Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Ha-Azinu

FACING OUR PERSONAL MONSTERS…

TORAH PORTION: HA-AZINU

ha-azinu1Perhaps you’re familiar with this nightly ritual: check under the bed for monsters, turn on the night light, tuck child into bed with blankie and favorite stuffed animal, cover child in kisses, and check under the bed for monsters, again. Whether you’re five, fifteen or fifty years old, you have probably dealt with your own share of irrational fears. Whether it’s a fear of flying, public speaking, or spiders – or a fear of monsters hiding under your bed – there are times when the rational part of ourselves is overpowered by our emotions.

We cannot think logically and our deep, dark fears take over. Yet, we each have a treasure trove of personal strengths, such as the ability to give and receive love, to solve problems, or to stay calm and organized. When the monsters begin gathering under our beds, how can we tap into our strengths?

The Children of Israel, in this week’s Torah portion, Ha-Azinu, also had fears and moments of terror. They were afraid of their enemies and of being teased or judged by the larger nations. As they wandered in the wilderness, there were times when they lost hope in themselves and when they stopped believing in Moses and God. They forgot how to access their strengths.

Like the Children of Israel, we too have moments when we’re overpowered by our fears. When these moments come, our greatest resources are our own internal strengths. Often though, we need the support of our families to help us tap into these strengths – and to remind us that we’re strong enough, brave enough, and smart enough to overcome the obstacles in our way. Together, we can learn how to face the spiders, airplanes, and monsters hiding under each of our beds.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about identifying their personal fears and strengths.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What scares you, and why?
  • What are your personal strengths?
  • How can you use your strengths to overcome your fears?
  • How can your family help you overcome your fears?

By Yael Hammerman

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

DEVELOPING THE ABILITY TO LISTEN…

TORAH PORTION: HA-AZINU

ha-azinu2We all want our children to listen. There are several kinds of listening that we expect from our children: obedience to what we tell them to do, paying attention generally to what we say, and taking in our criticism. But often children choose not to or can’t listen to what we tell them. All of these different kinds of listening can be difficult for children, whether they simply want to do what they want to do, or because their attention is elsewhere, or finally because it’s hard to hear criticism.

Our Torah portion begins with the injunction to “give ear”, to listen. It is filled with Moses’ criticism of the Children of Israel, criticism designed to make them into a better people. For the sake of the future of Israel, it is crucial that the Children of Israel take Moses’ words to heart.

It is difficult to figure out how to help children listen when we speak. Listening to them and giving them a sense of control and choice in their lives can help them to listen to us. When they have a sense of control, they are less likely to have a power struggle with us. If they feel listened to and feel that they can shape their own environment, they are likely to be more open to listen to what we have to say, whether it’s about what they need to do, or chit chat, or constructive criticism.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of listening.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • When is it hardest for you to listen?
  • When is it easiest for you to listen?
  • Why do you think listening is important?
  • Can you listen and do other things (multitask) at the same time?

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.

SELF-DECEPTION…

TORAH PORTION: HA-AZINU

ha-azinuEvery so often we get caught, or catch ourselves, doing something wrong. Very often we come up with creative justifications for what we did. The person I snapped at was rude to me first. Or I stole a video because the store makes too much money anyway.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses reminds us that when we do things that are wrong, we must focus on the imperfection in ourselves and not use twisted logic to find another source of blame. Actually, modern psychological studies show that all people think they are basically good, regardless of how bad their actions. That is because people judge themselves by their motives, not by their actions. Interestingly, early Rabbis said, “All of a person’s ways are right in their eyes.” (Proverbs 16:2)

There is no way to correct our bad actions if we do not see them as wrong. There are people in your life who have the ability to think straight: parents, teachers, coaches, friends, siblings, or grandparents. Look to those in your life who exemplify “untwisted” thinking and objectivity. They are the ones to look up to and try to learn from them.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about self-justification being a road to nowhere.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why is it “twisted” to blame someone else for your mistakes?
  • Suppose the other guy or girl really is wrong: why is it helpful to focus away from them and into yourself?
  • Think of two older people you know who are wise, mature, and model clarity of thought.

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.