Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Teaching Moments

IGNITING CURIOSITY’S FLAME…

TORAH PORTION: BEHA’ALOTECHA

beha3A child’s face lighting up can light up the world. It most certainly will light up his or her parents’ hearts. Children are naturally curious, and their faces light up with understanding and delight. It’s up to us as parents and teachers to keep encouraging and nurturing that curiosity. When children ask a question and you don’t know the answer, look it up with them, or encourage them to look for the answer themselves. That is the beginning of education and using resources to follow one’s own curiosity into deeper understanding.

This week’s Torah portion describes the seven lamps that light up the sanctuary. The lamps can be seen as education, the way we light up the minds and hearts of our children. Education is not only a matter of school and academic learning. Children explore the world in all kinds of ways, with their bodies, their souls, their minds. It’s important to encourage a child’s natural ability and his or her own way of discovering the world.

We need to support the kind of education that nurtures a child’s curiosity. Education is not only a matter of mastering bodies of information. It’s about questioning and exploring, lifelong habits that will serve your child well. Our own Jewish sources illustrate traditions of questioning and responding to those questions over generations. Invite your children to join the Jewish conversation with their own questions and thoughts about things like God, the Jewish people, and what we practice ritually.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what questions they wish they could answer.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are you most curious about?
  • How do you go about finding out things?
  • What other ways might you find the answers you are looking for?
  • How does it feel to learn new interesting information?

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.

PARENTS AS MODELS…

TORAH PORTION: NASO

Naso3When you live with someone, it’s difficult to become a model.  People who live together see one another’s flaws and weaknesses and all their inconsistencies.  Still, even with that reality, parents must be models for their children.  For better or worse, children learn how to be in the world from their parents.  Parents learn that it’s not what we instruct verbally, but what we do ourselves that is the most powerful teacher of all.

In this week’s Torah portion, the laws of a Nazarite are enumerated for someone who voluntarily takes on stringent rules for a defined period of time.  No wine, no cutting of one’s hair, no contact with the dead.  Samson was an example of a Nazarite whose goal was to achieve a higher-than-required level of holiness.

The example of the Nazarite discipline can lead us to reflect on what we can take on voluntarily to become a better model to our children, ethically and spiritually.  For example, we might think of refraining from speaking ill of our neighbors, friends and family, to commit to a greater level of honesty, or volunteer to do social justice work.  It’s important to choose a few specific areas and set achievable goals.  We don’t want to create the illusion that we are perfect.  That can only lead to disappointment and disillusionment.  It’s important to be honest with our children about our weaknesses even as we try to model our strengths.  If we aren’t open about our vulnerabilities, they are sure to notice!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about areas of ethical behavior they can improve.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Who do you learn from?
  • Who are your heroes and models?
  • What do you learn from them?
  • What areas of your life would you like to improve?

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.

HOSPITALITY…

TORAH PORTION: EMOR

Emor3A great blessing one can have is the ability to give to others.  Hosting guests and taking care of them is an important way to express this.  Guests care much more about your attitude towards them than the expense or beauty of the surroundings.

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, discusses Jewish holidays. We are called upon to celebrate these holidays joyously and always instructed to make sure we are sharing the joy with others – our families as well as guests we can bring into our home.  In fact, we are taught that taking care of a guest’s needs takes precedence over one’s relationship with G-d.

We have so many great gifts, and we should enjoy them fully.  Our gift of the ability to make others happy and to give to them allows us, briefly, to be “G-d like”.  Our own enjoyment of the world is incomplete if we cannot share it with others.  Make the effort to have an open home and bring others into your world.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about making small sacrifices to have guests, such as sharing your room or possessions with a visitor.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever felt uncomfortable in another’s home?
  • What makes you comfortable in any home, no matter how humble?
  • Discuss the difference between entertaining and hosting – my party vs. the guest’s needs.
  • What sacrifices are you willing to make to have a guest and what are you not willing to do?

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.

CONSTANTLY FEEDING OUR INTERNAL SPARK…

TORAH PORTION: TZAV

tzav3Jewish learning is a continuous process of discovering the richness and relevance of our tradition.  Many people think learning can stop when school stops.  Stopping Jewish studies after 13 is all too common.

This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, instructs that a small fire must burn permanently on the Altar represent the desire within each of us to connect to something bigger and higher, just as a fire always reaches upwards.  This small flame also reminds each of us that we have a spark to learn and improve within us.  It is our responsibility to nurture our spark by feeding it through continued learning.

The smallest commitment today to Jewish learning and knowledge can feed a blaze for generations.  Our books, texts, and traditions bring new meaning to us at different stages of our life.  An easy way to re-start our Jewish journey is to visit www.myjewishlearning.com and explore its rich treasures of information.  Consider signing up for one or more of their special interest weekly emails.  Let’s show our children why exploring our traditions is important by displaying our own passion for constant learning.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of being life-long learners.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Did you know that the brilliance and wisdom of the Torah’s values/ethics are available to everyone, disbeliever or believer?
  • Did you know that our Torah is a great collection of wisdom that has positively affected other religions and even the founding fathers of America?
  • Did you know that Jewish wisdom is relevant to EVERONE’S life today?  (A small example is “a day of rest each week”.  Before our Torah, nobody divided time into weeks.  All time was in months based on the moon.)

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.

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.