Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Exodus

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.

HUMILITY…

TORAH PORTION: BESHALACH

HumilityWhat gives us our sense of value? Is it our own accomplishments or others recognizing that we’ve achieved success? Is it possible to be humble and self-confident at the same time?

We can learn an important message from Moses. In this week’s portion, his authority was challenged by disgruntled members of the Jewish nation. Moses was well aware of his special relationship with God and the responsibility he carried as leader of the nation. Nonetheless, he truly did not view those achievements as reason for arrogance. Moses was a confident leader but a humble man, recognizing that everything he has is a gift and not an entitlement.

We all need to find this balance. We have innate talents and successes we’ve attained through hard work, but we can still be humble, but not with false or crippling humility that does not allow us to acknowledge our strengths. Humility is living with the understanding that we are simply doing our part by making a unique contribution to the world using the tools and strengths that God has given us. We all have those unique capabilities, so let’s respect ourselves and each other while remaining humble.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how to take their own abilities seriously while not insisting that others also take them seriously.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are you are good at, either naturally or through hard work?
  • If you’re confident about your strengths, does it matter if others don’t know?
  • Can you laugh at yourself?
  • Can making yourself small help you feel big inside?

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.

DO NOT BE LOCKED IN THE PAST…

TORAH PORTION: BO

BO3-DO NOT BE LOCKED IN THE PAST-483838701

There is a huge difference between living with the past and living in the past. You may have been cheated or verbally abused by someone close. A teacher’s words may have stung or a friend betrayed you. It is easy to be stuck with those memories of pain or hatred, but while we can’t change our past, we can certainly change our future.

G-d tells the Jewish nation that they are soon to leave Egypt, where they have been enslaved for over two hundred years, and He gives a curious instruction. The soon-to-be-free slaves are to approach their Egyptian neighbors – their masters – who will give them valuable gifts. This was not compensation for the years of misery the Jewish nation had endured. Precious gold and silver would not erase their memories, but it would take the sting off.

Receiving these gifts would allow the Jews, with time, to let go of the pain of their exile and move on to build their future. Have you heard the phrase “so-and-so lives in the past”? It’s what happens when one cannot let go of his or her experiences of the past and is unable to move forward. We must remember the past and learn from it without constantly reliving emotions and experiences that have long since passed. Truly great people are those who can retain the memories, yet learn from them and apply their lessons to the future.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways to let go of the past in a productive way. (Perhaps you know a Holocaust survivor who was able to build a new life.)

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why do we like to hold on to feelings of anger or hate?
  • Can you give an example of a time that you held on to a grudge or remained angry for a long time?
  • Could you have learned something from that experience?

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.