Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

“IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT…”

TORAH PORTION: NOAH

noah3Snoopy begins each of his stories with the words “It was a dark and stormy night…”  Even if you’re not a beagle living on top of a red doghouse, life can often feel dark and stormy. Where do you go when you’re having a tough day? Whom do you turn to when you’re having a bad night? We often turn to our families to help us through the rough patches in life.

Like Snoopy, Noah had many dark and stormy nights. While it rained and poured for forty days and nights, Noah’s ark protected his family. Though the water raged and flooded the entire world, Noah’s wife and children remained secure. As a family, they made it through the flood safely and were able to start their lives again in peace.

Just as Noah and his family were protected from the flood by their ark, we also have our own arks that guard us from the dark and stormy world. Our families are our arks. We turn to our family when we need protection. Like an ark, our families provide us with shelter and guide us through life. However, in order to make sure that our ark feels safe for each family member, we need to watch how we speak to one another and pay attention to how we handle our differences. Maintaining peace and security in our own families helps us keep the stormy world at bay.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways we can make sure that our family feels safe, like an ark, for each family member.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How is our family like an ark? How can our family be more like an ark?
  • How can we make sure that our family is a safe space for each family member?
  • How do we maintain peace in our home and in our family?

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.

SIBLING RIVALRY…

TORAH PORTION: BERESHIT

bereshit1Family tensions are easily created between siblings. Feeling overshadowed because of the accomplishments of our brother or sister, or feeling overlooked by parents, are frequent causes. How can we avoid these common family dilemmas?

This week’s Torah portion, Bereshit, includes the story of Cain and Abel and man’s first violent act: a lashing out of brother against brother based on family tension, jealousy and perceived favoritism. When Cain is asked, after he killed Abel, where his brother is, he answers, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Torah is clearly teaching that the answer is definitely YES to Cain’s question.

What can we do in our families to reduce tensions, manage jealousies, and create positive family dynamics? Recognize the special qualities of each child. Let children know how much each is appreciated by the whole family for his or her uniqueness. Parents need to be careful about expressing favoritism by balancing praise with sensitivity to the feelings of their other children. When kids know that their parents appreciate and love them for who they are, they have a better chance of dealing with the inequities they  will face in the outside world without directing anger at their siblings. Children should be taught by parents to value their brothers and sisters as family forever and life-long friends.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways to create healthy family dynamics.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some of the things you like about the way your family functions?
  • What are some things that you would like to change?
  • How do you discuss things when there are problems?
  • Do you feel heard and appreciated in your family?
  • How can you and your family all work together to respect each other?

By Fred Claar

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

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.

FRAGILITY, FEAR AND BLESSING…

HOLIDAY: SUKKOT

sukkotMuch of what we do tries to instill in our children a sense of security. What a challenge it is when life presents something unexpected to us that shows us how fragile we really are. Life in all its fragility can be difficult. We carry around fears of illness and worse for ourselves or our children or other loved ones. Everyone, at some point in life is faced with this feeling of fragility.

The Holiday of Sukkot is all about fragility. A sukkah is a temporary shelter with a roof that allows us to see the sky and the stars. The house is flimsy, but during Sukkot we try to live in it, eat in it, even sleep in it during the eight-day festival. It presents an opportunity to remember our fragility. Sukkot is said to recall the time the Jews spent wandering around in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt, while journeying to the land of Israel.

While on Sukkot we recall our fragility, it is also a time of bounty, a time of harvest, a time of great blessing. Sukkot is meant to be a joyous and festive holiday. When remembering our own fragility, we are able to be in touch with the temporary nature of all blessings and thus enjoy them even more deeply. It is a wonderful opportunity to teach children that fragility also means good things: not only illness and death, but also blessing and joy.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the time the Israelites wandered in the desert on their way to the land of Israel and lived in booths through which they could see the stars.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What kinds of things frighten you?
  • What helps you feel safe?
  • How do you think experiencing a simpler, more fragile life in a sukkah would make you feel?

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.

FORGIVING OTHERS…

HOLIDAY: YOM KIPPUR

Yom-KippurIt’s not always easy to forgive others. At times, it’s emotionally easier to bear a grudge than to let go of slights. Having a hardened heart means we are impervious to continued hurts. But it also means it’s difficult to let love and friendship into our lives.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a day of forgiveness. It is important to come to Yom Kippur with a clean slate. According to tradition, we are to ask each other for forgiveness and give others forgiveness before Yom Kippur. Once we are forgiven by others, we fast and pray on Yom Kippur with our communities, asking God to forgive us.

It’s important to instruct our children in the act of forgiveness, first by modeling. After imposing appropriate consequences and limits, do we forgive our children when they’ve committed wrongs? Do we ask their forgiveness once we have hurt them, or if we’ve been wrong? Modeling forgiveness can help them learn to forgive us, as well as their brothers and sisters and friends.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of forgiveness and having a day such as Yom Kippur on which we are forgiven all our sins.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What happens when you get mad? Do the feelings go away after awhile? Or do the angry feelings stay?
  • Is it difficult to forgive people who have hurt you? What makes it so?
  • Is it easier sometimes to forgive others than to forgive ourselves?

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.