Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Chukat

BULLYING & NAME CALLING…

TORAH PORTION: CHUKAT

chukat2Often children label entire groups as “weird” or “bad” or “uncool”. Sometimes they join cliques or engage in a kind of social warfare at school, with one group pitted against another. The worst example of social warfare becomes violent, such as bullying or joining gangs. Even if their children don’t engage in the worst examples of social warfare, many parents wish their children wouldn’t be so judgmental and would be more socially open to others.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, the Children of Israel are traveling through the desert when their beloved leader, Miriam, dies. Then there is no water for the community. They complain to Moses, saying “Why did you take us from Egypt in order to bring us to this evil place?” God tells Moses to speak to the rock to draw forth water from it. Instead, Moses angrily hits the rock saying: “Listen now, O rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?” In his anger, Moses uses a destructive label for his people in public.

How can parents teach their children to be more open to others? Showing tolerance and respect for others, despite their shortcomings, can teach children to do the same. Rejecting others, on the other hand, for how they dress, or how they raise their children, to name two examples, can be internalized by children as the way to behave with their friends. Parents can discourage labeling others at home. In this way, children can learn, over time to have a healthy respect for others who are different from them, rather than putting others down in order to raise up their own self-worth.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about social groups and cliques in school and how they can be hurtful.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How is social life at school organized? Do some kids publicly reject others?
  • Is there ever name-calling at school? Bullying?
  • How should one respond to such behavior?
  • Does picking on others make the doer feel better or worse about himself?

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.

WHEN WE LOSE CONTROL…

TORAH PORTION: CHUKAT

chukat1People lose control.  We may get excessively angry or behave impulsively or destructively. We may scream at a child, eat too much, or drink.  The reasons for such behavior are many. Sometimes there is a sense that something is missing in our lives, a hole we don’t know how to fill, or a difficult issue we don’t know how to address.  That darkness lurks behind some of our behavior, and then suddenly, when we least expect it, erupts into unwanted behavior.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses loses control.  Moses’ people are complaining yet again, this time for lack of water in the desert.  God tells Moses specifically to speak to a rock in order to draw water from it. Instead Moses hits the rock in anger.  He loses patience with his people who are constantly complaining. But there is also a backdrop of loss to Moses’ behavior.  His beloved sister Miriam has just died. Moses’ grief causes him to be short on the patience he normally exhibits with the people he is leading through the desert to the Promised Land.

It is important not to lose control especially with our children.  We don’t want to explode at them for minor infractions.  We also don’t want to set up models of destructive behavior for our children, whether it concerns behavior such as overeating, smoking, or drinking excessively.  Therefore, parents must address the origins of such behavior.  We might be dealing with ongoing frustrations at work, a loss of someone close to us, financial worries, or sources of tension in our marriage.  Whatever the issue is, better to address the deeper issue than for us to lose control, especially when children are concerned.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how Moses lost his temper in the desert and hit the rock with his stick out of frustration.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What kind of situations might lead you to lose your temper?
  • What happens when you lose your temper?  Do people around you get hurt?
  • How else do you handle difficult problems in school or at home?
  • Did losing your temper ever accomplish anything worthwhile?

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.

WORDS CAN HURT…

TORAH PORTION: CHUKAT
chukat“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Every child knows this popular aphorism, but the sad truth is that words do matter and they can hurt. When we feel stressed, angry and frustrated, many of us speak without thinking first.  Words can become daggers that wound others as well as ourselves.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, Moses is asked to provide water for the Israelites.  Just before the water flows from a rock, Moses, apparently worn out by the demands of leadership, loses his temper.  Moses calls his people, “You rebels”, and in exasperation, strikes the rock twice. In light of this shocking behavior, God immediately decides that new leadership is needed to bring the people into the Land of Israel.

This painful biblical episode shows how all people need to be careful with their words, especially when they occupy a position of authority. Harsh words can cut a little deeper and last a little longer when they come from someone we respect, trust, and love.  That is precisely why adults need to see themselves as role models in not just what they do, but also what they say. Just as words can push people apart, so too can they bring us closer.  By taking the time to think before we speak, we have a better chance of finding the right words in every situation.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the effect of their words on others.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What can we do to make sure that we think before we speak?
  •  How do we respond when someone hurts our feelings with words?
  • When has someone’s words of encouragement helped you?
  • Water can keep us alive or drown us, and fire can warm us or destroy us.  How are words similar to water and fire?

By Rabbi Charles E. Savenor

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