Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens



vayikra3In a world of text messaging and twitter, writing a proper thank-you note has become a lost art. We express our appreciation by quickly texting THNX!!! while out-and-about and multitasking on smart phones. In contrast, in order to write a thank-you note you must sit at a desk and have a pen, stationery, and a stamp on hand. You need to write legibly, know your recipient’s street address, and have ample time and quiet to focus on expressing sincere gratitude. Unlike texting, however, sending a thankyou note shows that you are willing to sacrifice precious time to appreciate fully what you have been given.

In Torah portion Vayikra, God commands the Israelites to donate the first fruits of their harvest to the Temple. Though the Israelites worked hard all year to grow their crops and waited anxiously to see the fruits of their labor, they were required to give away their best produce instead of enjoying it themselves. Donating their first fruits to the Temple was an expression of gratitude for all the goodness in their lives.

A properly handwritten thank-you note would have been insufficient for the Israelites to thank God for the blessings in their lives. Like the Israelites, we too have much to be thankful for in our lives. But how do we express our gratitude? How do we sincerely thank the people in our lives who give us the gifts of time, support, and love? The next time you have the urge to quickly type THNX!!!, take a moment instead to express your appreciation more slowly and thoughtfully. The fruits of your labor will be greatly appreciated in return.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what they are thankful for and how they express their gratitude.


  • What are you thankful for?
  • How do you express your gratitude – to your friends, your family and your teachers?
  • Have you ever written a thank-you note? Have you ever received a thank-you note? What did it say? How did it make you feel?
  • If you could write a thank-you note to God, what would it say?

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.



VKH-P1As parents, we all know how much work goes into running a household. Nothing happens by itself; someone must do the dishes, make lunches, drive carpool, go shopping, etc. Children need to have the confidence that they’re cared for, but they should eventually learn about the efforts involved and what they can do to pitch in. How do we balance the two ideals?

In our Portion, the Jewish people constructed the Sanctuary (Mishkan). All members of the community were required to do their part, commensurate with their abilities. Whether the contribution took the form of a donation or volunteering, each and every person’s involvement was a crucial element in reaching the final product. Only with everyone’s participation did the Sanctuary become a special place.

It’s easy to take things for granted. Our children grow up in a society of plentitude and become used to things being there for him or her. Yet, it takes hard work to create anything. A household can only function properly with the labors of hard-working parents, and a special environment can only be achieved by way of planning and effort. Everyone’s contribution, and occasionally sacrifice, is necessary. Young children can be given small tasks in relation to their age and congratulated for pitching in. Putting away clothes, washing dishes, making their bed, all are helpful for the family effort. If we model chores correctly ourselves, they can even be seen as a privilege. Being a part of a family beyond only our own needs, all contributing commensurate with their abilities, makes a home very special.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the power of WE – with everyone working together for the good of all.


  • Name five actions or activities your parents do for your family.
  • Would you be OK if some of these things were missing?
  • What do you do to pitch in? What more could you do?
  • How do you feel when you know that others appreciate what you 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.



ki-tissa3We are each our own harshest critics. It is very easy to see our own flaws and what we could do better. We dwell on things in ourselves that others don’t even notice. But this does not prevent us also from seeing flaws in those around us. Often it is easy to focus on what is not as we would like. But these flaws, like veins in a beautiful gem, are what remind us that we are each unique creations. Imagine how boring the world would be if we were all perfect and no butterfly were brighter or duller than another.

Furious because the Children of Israel had built the Golden Calf in his absence, Moses threw the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments to the ground nearly immediately after receiving them. They shattered into a million pieces. What happened to the shattered tablets? The obvious thing to do would have been to throw them away. But they were swept up and collected. They were kept and cherished alongside the new tablets that God commanded Moses to make.

In the parashah, when the tablets were broken, we picked them up and valued the pieces. So too, with ourselves, we ought to cherish these broken pieces, these pieces that we maybe wish weren’t there. The broken pieces of tablets are a metaphor for the parts of ourselves that are less than perfect. These parts are sacred and we need to “pick them up”, with honor, in our life’s journey.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about why they might have kept the broken tablets.


  • Have you ever kept a toy even though it was broken? Why?
  • What is one thing about yourself that you could try to like more?
  • How can we learn to be more patient with ourselves and each other?

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.



Tetzevah3Since the Garden of Eden people have been self-conscious about their bodies and exhibited a need for privacy.  How we cover up our bodies with clothing is expressed in infinite variations.  Styles– sophisticated, slinky, funky, professional, fun– send a very personal message to the world.  Clothing reflects how we value ourselves and our bodies.

In our parsha this week, the priests who serve in the sanctuary dress for “adornment and dignity”.  Both those reasons are crucial.  Fulfilling their role with dignity is reflected in the elaborate clothes they wear, complete with sashes, breastpiece and headdress.  But the priests’ clothes are not only about dignity; beauty very much characterizes the kind of clothes they wear.  The priests’ clothes are clothes of bright color – clear blue, purple and crimson – clothes with golden bells and pomegranates, clothes made out of linen and embroidered work.

Reflect on the various ways you dress when you play different roles in the world.  It’s important to communicate to our children the twin values of beauty and dignity when dressing.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of taking care of their bodies and dressing with beauty and dignity.


  • Which are your favorite clothes?  Why?
  • What do your clothes say about you?
  • How do you feel about getting dressed up to go to a special event?
  • Is it important to get dressed up for special events? Why?

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.



Terumah3Children often complain about homework and chores. Too much of the time they do these things unwillingly, grudgingly. Parents need to coax, chide and threaten before their child’s responsibilities are complete. Moaning and groaning ensue. In the end, most parents see to it that children learn to be responsible, but they are baffled about how to encourage a better attitude in them.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites offer materials and skills to build the sanctuary. However, not everyone has to give, only “everyone whose heart makes him willing”. The people of Israel ultimately give freely and generously with an open heart, each contributing what they can in order to build the sacred sanctuary. In the end, there is more than enough.

In an ideal world, children would fulfill their responsibilities with a “willing heart” instead of whining and complaining their way through their chores. But parents have enough on their plates to see to it that children do what they have to do. No one can really force someone else to have a better attitude. The best that parents can do to is to reason with their children and to model how they themselves fulfill responsibilities. Do they do so with a heavy heart, with complaints, or do what they have to do, gladly and willingly? The more open-hearted and willing parents are, the more they can show their children how to live willingly, even joyfully, amidst the serious obligations of life.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the way they feel about their chores and obligations.


    • Which chores are hardest for you? Why?
    • Which parts of your homework are hardest for you? Why? What would
      help you get through it?
    • Why are chores and obligations important to do?
    • Could resisting chores be a habit? Could you develop a better attitude if you wanted?


By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses
Values & Ethics: Through a Jewish Lens is created to bring values/ethics of Judaism into family discussions.