Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Exodus

THE POWER OF WE…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YAK HEL / PEKUDEI

VKH-P1As parents, we all know how much work goes into running a household. Nothing happens by itself; someone must do the dishes, make lunches, drive carpool, go shopping, etc. Children need to have the confidence that they’re cared for, but they should eventually learn about the efforts involved and what they can do to pitch in. How do we balance the two ideals?

In our Portion, the Jewish people constructed the Sanctuary (Mishkan). All members of the community were required to do their part, commensurate with their abilities. Whether the contribution took the form of a donation or volunteering, each and every person’s involvement was a crucial element in reaching the final product. Only with everyone’s participation did the Sanctuary become a special place.

It’s easy to take things for granted. Our children grow up in a society of plentitude and become used to things being there for him or her. Yet, it takes hard work to create anything. A household can only function properly with the labors of hard-working parents, and a special environment can only be achieved by way of planning and effort. Everyone’s contribution, and occasionally sacrifice, is necessary. Young children can be given small tasks in relation to their age and congratulated for pitching in. Putting away clothes, washing dishes, making their bed, all are helpful for the family effort. If we model chores correctly ourselves, they can even be seen as a privilege. Being a part of a family beyond only our own needs, all contributing commensurate with their abilities, makes a home very special.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the power of WE – with everyone working together for the good of all.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Name five actions or activities your parents do for your family.
  • Would you be OK if some of these things were missing?
  • What do you do to pitch in? What more could you do?
  • How do you feel when you know that others appreciate what you do?

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.

CHERISHING WHAT IS BROKEN…

TORAH PORTION: KI TISSA

ki-tissa3We are each our own harshest critics. It is very easy to see our own flaws and what we could do better. We dwell on things in ourselves that others don’t even notice. But this does not prevent us also from seeing flaws in those around us. Often it is easy to focus on what is not as we would like. But these flaws, like veins in a beautiful gem, are what remind us that we are each unique creations. Imagine how boring the world would be if we were all perfect and no butterfly were brighter or duller than another.

Furious because the Children of Israel had built the Golden Calf in his absence, Moses threw the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments to the ground nearly immediately after receiving them. They shattered into a million pieces. What happened to the shattered tablets? The obvious thing to do would have been to throw them away. But they were swept up and collected. They were kept and cherished alongside the new tablets that God commanded Moses to make.

In the parashah, when the tablets were broken, we picked them up and valued the pieces. So too, with ourselves, we ought to cherish these broken pieces, these pieces that we maybe wish weren’t there. The broken pieces of tablets are a metaphor for the parts of ourselves that are less than perfect. These parts are sacred and we need to “pick them up”, with honor, in our life’s journey.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about why they might have kept the broken tablets.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever kept a toy even though it was broken? Why?
  • What is one thing about yourself that you could try to like more?
  • How can we learn to be more patient with ourselves and each other?

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.

THE MEANING OF CLOTHES…

TORAH PORTION: TETZAVEH

Tetzevah3Since the Garden of Eden people have been self-conscious about their bodies and exhibited a need for privacy.  How we cover up our bodies with clothing is expressed in infinite variations.  Styles– sophisticated, slinky, funky, professional, fun– send a very personal message to the world.  Clothing reflects how we value ourselves and our bodies.

In our parsha this week, the priests who serve in the sanctuary dress for “adornment and dignity”.  Both those reasons are crucial.  Fulfilling their role with dignity is reflected in the elaborate clothes they wear, complete with sashes, breastpiece and headdress.  But the priests’ clothes are not only about dignity; beauty very much characterizes the kind of clothes they wear.  The priests’ clothes are clothes of bright color – clear blue, purple and crimson – clothes with golden bells and pomegranates, clothes made out of linen and embroidered work.

Reflect on the various ways you dress when you play different roles in the world.  It’s important to communicate to our children the twin values of beauty and dignity when dressing.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of taking care of their bodies and dressing with beauty and dignity.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Which are your favorite clothes?  Why?
  • What do your clothes say about you?
  • How do you feel about getting dressed up to go to a special event?
  • Is it important to get dressed up for special events? Why?

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.

LYING, STAY FAR AWAY…

TORAH PORTION: MISHPATIM

MISHPATIM1“I cannot tell a lie” are the famous words of our first president. Though it is honorable that Washington chose to tell the truth, he could have avoided lying in a different way. He could have considered the potential trouble he would end up in for chopping down the tree.

Mishpatim, this week’s Torah portion, warns to avoid falsehood. The wording is unlike any other instruction or warning in the Torah. Instead of simply saying, “Don’t lie”, it states “keep far away from falsehood”. The Torah is encouraging us to be mindful of our actions and their potential consequences. Stay far away from lying and deception and avoid actions you may need to lie about. If you cannot tell the truth about it, it is probably wrong.

Suppose a child is approached by a classmate who asks him or her to help cheat on an upcoming test. While it may be difficult for children to resist cheating, they certainly would not want to tell anyone they cheated. However, if caught, they will have to choose between admitting to a misdeed and lying. We can “Keep far away” from the temptation to lie by considering the results of our decisions before we make them!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about telling the truth AND being a truthful person.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why is lying wrong?
  • Would you do something bad if you knew you would have to tell someone you did it?
  • Do you trust people that you know tell lies?
  • What about a fraud or deception that doesn’t technically involve a lie?

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.

LISTENING OR REALLY HEARING…

TORAH PORTION: YITRO

Yitro1Picture the following exchange: Sarah shares a story that is important to her with her friend Adam. He seems distracted and she pauses to check if he is paying attention. He quickly assures her that he is indeed listening. But Sarah retorts, “Ok, you are listening but did you hear me?” Everyone can imagine a conversation like this. The distinction between being listened to and being heard is crucial to the way Sarah feels in this situation. She doesn’t just want someone to listen to her words, she wants to be “heard” or understood. And being able to hear someone is not always an easy task.

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, Moses’s father-in-law, observes Moses at work and offers him what we might call a little “constructive criticism”. Moses, like all of us, is human, and there are a number of ways that he might receive this feedback. However, instead of getting defensive or passing it off as irrelevant, Moses takes an opportunity to truly hear the words being offered to him, and he ultimately changes his course of action based on his new understanding of the situation.

It can often be difficult to truly hear what others are saying to us, especially when we are presented with new ideas or criticism. Being able to go beyond listening takes not only an open ear, but an open mind and an open heart as well. When we push ourselves to go one level deeper, to hear instead of just listen, we both engage the speaker in a more meaningful way, and we allow ourselves to be affected by their words. But this needs to be an intentional shift in the way we approach the conversation. It is easy to simply “listen” to someone. But we stand to benefit much more deeply if we open ourselves up to truly hear them.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the difference between listening and hearing.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • When was a time you think you were not truly heard? How did that make you feel?
  • When was a time when you only listened to someone and did no love beyond the listening stage?
  • How can you work to keep an open mind when you are hearing new or difficult things?

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