Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

FACING OUR PERSONAL MONSTERS…

TORAH PORTION: HA-AZINU

ha-azinu1Perhaps you’re familiar with this nightly ritual: check under the bed for monsters, turn on the night light, tuck child into bed with blankie and favorite stuffed animal, cover child in kisses, and check under the bed for monsters, again. Whether you’re five, fifteen or fifty years old, you have probably dealt with your own share of irrational fears. Whether it’s a fear of flying, public speaking, or spiders – or a fear of monsters hiding under your bed – there are times when the rational part of ourselves is overpowered by our emotions.

We cannot think logically and our deep, dark fears take over. Yet, we each have a treasure trove of personal strengths, such as the ability to give and receive love, to solve problems, or to stay calm and organized. When the monsters begin gathering under our beds, how can we tap into our strengths?

The Children of Israel, in this week’s Torah portion, Ha-Azinu, also had fears and moments of terror. They were afraid of their enemies and of being teased or judged by the larger nations. As they wandered in the wilderness, there were times when they lost hope in themselves and when they stopped believing in Moses and God. They forgot how to access their strengths.

Like the Children of Israel, we too have moments when we’re overpowered by our fears. When these moments come, our greatest resources are our own internal strengths. Often though, we need the support of our families to help us tap into these strengths – and to remind us that we’re strong enough, brave enough, and smart enough to overcome the obstacles in our way. Together, we can learn how to face the spiders, airplanes, and monsters hiding under each of our beds.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about identifying their personal fears and strengths.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What scares you, and why?
  • What are your personal strengths?
  • How can you use your strengths to overcome your fears?
  • How can your family help you overcome your fears?

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.

OUR ANCESTORS BEFORE US…

TORAH PORTION: NITZAVIM

Appreciating What We Have Inherited & What We Control

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Many of us approach parenthood as if we and our children were clean slates. As if, with some coaching from our friends and relatives, and a few good books, we can be exactly the kind of parents we wish to be and our children will turn out exactly how we want them to be. But it doesn’t often, or ever, turn out that way. We are heavily influenced by the way we were brought up, as well as by many factors not totally in our control. Our health, our socioeconomic situation, and the health and character of our children play a large role in our lives and our children’s lives.

In this week’s portion, Nitzavim, Moses declares that God has made a covenant, not only with the current generation, but with generations that came before as well as with future generations. Thus we are part of a long link, connecting us backwards and forwards. It’s not all about us and our own current generation. Rather, our lives depend on those who came before us and bear responsibility to those who come after us.

It’s important to teach our children to think about what they’ve inherited and is largely out of their control, and what is up to them to shape. For example, they may have been born Jewish, but what will they do with that Jewish identity? They may have no choice concerning what family they are born into, but what relationships will they forge to their extended family, their parents, and their siblings? It’s up to us, as usual, to model for our children, navigating with grace what we inherit and what we pass on, what is in our control and what is out of our control.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what they inherited and what they can control.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some of the traits and talents you received from parents and grandparents?
  • How do you plan to take advantage of these gifts you have received?
  • Which of your personality traits and your abilities would you want your children to have?

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.

DOES GRATITUDE COME NATURALLY…

TORAH PORTION: KI TAVO

Showing Gratitude for Your Blessings

Showing Gratitude - Torah Portion KI TAVOWe have many magic moments in our families. There are times for us to appreciate our accomplishments and the people in our lives. Yet gratitude does not come naturally to most people, especially children. “Don’t forget to say thank you!”… Sound familiar? We try to teach our children gratitude.

Being reluctant to express thanks is common in children. It is important to help children overcome this resistance. This week’s portion, Ki Tavo, relates the story of a farmer who has successfully produced a new crop. The first fruits have to be selected for a special ceremony to give the farmers an opportunity to think about their blessings and to say thank you properly.

Saying ‘Thank You’ is not just good manners. It is an attitude. If I feel a sense of entitlement, I will not be able to express gratitude for something I’ve received. Children often feel entitled, and we must teach them to appreciate the wonderful things in their lives. Most importantly, we must make sure to be properly grateful for our own blessings!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being grateful for what they have.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What blessings are in your life?
  • What special gifts do you possess?
  • Why should we be thankful? How should we express it?
  • Can one person do everything alone?
  • For older children – discuss the concepts of dependence, independence, and interdependence.

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.

KINDNESS TO ANIMALS…

TORAH PORTION: KI TAYTZAY

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Kindness to others in children can begin with kindness to animals. Even though children can be fairly self-centered, exposure to animals can bring out the nurturing side of a child. At times, however,  children can also be cruel to insects or animals. These times provide an important opportunity for a lesson in the feelings of creatures other than human beings and can lead to greater kindness for other people as well.

Our current Torah portion forbids us from plowing with an ox and an ass together. Besides a concern for not mixing species together, plowing with an ox and an ass can be painful for the smaller animal who would suffer in this yoking. In this way the Torah shows humanitarian concern for animals.

Expose your children to animals and teach them how to care for them. Even if you can’t yourself have a pet for a child, you can visit pet stores and zoos and have your child learn about animals. Sometimes families who cannot own a pet can borrow a pet for the weekend. It’s important for children to be given opportunities to show caring for others.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of being kind to animals.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What kind of animals do you like the best? The least?
  • Have you or anyone you know ever mistreated an animal?
  • Why do you think people would mistreat an animal?
  • Why do you think it’s important to be kind to animals?

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.

WILL YOU SPEAK FOR THE TREES…

TORAH PORTION: SHOFTIM

shoftim2Dr. Seuss introduced us to the children’s book The Lorax, his 1971 children’s book that was recently remade into feature-length film. The Lorax tells the story of how the environment is destroyed by human activity and ambition. We hear the unforgettable voice of the gruff but wise Lorax, who says to the greedy Onceler. “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues!”

Like the Lorax, we too learn to speak for the trees in this week’s Torah reading. Portion Shoftim includes the mitzvah to protect fruit trees from destruction. Trees should not be chopped down for the benefit of humans. This mitzvah is the foundation for the Jewish value of ba’al tashchit which teaches us not to be wasteful and to care for the environment. Ba’al tashchit shows us the “green” side of Judaism.

Trees and the environment cannot protect themselves. It is up to us humans to guard them. Like the Lorax, we too can find ways to “speak for the trees” in our homes and schools, at work and in play. You can start by examining your daily actions. How can you be less wasteful each day? You can also look at the world around you. There are an infinite number of large and small ways to incorporate the value of ba’al tashchit into your life, your community, and our world.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways to protect the environment in their daily lives.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Think about all the things you use on a daily basis. How can you apply the mitzvah of ba’al tashchit, not being wasteful?
  • What do you waste as a family? How can you work together to limit your wastefulness?
  • How can you advocate for the environment?
  • How can Shabbat be a time when your family practices ba’al tashchit?

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.