Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Rituals

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.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR JOY…

HOLIDAY: SIMCHAT TORAH

simchat-torahUnbridled joy is the gift that children often experience as they go through their daily lives. They are capable of so much feeling, of happiness and sadness, and with such intensity. We celebrate with them when they are happy, and we are sad when they grieve. At times it’s important not to
get too caught up with our children’s emotions and to maintain a calm front in the face of their ups and downs. At other times, it’s important to get right in there and rejoice or grieve right along with them. As a parent it takes wisdom to know when to hold back and when to join in.

Simchat Torah, literally the happiness of the Torah, is the Jewish day for rejoicing—for children and adults alike. We dance with the Torah scroll, celebrating the completion of a year of reading the entire Torah in our community. It’s a time to express unrestrained joy. Children are often put at the center of this rejoicing and form circles with one another in the midst of adults or ride on their parents’ shoulders. It is a time of great excitement, a moment to share our joy.

Having a day set aside to celebrate is important for community and family life. Simchat Torah, along with the weekly opportunity for joy and rest, the Sabbath, give us communal opportunities to feel and express one of the most important emotions of childhood and adulthood—joy.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the joy they feel after successfully completing a big goal in their lives.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How do you express your happiness? Your sadness? And with whom?
  • Why does feeling joy in the midst of others enhance the experience?
  • What makes us hesitate to show happiness or sadness in front of others?

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.

WILL YOU SPEAK FOR THE TREES…

TORAH PORTION: SHOFTIM

shoftim2Dr. Seuss introduced us to the children’s book The Lorax, his 1971 children’s book that was recently remade into feature-length film. The Lorax tells the story of how the environment is destroyed by human activity and ambition. We hear the unforgettable voice of the gruff but wise Lorax, who says to the greedy Onceler. “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues!”

Like the Lorax, we too learn to speak for the trees in this week’s Torah reading. Portion Shoftim includes the mitzvah to protect fruit trees from destruction. Trees should not be chopped down for the benefit of humans. This mitzvah is the foundation for the Jewish value of ba’al tashchit which teaches us not to be wasteful and to care for the environment. Ba’al tashchit shows us the “green” side of Judaism.

Trees and the environment cannot protect themselves. It is up to us humans to guard them. Like the Lorax, we too can find ways to “speak for the trees” in our homes and schools, at work and in play. You can start by examining your daily actions. How can you be less wasteful each day? You can also look at the world around you. There are an infinite number of large and small ways to incorporate the value of ba’al tashchit into your life, your community, and our world.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways to protect the environment in their daily lives.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Think about all the things you use on a daily basis. How can you apply the mitzvah of ba’al tashchit, not being wasteful?
  • What do you waste as a family? How can you work together to limit your wastefulness?
  • How can you advocate for the environment?
  • How can Shabbat be a time when your family practices ba’al tashchit?

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.

TAKING CARE OF OUR BODIES…

TORAH PORTION: VA-ETCHANAN

vaechinan2Do we exercise enough? Getting enough rest, staying clean, not smoking, and using alcohol in moderation are all important ways to respecting our bodies. Unfortunately, some people take better care of their fine jewelry, putting it away in velvet, than they do in caring for themselves. Our bodies do wonderful things for us. They enjoy our indulgences and provide us with pleasure, but they are also the tools we use to realize our dreams and aspirations. Without the energy to articulate or implement our ideas and creativity, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish much.

This week’s Torah portion, Va-Etchanan, begs us to protect and take good care of ourselves. We have so much potential within us that can only be accessed if our bodies are functioning properly. The Torah regards our bodies as ‘holy’ objects because they are tools for doing great things.

As we journey through life, we overcome challenges. Each step along the way provides opportunities for success and spiritual growth. Our job is the make sure that we have the required emotional and spiritual reserves to meet each challenge and to take advantage of the opportunities. Caring for our bodies establishes a platform for us to shine and excel.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how well they treat their own bodies.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What things must we do to care for our bodies? What happens if we don’t?
  • Discuss how our bodies are important to our performance in life?
  • What can you do as a family to improve overall health for all of you?

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.