Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Self-Care

BREAKING THE CYCLE OF DECEIT…

TORAH PORTION: TOLDOT

toldot3Nothing gets you attention at summer camp like pulling a good prank. The pranks start out small:  first the boys bunk toilet papers the girls’ cabin. The girls retaliate by short-sheeting the boys’ beds. The boys hit back by putting the girls’ luggage in the dumpster and soon the boys find their own sleeping bags filled with shaving cream. Before you know it, a full-blown prank war spirals out of control between all the boys and girls in the eldest division.

No one is safe from the practical jokes – or from punishment from the Camp Director. What began with one roll of toilet paper and a small act of trickery quickly erupts into a serious situation with serious consequences. In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Toldot, Jacob pulls the ultimate prank on his father Isaac. He pretends to be his twin brother Esau in order to receive the blessing reserved for Isaac’s firstborn son. Though Jacob fled from his father’s house, he could not escape his deceitful act. Just as Jacob fooled his own father, Jacob himself was deceived in turn by his father-in-law Laban and by his own sons.

Just as Jacob could not escape from his history of trickery, our misdeeds follow us in unimaginable ways as well. As one deceitful act leads to the next, it can feel like we are stuck in a never-ending prank war. It’s hard to break the cycle. However, before the deceit follows us with serious consequences, we must figure out how to call a truce.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the ways our deceitful acts follow us.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever pulled a prank? Has anyone ever pulled a prank on you?
  • What was it like to pull the prank? What was it like to be on the receiving end?
  • Have you ever deceived anyone? Has anyone ever deceived you? How did it feel?
  • Have your actions ever come back to haunt you?
  • How can you break the cycle?

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.

TEMPTATIONS…

TORAH PORTION: BALAK

balak2It is hard to resist temptation. In order to do so, one must have a strong sense of right and wrong and be able to assess the situation rationally. Temptation exists everywhere in our world in varying degrees. Sometimes it comes in the question of an extra piece of dessert. Sometimes it is a less than honest way to get a better grade, and sometimes it takes even a more serious form. But there is always a price when we give in to temptation, and that price is transgressing one of our own values or ethics. In the case of the candy, it might be a promise to oneself to eat healthier, and in the case of the grades it is honesty.

In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, the Israelites are camped in the desert near the Midianites. The Israelites find themselves tempted in many ways by this foreign culture. They are drawn to their foreign food, their foreign gods, and their foreign women. They indulge their temptations, and it causes havoc in the community.

Our tradition and our lives are full of stories of temptation. People weaken for financial gain, or we become so absorbed in ourselves that we ignore people we care about. Whatever temptation lies on one end of the scale, there is a value that we hold dear on the other. It is important that we know what our values are so that we can make sure that they outweigh the temptations we encounter.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about using their values to avoid temptation.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some things that tempt you?
  • What do you do to resist those temptations?
  • Are their temptations that you give in to?
  • How do you decide which temptations are “OK” and which are not?

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

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.