Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Acharay-Mot-Kedoshim

FOOD CHOICES…

TORAH TOPICS: ACHARAY MOT

Acharay3When we think about food, it has become popular to ask: “Do you live to eat or do you eat to live?” Our feelings about food and the choices we make around eating have the ability to say a lot about who we are as people.

This week’s Torah portion, Acharay Mot, contains many rules about the food we eat which are incorporated into our modern system of keeping kosher. There are rules about the types of foods we eat, about how we prepare those foods, and even about when we eat them. This week’s text connects food to the idea of holiness, which might lead us to ask what is holy about food.

It is easy to understand what it means to “eat to live”. We know that we need to take in a certain amount of food to provide energy and keep us healthy. We can also imagine what it means to “live to eat”, to take great pleasure from ingredients, recipes and cuisine. But what does it mean to think about our food choices in terms of holiness? What would it look like for us to make food decisions based on our ethics and values? This could mean the discipline of eating organically or locally, being vegetarian, or keeping kosher. There are lots of ways we can change the way we make our decisions around food, but most important is that we raise our awareness about what we consume.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the food choices we make.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Where do you fall on the “eat to live” vs. “live to eat” spectrum?
  • What do you think about when you decide what to eat?
  • Are there any special limitations or choices you make (i.e. vegetarian, gluten free etc.) If so, why?
  • How does the discipline, or lack of it, in your food choices affect you?
  • How do you think your food choices impact your world?

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

THE HOLINESS OF OUR BODIES…

TORAH PORTION: KEDOSHIM

Acharay4It is difficult in our society to have a sense of respect and acceptance for our own bodies with all their inherent differences.  Women especially are often held to impossible standards when it comes to body weight.  Eating disorders abound, mostly for girls, but also amongst boys.  Boys and girls, men and women, become obsessive about weight and appearance, and the importance of bodily appearance can, unfortunately, overshadow other life interests and relationships.

In this Torah portion there is a law against making gashes in one’s flesh and also against tattooing oneself.  We are commanded to be holy, and one of the ways to become so is through treating the body as sacred, not permanently marring it in anyway.  No matter what its size, shape or appearance, the body, just as it is, is considered holy.

When raising children  we can counteract some of society’s messages, which place so much emphasis on the body as object.  Using the Torah’s concept of the body as holy, we can present an important alternative to children.   By placing emphasis on caring for one’s body through healthful eating, bathing, and dressing in clean and attractive clothes, we can teach that a sense of bodily sanctity can be nurtured.  We can communicate to girls or boys struggling with body image issues that they are acceptable, even holy, just as they are.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the Torah’s concept of their body as being holy.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are the best ways to take care of your body?
  • How does bathing contribute to your sense of the holiness of our bodies?
  • How do healthy food choices contribute to your sense of the body’s holiness?
  • What are the best ways to take care of your body?

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.

SCAPEGOATING…

TORAH PORTION: ACHARAY MOT

Acharay2Blaming one another is a tempting human tendency.  How much easier it is to place responsibility on another’s shoulders than to accept responsibility for our actions!  We like to shift the weight of our own flaws and misdeeds on to another, especially when we have not lived up to our own or others’ expectations.  Children often engage in blaming when confronted with an action unacceptable to a parent or teacher, saying things like “He started it!” or “It was her fault!”.

Our Torah portion this week deals with the original scapegoat. The high priest confesses the sins of Israel while placing his hands on a goat that was then sent out into the desert as part of the larger atonement process.  Sending a goat into the desert is a far better option than a group of people turning a human being into an outcast by blaming him or her for our own flaws.

This Torah portion serves as an important directive.  The goat lightens the load of Israel’s sins in an overall process of forgiveness.  While we are to take responsibility for our own actions, there has to be room for a lightening of the load of our errors through forgiveness.  As parents we have to be ready to confront our children.  At the same time we shouldn’t overwhelm them with the force of our confrontations.  A light touch and a readiness to forgive might be just the right approach to encourage children to take responsibility for their own actions.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the concept of a scapegoat–when a group shifts all of their blame on one person.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Do you ever blame others for your own mistakes?
  • Do others ever blame you for their mistakes?
  • In what kind of situations do we blame others?
  • What makes owning up to our own faults and flaws so difficult?
  • How has scapegoating hurt people and societies?

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.

GLEANINGS FROM OUR OWN BLESSINGS…

TORAH PORTION: KEDOSHIM

Acharay1It’s easy to look up the street and see that the grass is a little greener at a neighbor’s. Maybe they have a new car or their kids are wearing the newest fashion. You wish you could have those niceties. It’s often much harder to look the other way, down the street or, perhaps, across town, to see how your
grass might look greener to so many others. Your car may not be the newest, but it’s a solid, safe car that runs; your kids are comfortable. Though it may be hard to see at times, we all have abundant blessings, and even a surplus, if only we could notice it.

As we think about finding small surpluses, let us turn to this week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim. This week we learn how to harvest our fields. We are told to leave the corners unharvested, and we are told that we cannot go back to collect any produce that we dropped along the way. We learn that we leave this produce in our fields so that those less fortunate – those without fields of their own – will have food to eat and a little livelihood. It is remarkable that there is no minimum size field for leaving this gleaning; the
assumption is that any landowner can always spare a little.

This lesson from the Torah helps us to look at what we have and see the corners we could leave unharvested. Can we give a little more money to tzedakah? Can we donate barely used outgrown clothes or sports equipment? Can we forgo a new purchase and give a little more to those who are less fortunate? Or how about putting a few extra cans in the cart at the grocery store each visit, saving up our own gleanings for a food bank?

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of giving to those who are less fortunate.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Where do you have a surplus in your life?
  • How might you use this surplus to help others?
  • Why is it sometimes hard to see the abundance of your blessings?

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.