Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Behar-Bechukotai



Behar3We have all sorts of rules in our lives. Some rules are serious, make sense, are easy to follow, and others are more difficult to obey. They vary greatly from “don’t run into traffic” to “don’t copy a friend’s homework”. Some are more universal rules like “do not steal” and some are household rules like “trash gets taken out on Thursday night”. Some are very clear in how to obey them, such as “do not murder”, and some are more open to interpretation, such as “be kind to others”. No matter what the rules may be we can always ask ourselves: why do we choose to follow them? Is it because we are afraid of the consequences or because we believe in the rules themselves?

The question is no different in this week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai. All Israelites are instructed to follow rules for the betterment of themselves and society. It is each person’s choice to follow the rules; however, there are consequences when rules are broken.

We both break and follow many rules every day. How is it that we decide which ones fall into each category? Do you always follow the “rules” of a nutritious diet or the “laws” of recycling? Maybe you do and maybe you don’t, but is it because of your feelings about the consequences of breaking it, or the reward of following it? Ultimately, we navigate our way through many decisions each day and, no matter what our choices are, it is important
to think about why we are making them.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of rules in their lives.


  • What are some rules that are easy to follow? Why are they easy?
  • What are some rules that are harder to follow? Why are they hard?
  • Do you think about the consequences when you are thinking about a rule?
  • Do the consequences affect your decision as to whether you will or won’t follow the rule?
  • What is an example of a rule that you follow simply because you believe in it?

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



Behar2Most Americans have warm homes and enough to eat.  Their children have many toys to play with.  And yet, there are many people here in America and around the world who don’t have enough.  Some of those people we pass on the street each day.  Others are living in the margins in substandard housing or shelters.  Children notice the discrepancies between those who have enough and those who don’t and try to make sense of it.  Early on in their lives children can learn what it means to try to help those who don’t have enough.

In this week’s Torah portion we learn about tithing.  Tithing is a sensible way to give to those who don’t have enough.  It means that you give a tenth of whatever you have to others who are needy.  Another manner of giving described is leaving the corners of one’s field un-harvested, so that the poor can come and glean with dignity.  While the Torah mandates giving, it mandates an amount that is reasonable to give away– one that leaves us with more than enough– so that we are more likely to fulfill the command of giving to the needy.

Children can learn early what it means to give. They can share toys and clothes they no longer wear.  They can sell lemonade outside or have bake sales and give part of the proceeds to charity.  Children can also give by volunteering their time in a soup kitchen or helping kids younger than themselves in a shelter or a literacy program.  It’s important to develop a life-long habit of giving.  Early on, children can learn a deep sense of responsibility to others, especially when one has more than required to live.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about giving charity and why it’s important.


  • What do you think our responsibilities are to those who have less than we do?
  • How can you give?  Which of your things could you share?
  • How does it make you feel when you help out someone else?

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.



Behar1“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.”  This ditty, often recited by kids when they are called names, is designed to protect a child from the meanness of other children.  But, words, truth be told, are powerful weapons.  Indeed, it would be more honest to chant: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can hurt me!”  Children are especially vulnerable to the words of another.

In our Torah portion this week we are enjoined “not to wrong one another”, meaning not hurt one another with words.  Instead we are to consider the effect of our words on others carefully, reflecting on the word choices we make and their impact on others.  The Jewish tradition places great emphasis on not hurting another’s feelings.

It’s important to model for our children the appropriate use of language by being considerate of our children’s feelings. Harsh words and tone can hurt more often than we realize. Even when discipline is called for, it is important not to speak too harshly to our children.  Our words can backfire, causing damage and retreat.  Firm but kinds words can be a much more effective teaching tool than yelling, even when a child has done something wrong.  In this way a child can learn kindness toward his or her friends and family.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how words can hurt feelings and remind them to stop and think before reacting or talking.


  • Has anyone ever called you a name or hurt you with the words the person used?
  • How did you respond?
  • Have you ever hurt someone else with the words you’ve used?
  • What other words do you think you could have chosen?
  • What other ways do you think we can learn to communicate other than by using  hurtful language?

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.



behar4Judaism is concerned with the ethics of our everyday actions, even those seemingly harmless. For example, a woman walks into a store to get information about buying an air conditioner that she has NO intention of buying in that store. She asks the proprietor of the store all kinds of questions regarding the best air conditioner to buy. Afterwards she goes home and buys her preferred air conditioner online for a better price. She’s done nothing wrong. She has just made sure she was an educated consumer— right? Wrong! According to Jewish law she misrepresented herself, acting as if she would make a purchase at the store and falsely getting the salesman’s hopes up. There is nothing wrong with shopping for the best price as long as one has the possible intention to make a purchase.

According to our Torah portion this week, Behar, we should not “misrepresent” ourselves and create an impression that is false. It’s not exactly lying; it’s more subtle than that. There are many ways to create a false impression, sometimes through commission and sometimes through omission. To take a seemingly benign example, someone assumes you are kosher and you are not. You do not contradict him or her because you feel that puts you in a better light with that particular person. However, your lack of speaking up has created a false impression. You have deceived them by not correcting their impression.

This is a very demanding standard when it comes to honesty. What’s behind it is acting according to the truth of your intentions and identity, a powerfully important lesson to impart to children. How many times do they wish to pretend they are other than they are? Teaching them that it is essential to behave authentically in the world is a basic lesson in honesty. Except in play, don’t pretend actively or passively to be who you’re not. Your relationships with others can only be real if they rest on honest assumptions. Being truthful about yourself is a habit of personality that begins in childhood.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about exaggerating their accomplishments with others.


  • Do you ever pretend to be something you’re not with your friends?
  • Do you ever allow others to believe something about you that isn’t true?
  • How do you think your friends would describe the real you? Is that really who you are?
  • Is it correct behavior intentionally to waste another person’s time and effort solely for your own advantage?

By Rabbi Dianne Kohler-Esses

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