Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

ASKING QUESTIONS…

HOLIDAY: PASSOVER

passover1Asking questions is essential to childhood. Doing one’s best to answer these questions is part of being a parent. Sometimes we are delighted by these questions, and at other times we are discomfited, at a loss as to how to answer them. Whichever it is, we know how important it is for our children to keep on asking questions.

This coming week is time for the yearly Passover seders. The Torah and the rabbis who shaped the seders placed children’s questions at the heart of the seder. Not only are the “Four Questions” designed to specifically engage children. The purpose of much of what we do differently on this night is precisely so that children will ask spontaneous questions. We cover and uncover the matzoh at strange moments. We hide the Afikomen, a piece of one of the matzahs on our seder plate, and we do odd things with unusual foods like dipping bitter herbs in salt water.

The seder speaks of four different kinds of children with four different approaches to the Passover Seder: the wise, the wicked, the simple one, and the one who does not know how to ask. Many of us would be uncomfortable placing any child in the wicked category. However, the point really is that there are different kinds of children with different kinds of learning styles. The questions of each child come from the point where that child is in his own development. The goal is to address children where they are and lead them to a deeper understanding of their lives and the lives of their family and people.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the special heritage of the Passover story and the importance of asking questions.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What is your favorite part of the Passover holiday?
  • How do you think the Passover story connects to your life today?
  • Discuss the various rituals and their symbolism—hiding the Afikomen, dipping bitter herbs in salt water, eating a spring vegetable,  having four cups of wine, asking four questions, etc. (The meaning of these rituals can be found in a Haggadah or on variety of Jewish websites, including myjewishlearning.com)

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.

IS FREEDOM FREE?

HOLIDAY: PASSOVER

Passover2Freedom is such an attractive concept to us all. We like the idea of doing what we want, when we want. Often we think that being free of rules, regulations, and requirements are important for us to feel free. Could we be wrong in expecting too much of freedom? What if people did exactly as they pleased, whenever they wanted. Life could get very confusing, complicated, and dangerous.

On Passover, we celebrate our freedom from slavery with a Seder. Interestingly the word Seder means order, and our special celebration of freedom starts with 15 steps to follow. None of our other meals has so many requirements. Why does this special meal require us to follow 15 proscribed steps? First a cup of wine, then washing hands, dipping vegetables, breaking the middle matza, storytelling. . .and that is only 40% of the steps.

The wisdom of our tradition teaches that to be free we need order in our lives. Only within a structure of order and responsibility can we be free to pursue our desires. Imagine if others were free to harm themselves or us. Imagine if everyone was so free and did not have to follow rules; chaos would result. In chaos, none of us could accomplish what we want. There is wisdom in realizing how much our freedom depends on a structure of rules and laws for the benefit of all.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT how rules are important for our safety and our freedom.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What do we like most about freedom?
  • Are there parts of your life in which you feel you do not have freedom?
  • Has there ever been a situation when you wished you did not have so much freedom?

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.

CONSTANTLY FEEDING OUR INTERNAL SPARK…

TORAH PORTION: TZAV

tzav3Jewish learning is a continuous process of discovering the richness and relevance of our tradition.  Many people think learning can stop when school stops.  Stopping Jewish studies after 13 is all too common.

This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, instructs that a small fire must burn permanently on the Altar represent the desire within each of us to connect to something bigger and higher, just as a fire always reaches upwards.  This small flame also reminds each of us that we have a spark to learn and improve within us.  It is our responsibility to nurture our spark by feeding it through continued learning.

The smallest commitment today to Jewish learning and knowledge can feed a blaze for generations.  Our books, texts, and traditions bring new meaning to us at different stages of our life.  An easy way to re-start our Jewish journey is to visit www.myjewishlearning.com and explore its rich treasures of information.  Consider signing up for one or more of their special interest weekly emails.  Let’s show our children why exploring our traditions is important by displaying our own passion for constant learning.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of being life-long learners.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Did you know that the brilliance and wisdom of the Torah’s values/ethics are available to everyone, disbeliever or believer?
  • Did you know that our Torah is a great collection of wisdom that has positively affected other religions and even the founding fathers of America?
  • Did you know that Jewish wisdom is relevant to EVERONE’S life today?  (A small example is “a day of rest each week”.  Before our Torah, nobody divided time into weeks.  All time was in months based on the moon.)

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.

“THNX GOD!!!”

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIKRA

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.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • 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.

THE POWER OF WE…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YAK HEL / PEKUDEI

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.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • 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.