Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

TITHING…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YETZE

va-yetze3We all have something to give. By giving, we show that we are responsible for those less fortunate in our communities and, more broadly, in the world. We can give financially, starting as small as a child setting aside a small part of his or her allowance. Or we can give by volunteering our time. Especially when we feel things are missing in our own lives, helping others can help us realize how we are blessed in different ways.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-Yetze, Jacob promises to give a tenth of everything he receives. At this point, he has nothing. He has just run away from home and left everything behind. Having no idea what is before him, he makes this promise. If he remains poor, a tenth would be a small gift, but a dear sacrifice. If he grows wealthy, a tenth would be a much larger gift, but perhaps easier to part with. Jacob makes this promise: whatever comes his way, he will give a tenth of it.

Giving to those less fortunate than ourselves can help us recognize the great blessings in our lives. It reminds us that we cannot take full credit for the richness we receive. Just as Jacob did not know what was before him, we do not know what the future will bring for us. But, like Jacob, we should not wait for a better day to help others; we should commit to help today – and every day.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways your family is able to help others.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • In what ways do you feel blessed?
  • Who in your community needs your help? Who in the broader global community?
  • How does it feel to give to those less fortunate than you when you don’t feel that you have a lot to give?
  • Does giving of our time bring a different kind of satisfaction from giving money or objects?

By Rabbi Judith Greenberg

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

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.

RECONCILIATION & FORGIVENESS…

TORAH PORTION: CHAYE SARAH

chaye2Obviously, people are not all the same. We feel differently about how neat to keep our rooms, what we eat, and the activities we like. It’s easy to dwell on the differences, but there are many core similarities that we share, and we need to focus on them.

Isaac and Ishmael were Abraham’s two sons. They were half-brothers from different mothers and very different in age,  temperament, experiences, mannerisms, and character. Yet this week’s Torah portion, Chaye Sarah, emphasizes that when the time came to bury and mourn for their father Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael did so together. Even Isaac and Ishmael were able to set aside their distance and differences to focus on what united them.

Can we set aside our differences for the common good? Not everyone can or should be the same, and we often feel that another person is very wrong. But we all have much in common. While we must be realistic about acknowledging our differences, we need to focus on what unites us, such as family, values, community, and interests, and seek ways in which we can work together in harmony.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about respecting differences in family members.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Give an example of an insignificant difference between you and another family member.
  • Give an example of a major difference between you and another family member.
  • What do you have in common with that person and how can you work together?
  • Why is this important?

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.

AVOIDING HURTING WORDS…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YERA

va-yera3We use words to express so many different things: from basic things like “I’m hungry” to deeper things like “I love you.” Words have power to do good, but it is easy to forget how much harm we can do with them. We often think that our words cannot be hurtful if the person we are speaking about is not around. But with the prevalence of e-mail, texting, and twitter, seldom do our words end when we first express them. It is safe to assume that any words we say will be heard again.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-Yera, Sarah’s words would be hurtful to Abraham. Thinking he cannot hear, she laughs about her aged husband’s ability to father a child in his old age. Imagine how Abraham would feel if he had heard Sarah’s laughter. Later in speaking to Abraham, God rephrases Sarah’s words so as not to hurt Abraham’s feelings. The Torah is teaching us to avoid hurtful speech.

How often do we speak carelessly and hurt those we love? Sarah shows us how easy this is to do. This lesson shows us how to communicate when we are upset. We learn from them that being in a relationship means using our words to heal, not only after we have been hurt but also after we have hurt someone else. Pausing to take a deep breath and counting to ten helps us to rephrase or avoid hurtful words. Shalom bayit, peace in the house, is the responsibility of each family member.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being careful with their words.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What can you do to avoid speech that hurts others?
  • What are words that you can say after you have hurt someone?
  • What is a good way to express your feelings when you have been hurt by someone else’s words?
  • When is it hard to forgive? What makes it easier?

By Rabbi Judith Greenberg

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

CHOOSE HARMONY…

TORAH PORTION: LECH LECHA

lechlecha3As parents, we are often handling disputes between our children. Isn’t it amazing how each child thinks he or she is justified, correct, and not at fault? Because fighting within a family is very common, our efforts have to focus everyone on the importance of living in peace. Disagreements will happen, and we may feel very justified in our positions, but that doesn’t mean that acrimony must prevail.

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, Abraham feels forced to asks his nephew Lot to part ways. Lot had accompanied Abraham through many of his travels, but staying together has become too difficult because their shepherds are constantly fighting. Abraham realizes that the disagreement is bound to continue, as each side was very sure of its position. Instead of allowing matters to deteriorate, Abraham chooses to put distance between himself and Lot. His goal is to preserve the harmony between them.

Separation is an extreme solution to a problem that could be handled by being willing to try to understand others. We can make that choice even when we think (or know) that the other person is wrong. Whether with a colleague, friend, or family member, there is almost always a way to maintain harmony in the face of different views, even if the solution is to agree to disagree. With creative thinking, humility, and acceptance, useless fighting can be avoided. Teach your kids to show humility, understanding, and acceptance of the views of others so they can avoid useless fighting.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being smart enough to choose peaceful solutions.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Give an example of a fight that you could have avoided.
  • What possible compromises can you think of that would have prevented ongoing fighting?
  • Should we always be so sure that we’re right?

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.