Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Devarim

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.

LISTEN TO ALL SIDES…

TORAH PORTION:DEVARIM

devarim2We often jump to conclusions.  A child walks into a new class and quickly decides who is ‘cool’ and who is not.  We may witness an interaction between spouses or a parent and child and immediately decide that someone is being abusive or disrespectful, even though we lack any knowledge of the context. Sometimes our judgment calls are on target and sometimes they aren’t.

 In Devarim, this week’s Torah portion, Moses recounts the instructions he gave to the first group of judges he appointed. These instructions are repeated to remind us of their importance and timelessness.  Moses emphasizes the importance of listening – paying close attention and patiently listening to all sides. The judge must ignore external factors and do his best to learn as much as he can about the litigants and their arguments. Only then is he qualified to judge. If he can’t accomplish this, he must consult with a higher ranking judge.

We are all judges. We are hard-wired to make quick decisions about things happening around us. This is a crucial capacity when one is in danger, but this ability can be a handicap in one’s relationships. When it comes to other people, we must be careful to learn as much as we can about them and their circumstances before forming opinions. The not-cool kid in the class may very well become your closest friend!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the uniqueness of every individual and the complexity of every situation.  Listen, evaluate, consider.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever had your opinion of someone change after getting to know the person  better?
  • Have you ever felt that others jumped to conclusions about you?
  • Think of a situation that would look bad if a person watching doesn’t know the facts.

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.