Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Rules



Passover2Freedom is such an attractive concept to us all. We like the idea of doing what we want, when we want. Often we think that being free of rules, regulations, and requirements are important for us to feel free. Could we be wrong in expecting too much of freedom? What if people did exactly as they pleased, whenever they wanted. Life could get very confusing, complicated, and dangerous.

On Passover, we celebrate our freedom from slavery with a Seder. Interestingly the word Seder means order, and our special celebration of freedom starts with 15 steps to follow. None of our other meals has so many requirements. Why does this special meal require us to follow 15 proscribed steps? First a cup of wine, then washing hands, dipping vegetables, breaking the middle matza, storytelling. . .and that is only 40% of the steps.

The wisdom of our tradition teaches that to be free we need order in our lives. Only within a structure of order and responsibility can we be free to pursue our desires. Imagine if others were free to harm themselves or us. Imagine if everyone was so free and did not have to follow rules; chaos would result. In chaos, none of us could accomplish what we want. There is wisdom in realizing how much our freedom depends on a structure of rules and laws for the benefit of all.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT how rules are important for our safety and our freedom.


  • What do we like most about freedom?
  • Are there parts of your life in which you feel you do not have freedom?
  • Has there ever been a situation when you wished you did not have so much freedom?

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.



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.


  • 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.



FreedomWithLimitsHow many times have you heard, “I’m bored,” from a child? It’s a rare kid who is able to enjoy large amounts of unstructured playtime. Instructions and limits help kids to enjoy themselves. What would happen to your children if they had a full free afternoon with unlimited sweets? How many kids could avoid boredom and a tummy ache? Though they may not like the idea of rules and restrictions, rules enable
fun and even teach kids how to take care of themselves.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-era, Moses demands that Pharaoh free the Israelites from slavery. Moses is clear why he wants people’s freedom: so that they may serve God. Moses is not seeking absolute freedom for the Children of Israel. Rather, he is seeking to take them from Pharaoh’s harsh rule to the loving guidance of God. Moses knows that unbridled freedom would not be beneficial to anyone. He knows that rules and structures will be liberating for the Israelites.

Though we may bristle at the idea of restrictions placed on ourselves, we see how young people flourish when given clear, easily understood rules. Limits, instructions, and guidelines in our own lives help us to accomplish tasks and fulfill our responsibilities. They enable us to find balance. From speed limits to job descriptions, we, like the Children of Israel, can feel more free with such guidelines.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what helps them have fun.


  • Who makes the rules you follow?
  • What is a rule that you wish more people followed?
  • What do you think makes something a good rule? A bad rule?

By Rabbi Judith Greenberg

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



shoftimOur world is results-oriented.  We are used to productivity as a measure of what’s good and right.  Whether it’s writing software that does what we want it to do or closing a business deal, our environment celebrates the ‘bottom line’ far more than it judges the methods used getting there.

The beginning of Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion, contains instructions for judicial proceedings.  We are commanded to “pursue justice justly”.  Not only are the judges enjoined to focus on a just outcome, but also the litigants themselves are reminded that their pursuit of justice must be done legitimately.  Justice cannot result if one party alters the facts the tiniest bit,  just to make his case simpler, even if he knows he is right.

Focusing on the bottom line and results is only part of the story.  We need to pursue what is good and right even in the methods we use to accomplish our goals.  A business transaction must be done with honesty.  If there’s something wrong with the house or car you’re selling, tell the buyer.  Maybe this particular buyer will back out, but someone else will come along who’ll appreciate your honesty and will be confident that now he knows exactly what to expect.  Moreover, he or she will be right!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about valuing correct behavior.  A good end does not justify the wrong means.


  • Why does a court always require complete evidence even if it seems obvious who is at fault?
  • How do you feel when you purchase something that has been misrepresented?
  • Would you be likely to shop again in a store where the truth was not told?
  • How much would you trust a friend who often stretches the truth or misrepresents?

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.



pinchas3“It’s not fair” is a refrain we often hear from children. A child may be jealous of what a friend has or may think he or she should have beenchosen for a position on a sports team. Although most of us eventually stop whining, deep down we do think in terms of what is fair.

In this week’s Torah portion we meet Zelophehad, who died before the Jews arrived in the land of Israel. His four daughters were concerned that his portion of the land would be lost because he had no sons. They objected, saying it’s unfair that women cannot inherit their father’s land. Moses asked God what to do, and God felt the women’s request was fair. Thousands of years ago the entire section of Jewish inheritance law was changed to reflect fairness and dedicated to the daughters of Zelophehad.

Much of our engagement with the world around us arises from our sense of fairness. It is because we believe in fairness that we expect our hard work to translate into success. We often choose to step in to correct something that we believe is wrong, either by getting involved in a charitable cause or in community activism. It’s our sense of fairness telling us that the world can be a better place.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being open to fairness and how it makes a better world.


  • Is it fair that some people are tall and some short?
  • What is the difference between fairness and equality?
  • Describe something around you that seems unfair.
  • How does fairness help create a better world?

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.