Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

FREE WILL & DISCIPLINE…

TORAH PORTION: RE-EH

re-eh2All parents try to discipline their children. They have different methods, but generally parents are trying to influence their children to be moral and to behave appropriately. Imposing any kind of discipline rests on the assumption that children have free will. They can choose what is good and reap rewards, or choose what is bad and suffer the consequences.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re-eh, Moses tells his people: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse”. The people have a choice: they can obey the commandments and reap blessings, or they can fail to listen to the commandments and suffer. It is assumed by the Torah that people have freedom to choose and direct their own actions even when it is difficult to control their impulses.

Children have very powerful impulses. They want to have fun, they want to test limits, they want to feel that they are in control. They aren’t particularly interested in self-control. That is why a system of rewards and consequences is particularly important to shape children’s behavior over time. But how can parents figure out the right amount of discipline and the most effective methods? It’s important to find a balance between being overly strict and too permissive. Teach children to take responsibility for their own actions. Allow them to problem solve with you.

Be consistent in your responses to them. And, most importantly, allow them the freedom to make their own mistakes, the freedom that allows them to discover that their own actions lead them to reward or consequence. As they get older, their sense of self-discipline will grow, and hopefully they won’t need an external system of reward and punishment.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what it means to have free will.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What kinds of choices are hard for you?
  • What have you learned from making a poor choice?
  • What helps you to make the best choices?
  • How do you respond when consequences do not fit the deed?

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.

CONTROLLING ANGER…

TORAH PORTION: EKEV

ekev2What do you do when you get angry? Slam a door? Yell at someone? Just sulk? Well, if you never get angry, that’s fantastic. However, most of us do struggle with feelings of anger. We are confident that everything should be the way we want it, and when things go awry, we become insecure and angry.

This week’s Torah portion, Ekev, encourages us to disavow idol worship in all its forms, even physically destroy idols. Sometimes though, the ‘idol’ isn’t really an image or sculpture; it is ourselves. Anger is a self-centered indulgence, a modern form of idolatry.

Anger is our reaction to things not going the way we think they should. I’ve put myself and my wants on such a high pedestal that nothing else matters. I’m so sure that things should go my way that, when they don’t, I feel threatened and out of control. I’ll attempt to exercise my control over something else to compensate. I may break an object or yell at someone to regain a feeling of security. All I see is myself. In that case my idol is what looks back at me in the mirror.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the ways they handle feelings of anger.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Talk about a few things that have made you angry.
  • How could you have reacted differently?
  • Is it ever good to get angry?
  • Is it possible to think rationally about anger while you’re getting angry?
  • Does taking a break before responding help to calm you down?

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.

TAKING CARE OF OUR BODIES…

TORAH PORTION: VA-ETCHANAN

vaechinan2Do we exercise enough? Getting enough rest, staying clean, not smoking, and using alcohol in moderation are all important ways to respecting our bodies. Unfortunately, some people take better care of their fine jewelry, putting it away in velvet, than they do in caring for themselves. Our bodies do wonderful things for us. They enjoy our indulgences and provide us with pleasure, but they are also the tools we use to realize our dreams and aspirations. Without the energy to articulate or implement our ideas and creativity, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish much.

This week’s Torah portion, Va-Etchanan, begs us to protect and take good care of ourselves. We have so much potential within us that can only be accessed if our bodies are functioning properly. The Torah regards our bodies as ‘holy’ objects because they are tools for doing great things.

As we journey through life, we overcome challenges. Each step along the way provides opportunities for success and spiritual growth. Our job is the make sure that we have the required emotional and spiritual reserves to meet each challenge and to take advantage of the opportunities. Caring for our bodies establishes a platform for us to shine and excel.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how well they treat their own bodies.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What things must we do to care for our bodies? What happens if we don’t?
  • Discuss how our bodies are important to our performance in life?
  • What can you do as a family to improve overall health for all of you?

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.

THE TONE OF YOUR VOICE…

TORAH PORTION: DEVARIM

devarimAll kids use sarcasm at a certain point in their lives. It can be light-hearted or disrespectful and mean-spirited. Parents are often at a loss as to how to respond to it. If you call your children on it, they often say, “I was only joking”. Sarcasm is a slippery behavior, often hard to pinpoint.

This week’s Torah portion, Devarim, retells the story of the spies who traveled to the Promised Land and come back with a negative report to the Israelites camped in the desert. God is angry with them, not only for the negative things they say and the way they demoralize the rest of the people, but also for their tone of voice.

This teaches us that respect actually involves more than the words we use. The tone of one’s voice and body language are also powerful vehicles of meaning. The question is how to teach this to our children. One strategy is to ignore sarcastic remarks. When they are not fed with the oxygen of attention, they are often extinguished. Beyond that, parents should generally insist on respectful communication with them and with their siblings. Furthermore, parents should not exhibit sarcasm with one another or to their children. Children hear it enough from their peers.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of respectful discussion.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • In what kind of situations do others use sarcasm? Why?
  • What response lessens the sting of another person’s sarcasm?
  • How are you affected by the tone of voice of others?
  • Do you raise your voice to make a point? Is it effective?

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.

KEEPING YOUR WORD: IT’S EASIER SAID THAN DONE…

TORAH PORTION: MATOT

matot1Words flow around us all day long and sometimes are taken lightly. Promises also can be made easily, but keeping them often is another matter. Adults might make too many promises to children about what they can have in the future, or children make may promises to adults about behaving better, which they are not always able to keep. It is important to check inside ourselves on our ability to fulfill a promise before we make it. Otherwise, our words will have little value and will not be taken seriously by our children.

This week’s Torah Parsha discusses vows and the importance of not breaking a pledge. Judaism teaches not to make a verbal commitment unless you really mean it. Such a commitment is something one is morally obligated to honor, even if it later becomes inconvenient.

Even apart from the seriousness of promises, there is the issue of what we say in daily discourse. It is easy to say what we do not ultimately mean. Think for a moment about how often we say “No” and subsequently our children by the very strength of their bargaining powers, or, for that matter their whining, turn it into a “Yes”. While saying no is not exactly a promise, our children will begin to believe that we do not mean what we say. It is important to think before we speak, not to make promises lightly and not even to say “No” or “Yes” if we don’t believe that we can stand by our words.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of keeping promises.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever broken a promise?
  • Has anyone ever broken a promise made to you? How did you feel?
  • When do you think you should make promises?
  • Should some promises have a specific time stated for completion?

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.