Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Sharing

SIBLING RIVALRY…

TORAH PORTION: BERESHIT

bereshit1Family tensions are easily created between siblings. Feeling overshadowed because of the accomplishments of our brother or sister, or feeling overlooked by parents, are frequent causes. How can we avoid these common family dilemmas?

This week’s Torah portion, Bereshit, includes the story of Cain and Abel and man’s first violent act: a lashing out of brother against brother based on family tension, jealousy and perceived favoritism. When Cain is asked, after he killed Abel, where his brother is, he answers, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Torah is clearly teaching that the answer is definitely YES to Cain’s question.

What can we do in our families to reduce tensions, manage jealousies, and create positive family dynamics? Recognize the special qualities of each child. Let children know how much each is appreciated by the whole family for his or her uniqueness. Parents need to be careful about expressing favoritism by balancing praise with sensitivity to the feelings of their other children. When kids know that their parents appreciate and love them for who they are, they have a better chance of dealing with the inequities they  will face in the outside world without directing anger at their siblings. Children should be taught by parents to value their brothers and sisters as family forever and life-long friends.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways to create healthy family dynamics.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some of the things you like about the way your family functions?
  • What are some things that you would like to change?
  • How do you discuss things when there are problems?
  • Do you feel heard and appreciated in your family?
  • How can you and your family all work together to respect each other?

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.

KINDNESS TO ANIMALS…

TORAH PORTION: KI TAYTZAY

KITAYTZAY1

Kindness to others in children can begin with kindness to animals. Even though children can be fairly self-centered, exposure to animals can bring out the nurturing side of a child. At times, however,  children can also be cruel to insects or animals. These times provide an important opportunity for a lesson in the feelings of creatures other than human beings and can lead to greater kindness for other people as well.

Our current Torah portion forbids us from plowing with an ox and an ass together. Besides a concern for not mixing species together, plowing with an ox and an ass can be painful for the smaller animal who would suffer in this yoking. In this way the Torah shows humanitarian concern for animals.

Expose your children to animals and teach them how to care for them. Even if you can’t yourself have a pet for a child, you can visit pet stores and zoos and have your child learn about animals. Sometimes families who cannot own a pet can borrow a pet for the weekend. It’s important for children to be given opportunities to show caring for others.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of being kind to animals.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What kind of animals do you like the best? The least?
  • Have you or anyone you know ever mistreated an animal?
  • Why do you think people would mistreat an animal?
  • Why do you think it’s important to be kind to animals?

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.

KINDNESS TO ANIMALS…

TORAH PORTION: EMOR

Emor1We spend a lot of time reminding ourselves how important it is to be kind to one another. We speak about seeing each person’s humanity and treating others the way that we would want to be treated. But what happens when that “other” is not a person but an animal? We must remember that respect for the living creatures in this world is also an important value.

This week’s Torah portion includes laws about properly treating animals. The very fact that these laws exist says a lot about Judaism’s appreciation of the role of animals in our lives. Humans and animals both have emotions. The Torah is teaching us to be sensitive to the animals we encounter in our lives.

In the theme song from the 1967 musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”, Charlie’s friends list all of the things they like about him. One line reads, “You are kind to all the animals and every little bird.” Being kind to animals can make us better humans. We can measure ourselves by the way we treat the world around us, and animals are part of that world.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about their encounters with animals.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What role do animals play in your life?
  • How have you been kind to or helped an animal?
  • Can you think of an example where an animal is kind to or helps a human?

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

GIVING IS JUSTICE IN ACTION…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YAK HEL

VKH-P3Giving charity is for everyone. Tzedakah, the Hebrew word for charity, actually correctly translates as justice. Whether one has a lot or a little, giving is an integral part of a Jewish life. Even the poor are required to give a little charity. Money, food, our time, out-grown clothes, older toys, all can be useful to others in need. A community is only as strong as the willingness of its members to help each other.

This week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel, stresses that every member of the community must participate in contributing to the building of the Mishkan, or Tabernacle. All Jews are called upon to be ‘generous of spirit’ and donate to the Tabernacle construction. All can be generous of spirit even with a small contribution.

We should think of our money, time, and possessions as tools we can use, beyond our own needs, to benefit others. When we are willing to stand up and be counted for a charitable cause or for helping individuals in need, we become ‘generous of spirit’ and display gratitude for what we have.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of helping others and being a part of a strong community.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why is charity important?
  • How does the giver benefit from giving charity?
  • How can small amounts make a big difference? (Think of a savings account after many years.)
  • Is it necessary to be recognized by others when giving?

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.

FAMILY STORIES FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION…

TORAH PORTION: BO

FamilyStoriesThere are certain stories we tell our children again and again — stories of our own growing up and how we came to be who we are and do what we do. Stories that our parents taught us, stories that often include immigration and making it in America, as well as how life used to be in the “olden” days, feed our children’s imagination, giving them a sense of who they are in the world as well as resources with which to face their own daily struggles. Those stories are telling (so to speak!) what we want to transmit to our children, and through them, to the following generations.

In our Torah portion this week, the plagues start, and it is a story that is to be told to our children and grandchildren. The story of our liberation from Egypt is our story of origin; it is how we came to be who we are as a people. In fact there are many Jewish rituals performed in the name of remembering that we were slaves in Egypt and were freed by God, including observing the Sabbath and the Passover Seder.

Storytelling is vital in any family, but it is important to be aware that there are different genres of storytelling, all vital in their own way. There are fairytales and myths and stories of what children face as they grow up. There are family stories, and then there are the stories of our people, the foundational stories that make up who we are collectively and are transmitted from generation to generation. Stories, for example, about what the Israelites experienced as slaves in Egypt and how they were delivered from slavery can promote moral development and create a sense that we belong to something larger. These stories remind us that we are an ancient people who have survived to this day to tell the tale.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about some of the foundational stories of your family and of the Jewish people.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are your favorite stories?
  • What do you like best about your favorite?
  • Which stories do you like to tell?
  • Who are some of your favorite heroes?
  • Why is it important that we continue to tell stories?

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.