Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

FREE WILL…

TORAH PORTION: VA-ERA

FreeWillTry telling a teacher, parent, or friend that you just HAD to do something they deem inappropriate. Nine times out of ten, the response will be “That’s ridiculous! Nobody can force you to do something!” We have a deep belief in, and awareness of, our freedom to choose when making decisions.

In Va’era, this week’s Torah portion, God informs Moses that He will harden Pharoah’s heart and Pharoah will refuse to release the Jews from captivity. Pharoah’s heart is ‘artificially’ hardened, but the rest of us are in fact free to choose between right and wrong. The contrast is deliberate.

Throughout life, one encounters decisions. As we grow, the nature of these challenges shift, but what remains constant is our ability to choose our own path. For the adolescent this may take the form of taking school seriously, resisting smoking, or being kind to others. For people facing serious hardships, all they may have left to choose is how to react and set their attitude. There is always a choice to be made. Let’s celebrate the gift of choice!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about free will and our ability to turn every moment into a victory by making proper choices.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What have friends pressured you to do that you didn’t want to do?
  • Do you have any red lines? Anything you won’t do no matter what?
  • What decisions are you most proud of that were hard to make?

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.

WHEN SHOULD PATIENCE TRUMP PASSION?

TORAH PORTION: SHEMOT

Shemot-PatiencePassionChildren, naturally, don’t have patience. In fact, the younger they are, the less they have. When they are preschoolers, they can sometimes behave like a roiling bundle of impulses and passions. “It’s not fair,” they cry out—or they throw a tantrum over something they want and can’t have or, even worse, hit another child. It is our job as parents to take those impulses and passions, and channel them. Some of those impulses are positive—they may have an early sense of justice—but they can’t express that sense of justice through hitting. Though children may be demanding their rights, a temper tantrum won’t help them to get what they want. We parents, the adults in their lives with the long view, need to teach our children how to wait, how to take a stand appropriately, and how to ask for what they want.

When Moses first sees the suffering of his brothers and sisters, he responds with a primal sense of justice. When he sees an Egyptian striking an Israelite, he kills the Egyptian and hides his body. Was there another way Moses could have handled the situation, other than killing? Maybe so but perhaps his ability to be patient had not evolved. Later Moses has an encounter with God at the burning bush, and God bestows upon him a mission to save his people. Now Moses’ individual sense of justice and murderous outrage is transformed into a sense of national mission. He goes to Pharaoh again and again, undeterred, uttering the words “Let my People Go” instead of lashing out aggressively by killing slave masters.

Our children, like Moses, need to transform their natural impulses into something higher. We as parents can help them do that by guiding them to use other behavior. Instead of hitting, they can use their words to speak out – forcefully, but peacefully. Instead of a temper tantrum over their demands, they can learn to ask for what they want civilly. From the midst of their passions and impulses, children can learn to behave constructively and wisely, learning habits that will serve them well throughout their lives. In addition, as they see adults around them model restraint, they will internalize that as well.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what makes them fly off the handle. Discuss with them other ways they might be able to handle their feelings.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What makes you angry?
  • What do you do when you get angry? How else could you respond?
  • What do you think is unfair?
  • What are the best ways to deal with unfair situations?

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.

ACTING WITHOUT THOUGHT…

TORAH PORTION: VAYECHI

ActingWithoutThoughtWhen we are angry, our vision narrows and we sometimes act in ways that would shock even ourselves in a better moment. It is hard to maintain perspective when someone or something angers or offends us. But, upon reflection we are able to look back on our actions and make changes for the future. We will not be forgiven for our regrettable actions if we do not make changes in our behavior.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, Jacob is on his deathbed and shares parting words with all of his sons. These are not the blessings you might expect from a dying patriarch. Many of them are quite critical. Jacob scolds his sons Reuben, Simeon, and Levi for their reckless behavior from years before, which includes sexual indiscretion and a murderous massacre. Years later, these sons are still dealing with the consequences of their actions, and their father has not forgiven them. In the moment,  when the brothers did these things, they surely did not consider these consequences. Imagine how they must have felt when they realized how much their father was still hurting from their actions, so many years later.

Slowly counting to ten can prevent us from yelling or making a mean remark, whether it be towards a loved one or a colleague. Re-reading an impassioned e-mail can help us press “delete” instead of “send.” When we do take an action that we later regret, we can reflect on what led us to take that step in order to avoid doing it again. Thinking about those we have hurt
in the past can help us be more careful in the future.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about why it is important to control their anger.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What do you do when you are angry?
  • Can you think of a time when you stopped yourself from expressing anger?
  • How did it feel?
  • How can you communicate anger in a productive way?

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.

LYING DOES NOT PAY…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIGASH

LyingDoesNotPayMistakes happen, and as self-respecting folks, we don’t like when we ‘mess up’. It is very tempting, and often convincing, to present and/or perceive the facts a bit differently. We can deny ever having said something compromising or running a stop sign, and maybe convince ourselves that we didn’t do anything wrong. The problem is that we can be a little too short-sighted sometimes.

Joseph is sold by his brothers because they decided they wanted to get rid of him. After selling Joseph, his brothers engage in an elaborate deception designed to give their father the impression that Joseph had been torn apart by wild animals. Much to their shock, Joseph pops up many years later as a ruler in Egypt. Now the brothers are faced with the very uncomfortable reality of being caught. Not only did they commit a crime against their brother, but they also lied to their father.

We rarely lie out of malice or a desire to be dishonest. More often than not, we end up lying because it’s more convenient to say an untruth than to admit to an uncomfortable truth at that particular moment. But if someone else saw or heard, we’re in double trouble now that we’ve lied about it. We must remember to keep the long term ramifications of a lie in mind.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about why lying doesn’t pay. If we come clean right away we’ll usually be forgiven anyway.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why are we tempted to lie?
  • Is it bad to lie or just not smart?
  • Is it ever right to lie?

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.

MOVING BEYOND DENIAL…

TORAH PORTION: MI-KETZ

MovingBeyondDenialSometimes the truth is sitting right in front of us. Sometimes the solution to our problems is the palm of our hands, but we just can’t see it. Luckily, we don’t move through this world alone. We have friends, family, and teachers who can help us gain perspective on our own lives. We just need to learn to listen.

In this week’s Torah portion, Mi-Ketz, Joseph’s brothers are blinded by denial. They have come down to Egypt in search of food due to the famine in their own land. None of the eleven brothers can see that the Egyptian official in front of them is their brother, Joseph, whom they sold into slavery years ago, telling their father that he had died. They probably even convinced themselves that he had died. Joseph tries to give them a hint by seating them in age order, an order only a family member would know. But they are unable to notice this. It is not until Joseph, giving up on all subtleties, says to them,: “I am your brother Joseph,” that they realize who he is.

It took the shock of finding their long lost brother to open their eyes to reality. Do we miss important clues in our own lives? Do we hold back from new challenges because we are in denial about our abilities to handle the new challenge? All of us can break out of denial into reality, but it is hard to do alone. We each have people in our own lives who can help us break from unrealistic denial. Parents, teachers, brothers, and sisters are often able to help us see our own world properly. We just need to be open to them.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what clues to their abilities they may be denying.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • When have you learned a lesson about yourself from a friend?
  • What makes it hard to listen when someone is giving you advice?
  • How can we learn to be more open?

By Rabbi Judith GreenbergTorah

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