Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Teaching Moments

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.

LEARNING FROM EVERYONE…

TORAH PORTION: YITRO

Yitro2Intelligence may be in our genes, but wisdom is certainly not. A person becomes wise when he or she realizes that everything in his or her life is an opportunity to learn something. Everything that happens to us and everyone we know (yes, everyone) can teach us something.

In our portion we find Moses listening carefully to, and implementing, the suggestion of Jethro. Moses was the greatest of all prophets. He communicated directly with G-d and was given the Torah. Not only was Jethro not a prophet, he was Moses’s father-in-law! Yet Moses had the humility and the wisdom to heed Jethro’s advice on how most efficiently to reorganize the courts by appointing a middle level of Judges.

We all excel at something. Some people excel at many things. No matter how accomplished we are, there is always more to learn. The lessons often come in unexpected and surprising ways when people are willing to see life as a learning experience. The people we learn from need not be our peers or superiors in intelligence. Each and every person we interact with can teach something. If we are open to learning the ‘unconventional’ lessons of life, we become wise and inspire those around us to wisdom as well. Let’s turn intelligence into wisdom!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT the importance of being open to learning from everyone.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Name something positive you have learned from a friend.
  • Name something you have learned from a sibling.
  • Have you ever learned something important when you were not expecting to?
  • Name something you have learned from a person you did not know before.

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.

PARENTS ARE POWERFUL TEACHERS…

TORAH PORTION: EKEV

ekev1When we teach our children, we don’t only teach them with our words. We teach them with every act we do; in fact, we teach them with who we are at heart. If we go through life angry or resentful, our children will learn anger and resentment. If we go through life critical and judgmental, our children will learn criticism and judgment. Or, if we go through life with love and joy, our children will learn love and joy.

In our Biblical portion it says that we should teach the words of the Torah “when you stay at home and when you are on your way, when you lie down and when you get up”. In other words, wherever we are, each and every one of our actions is a teaching moment, an educational opportunity. In fact, these words comprise a part of the all-important words of the Shema, the Jewish prayer said twice daily as well as before bedtime and before death.

There are so many teaching moments we probably don’t think about as teaching moments. If we pack to go on a trip at the last minute and we are full of anxiety and pressure, that communicates one lesson. If we, however, pack in advance, and feel relaxed and confident about the journey we are to take, that communicates another. When we are outside our home, if we greet people with joy and an open heart, we are teaching our children to do the same. However, if we pass people by on the street never stopping because we are in a rush, that imparts yet another kind of lesson. If we stop on the street because someone needs help, that imparts a lesson concerning what kind of neighbors we can be in this world. Of course we can’t be perfect, and parents can be stressed for a multitude of reasons. Yet it’s important to keep in mind that every moment is a potential teaching moment and to do our utmost to be the best models we can be.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about what others learn from their actions. They are models for their friends and siblings.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some of the things you learn from your parents? How do you learn these lessons?
  • What do you think are some of the most important things you learn from your parents?
  • What do you teach others? What do you teach your friends and your brothers or sisters?
  • What do you learn from your friends and from your brothers or sisters?

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.

TEACHING ETHICS TO LAST A LIFETIME…

TORAH PORTION: VA-ETCHANAN

vaechinan1Raising children is not only about teaching our children how to be successful in the future, going to the right schools and finding the right job. It’s also about teaching them ethics that will carry them through their lives. The ethics we teach to our children are meant to last a lifetime and, in fact, to outlive us.

Moses is told in this Torah portion that he will not be able to enter the Promised Land. But he is to teach the people of Israel a body of ethics to serve them in their building of a new society in the Promised Land. This body of ethics is meant to guide the people of Israel in their new lives and into the future, with each new generation.

We too, as parents, may not survive to witness our children or our grandchildren reach their “Promised Lands”. However, the ethics we teach them now will last them through their lives. Whether it’s honesty, or commitment, or kindness to one’s neighbor, or giving to the poor, or gratitude, these ethics will travel the distance through our children’s lives and hopefully even through our grandchildren’s lives. While we our pressured now to raise children who are civilized and obedient, it’s important to take the long view. We teach now, but we also teach ethics for the generations that will follow us.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about how Moses instructed his people on ethics to guide their lives into the future.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What does it mean to be good?
  • How should one treat others?
  • Which lessons are hardest to remember in your day-to-day life at school or at home? Which are the easiest to remember?

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.

CRITICISM: IT’S HARD TO HEAR AND HARD TO GIVE…

TORAH PORTION: DEVARIM

DevarimCriticism is hard to give and hard to hear. As parents it is a challenge to criticize our children in a way that isn’t too hurtful and doesn’t engender defensive feelings. Yet, it’s important to give constructive feedback to our children, as well as to hear feedback from those we love, if we are going to be effective parents.

This week we begin the book of Devarim, the book of Deuteronomy. It is a long speech by Moses before the children of Israel enter the Promised Land, including a review of their history and of criticism for past misdeeds, as well as laws meant to organize their society in the new land. This reflection on their past, their successes and failures, prepares the Children of Israel to enter into the Promised Land and create their own society. In essence this is the book of their growing up, the book of instructions on how to govern their own land.

Before you give criticism to your child, think first about how difficult it is to hear criticism yourself. A gentle tone and a kind word amidst constructive criticism can make it possible for your children to hear what you have to say without shutting down. Whether regarding how they do homework, or table manners, or about how they play with friends, parental feedback is necessary. However, the kindness with which we dispense feedback will make all the difference in the world to how and if it is received. Furthermore, the way parents criticize one another, with rancor or with respect, provides a good model for children to learn how to criticize their peers.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about the importance and difficulty of giving and accepting criticism.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How do you feel when you receive criticism from your parents? From your friends?
  • Do you ever give others feedback or criticism? What has been the reaction from others?
  • Why do you think giving or receiving criticism is important?
  • In what situations might criticism be destructive rather than constructive?

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.