Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

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.

GLEANINGS FROM OUR OWN BLESSINGS…

TORAH PORTION: KEDOSHIM

Acharay1It’s easy to look up the street and see that the grass is a little greener at a neighbor’s. Maybe they have a new car or their kids are wearing the newest fashion. You wish you could have those niceties. It’s often much harder to look the other way, down the street or, perhaps, across town, to see how your
grass might look greener to so many others. Your car may not be the newest, but it’s a solid, safe car that runs; your kids are comfortable. Though it may be hard to see at times, we all have abundant blessings, and even a surplus, if only we could notice it.

As we think about finding small surpluses, let us turn to this week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim. This week we learn how to harvest our fields. We are told to leave the corners unharvested, and we are told that we cannot go back to collect any produce that we dropped along the way. We learn that we leave this produce in our fields so that those less fortunate – those without fields of their own – will have food to eat and a little livelihood. It is remarkable that there is no minimum size field for leaving this gleaning; the
assumption is that any landowner can always spare a little.

This lesson from the Torah helps us to look at what we have and see the corners we could leave unharvested. Can we give a little more money to tzedakah? Can we donate barely used outgrown clothes or sports equipment? Can we forgo a new purchase and give a little more to those who are less fortunate? Or how about putting a few extra cans in the cart at the grocery store each visit, saving up our own gleanings for a food bank?

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of giving to those who are less fortunate.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Where do you have a surplus in your life?
  • How might you use this surplus to help others?
  • Why is it sometimes hard to see the abundance of your blessings?

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.

CREATING YOUR WORLD THROUGH LANGUAGE…

TORAH PORTION: TAZRIA

TAZRIA1Just as the world was created through language in Genesis, we all create our personal worlds every day through speech.  We can both create and destroy with words.  We can hurt other people through speaking negatively about them.  Speaking about people behind their back, we can harm reputations, and thereby even harm friendships and business.  Reputation in our very social and interdependent world is at the heart of one’s status both personally and professionally.

Jewish tradition is particularly sensitive to the power of speech and how it can be damaging.   Our Torah portion this week addresses the consequences caused by speaking negatively about others, an act that is called Lashon Hara or Evil Talk.  It includes slander, gossip, and other kinds of destructive language.

The first place to practice not engaging in Evil Talk is in the family.  Think for a moment: how do siblings talk about one another?  How does the family engage in talking about neighbors?  Within our families we may see this kind of speech as internal and therefore harmless.  However, how families speak about one another creates a model for how children will speak outside of the home about their friends. The less parents permit and model this kind of negative speech, the less likely children will use it on their own.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the Jewish prohibition of Lashon Hara or Evil Talk  and explain the negative consequences of this behavior.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why do you think it might be important not to say negative things about others?
  • How do you feel when you find out someone has said something negative about you?
  • Why do you think people like to gossip and find it so appealing?
  • What might help you to engage in it less?

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.

REASON IS LOST IN ANGER…

TORAH PORTION: SHEMINI

Shemini3We all become rash when we are angry.  We are quick to condemn others.  Anger clouds our reason, and we can accuse others without thinking clearly.    When we become angry we should ask ourselves: what good motivation might this person have for his or her action that I can’t see?  What am I missing that this person sees?  Though we may have reason to be upset, often our own reactions are clouded by emotion, blinding us from seeing the true situation before us.

In this week’s parashah, Moses gets angry with Eliezer and Itamar, two of his brother Aaron’s sons.  He thinks that they have done something wrong, and he loudly scolds them, saying that they really ought to have listened to him.  But Aaron interrupts Moses and gently explains how his sons have not actually done anything wrong.  Their way of doing things was acceptable, too.  In his anger, Moses had lost his reason and knowledge of the law.  In the end, he is humbled and gladly relents to his brother.

Moses’ anger clouds his reason, and his nephews suffer from this.  How many times have we exploded at someone, missing their good intentions because of our anger?  We miss reasonable explanations because we are angry.  We are not alone in our effort to see through our anger.  Like Moses and Aaron, we can rely on our friends and loved ones to help us calm down when we are upset and not lose our rational selves to anger.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how it feels to be angry.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why is it so hard to give others the benefit of the doubt when you are angry?
  • When you look back at a time you had an angry outburst, how do you feel?  Would react differently now?
  • How can you help someone calm down when he or she is angry?

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.