Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Self-Care

FOOD CHOICES…

TORAH TOPICS: ACHARAY MOT

Acharay3When we think about food, it has become popular to ask: “Do you live to eat or do you eat to live?” Our feelings about food and the choices we make around eating have the ability to say a lot about who we are as people.

This week’s Torah portion, Acharay Mot, contains many rules about the food we eat which are incorporated into our modern system of keeping kosher. There are rules about the types of foods we eat, about how we prepare those foods, and even about when we eat them. This week’s text connects food to the idea of holiness, which might lead us to ask what is holy about food.

It is easy to understand what it means to “eat to live”. We know that we need to take in a certain amount of food to provide energy and keep us healthy. We can also imagine what it means to “live to eat”, to take great pleasure from ingredients, recipes and cuisine. But what does it mean to think about our food choices in terms of holiness? What would it look like for us to make food decisions based on our ethics and values? This could mean the discipline of eating organically or locally, being vegetarian, or keeping kosher. There are lots of ways we can change the way we make our decisions around food, but most important is that we raise our awareness about what we consume.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the food choices we make.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Where do you fall on the “eat to live” vs. “live to eat” spectrum?
  • What do you think about when you decide what to eat?
  • Are there any special limitations or choices you make (i.e. vegetarian, gluten free etc.) If so, why?
  • How does the discipline, or lack of it, in your food choices affect you?
  • How do you think your food choices impact your world?

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.

MASKS AND IDENTITY…

HOLIDAY: PURIM

PurimFrom the time we are born, our identities begin to evolve.  In certain instances however, our identities become fixed over time, especially as they are formed in relationship to siblings. “She’s the smart one”, we think to ourselves. “He’s the one good at sports”.  “She’s the one with the special needs; I’m the perfect one”.  We often define ourselves in relation to another sibling, especially if parental expectations solidify those identities.  Overstressed parents, who may have a child with problems or special needs, might expect another child to be “perfect” or at least more self-sustaining.  Such expectations might influence how the child will behave at home, not wanting to further stress his/her overtaxed parents.

Purim is the time on the Jewish calendar to play with identities.  We wear masks and costumes and raucously celebrate the story of Esther and Mordechai, where everyone becomes their opposite.  It is a wonderful tale of a Queen who, by overcoming her fear of rejection, or punishment, saves the Jewish people with the help of her cousin Mordechai, a tale that mixes humor and solemnity, danger, and drunkenness.

While Purim is a holiday of pure fun, more serious themes underlie all the celebration.  Themes of having courage in the face of potential annihilation and changing one’s identity are some of the more serious ideas underlying a holiday that is perfectly made for the imagination of children.  The holiday reminds us that whoever we think we are, we can change, especially in the service of a higher purpose, like helping other people.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the way we sometimes change our identity or “mask” depending on the social situation.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Are we different at school or with friends than at home?
  • How are you and your brother and/or sister different?  How are you similar?
  • Are there things your brother and/or sister excel at that you don’t try because you think of it as “their thing”?
  • What, if any, defined roles do you and each of your siblings play in the family dynamic?

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.

WHAT IS INSIDE US IS MOST IMPORTANT…

TORAH PORTION: TERUMAH

TERUMAH2As we grow, we are trying to develop ourselves. We spend time on how we look, the styles we like, and how we wear our hair. Often we spend more time on what is outside us than what is inside.

This week’s Torah portion Trumah deals with building the sanctuary in the desert. Instructions are clear that the outside should be plain, orderly, neat, and clean but not showy. The inside is clearly the more important place where it is permissible to exhibit the most beautiful decorations and objects. Our bodies are our own sanctuary. Clearly, in Judaism how we develop our inside, the inner us, is most important.

Of course, it is important for people to feel good about how they look on the outside. Judaism is saying that you should look good on the outside but never
forget to focus especially on your inner development. As parents, we can help our kids develop their inner qualities. Peers have a large amount of influence over the way our kids like to look. Parents have the opportunity to be teachers to help their children develop beautiful and meaningful values that they can always carry around inside themselves.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of developing inner values and ethics.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are the best qualities inside you?
  • What other qualities would you like to possess inside?
  • How could you develop other good qualities inside?

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.