteering, each and every person’s involvement was a crucial element in reaching the final product. Only with everyone’s participation did the Sanctuary become a special place.

It’s easy to take things for granted. Our children grow up in a society of plentitude and become used to things being there for him or her. Yet, it takes hard work to create anything. A household can only function properly with the labors of hard-working parents, and a special environment can only be achieved by way of planning and effort. Everyone’s contribution, and occasionally sacrifice, is necessary. Young children can be given small tasks in relation to their age and congratulated for pitching in. Putting away clothes, washing dishes, making their bed, all are helpful for the family effort. If we model chores correctly ourselves, they can even be seen as a privilege. Being a part of a family beyond only our own needs, all contributing commensurate with their abilities, makes a home very special.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the power of WE – with everyone working together for the good of all.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Name five actions or activities your parents do for your family.
  • Would you be OK if some of these things were missing?
  • What do you do to pitch in? What more could you do?
  • How do you feel when you know that others appreciate what you do?

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.

THE MEANING OF CLOTHES…

TORAH PORTION: TETZAVEH

Tetzevah3Since the Garden of Eden people have been self-conscious about their bodies and exhibited a need for privacy.  How we cover up our bodies with clothing is expressed in infinite variations.  Styles– sophisticated, slinky, funky, professional, fun– send a very personal message to the world.  Clothing reflects how we value ourselves and our bodies.

In our parsha this week, the priests who serve in the sanctuary dress for “adornment and dignity”.  Both those reasons are crucial.  Fulfilling their role with dignity is reflected in the elaborate clothes they wear, complete with sashes, breastpiece and headdress.  But the priests’ clothes are not only about dignity; beauty very much characterizes the kind of clothes they wear.  The priests’ clothes are clothes of bright color – clear blue, purple and crimson – clothes with golden bells and pomegranates, clothes made out of linen and embroidered work.

Reflect on the various ways you dress when you play different roles in the world.  It’s important to communicate to our children the twin values of beauty and dignity when dressing.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of taking care of their bodies and dressing with beauty and dignity.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Which are your favorite clothes?  Why?
  • What do your clothes say about you?
  • How do you feel about getting dressed up to go to a special event?
  • Is it important to get dressed up for special events? 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.

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.

ISRAEL = TO STRUGGLE WITH GOD…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YISHLAH

va-yishlach3Many people hold back on religion in their lives because they are uncomfortable with the concept of God. Does God exist?How could bad things happen to good people? Why does evil exist? These are all questions that people have addressed throughout time. Many sophisticated discussions and answers are imbedded in Jewish texts for adults to encounter and wrestle with personally.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-Yishlah, Jacob wrestles all night with a mysterious angel representing God. Because Jacob successfully survives this encounter, his name is changed to Israel. The translation of Israel is “to struggle with God”. The Torah is saying that to struggle with God is common. Most people require inquiry and study, as adults, to come to terms with their personal encounter. Jews are not asked to accept complete faith blindly. Jews are encouraged intellectually to encounter God within themselves after studying the wrestling our sages encountered in their journeys to God. It is possible to be a good Jew and have questions about God. In Judaism, actions are more important than faith.

In thinking about God, we can pick up clues all around us, perhaps left for us to find, like the design perfection of the human body and nature’s beauty. Just because we can’t see or touch something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We can’t see oxygen, but we would die without it. Infinity is beyond comprehension yet an integral part of modern science. Love is a powerful feeling that cannot be proven, but it may be a gift of God. Conscience, that little voice inside us, may also be one of God’s gifts. Religion is not about who God is but about what God helps us do.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about God from your personal view and struggles.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Do you see clues in life to God’s existence?
  • Do you have unanswered questions about how God operates?
  • Do you hold back from religion because of your unanswered questions?
  • How might you begin your personal journey to wrestle with God?
  • How could a journey in life be more important than the destination?

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.