Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Matot-Masei



matot1Words flow around us all day long and sometimes are taken lightly. Promises also can be made easily, but keeping them often is another matter. Adults might make too many promises to children about what they can have in the future, or children make may promises to adults about behaving better, which they are not always able to keep. It is important to check inside ourselves on our ability to fulfill a promise before we make it. Otherwise, our words will have little value and will not be taken seriously by our children.

This week’s Torah Parsha discusses vows and the importance of not breaking a pledge. Judaism teaches not to make a verbal commitment unless you really mean it. Such a commitment is something one is morally obligated to honor, even if it later becomes inconvenient.

Even apart from the seriousness of promises, there is the issue of what we say in daily discourse. It is easy to say what we do not ultimately mean. Think for a moment about how often we say “No” and subsequently our children by the very strength of their bargaining powers, or, for that matter their whining, turn it into a “Yes”. While saying no is not exactly a promise, our children will begin to believe that we do not mean what we say. It is important to think before we speak, not to make promises lightly and not even to say “No” or “Yes” if we don’t believe that we can stand by our words.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of keeping promises.


  • Have you ever broken a promise?
  • Has anyone ever broken a promise made to you? How did you feel?
  • When do you think you should make promises?
  • Should some promises have a specific time stated for completion?

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.



matot3Parents enjoy remembering the different stages of a child’s life. Taking pictures and putting together photo albums is a favorite activity of a parent with young children. Remembering, however, is more than just the fun of looking at enjoyable times and the cute faces of our children. Memories tell us where we come from, what we stand for, and how far we have come; they tell us which values are abiding over time.

In this week’s Torah portion Moses keeps a written record of the progress of the Israelites wandering through the desert. Each stage of their journey is written down. In this way the Israelites could always see where they came from and how far they still had to go. They literally “knew where they stood”.

It’s important to talk to your kids about your own memories of growing up and what you’ve learned along the way. At the same time, help them develop their memories by listening to them carefully when they start a sentence, “Remember when…”. It’s interesting to note what they remember and why. Memory is an important tool in the journey of childhood on the way to adulthood, a gauge of our lives telling us where we come from and who we are along the way.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about memories you have of growing up, in particular what you were like at their age and what you’ve learned from your parents and grandparents.


  • What are your earliest memories?
  • What is the importance of memories?
  • Whom do you want to remember?
  • What have you learned from family stories you have heard?

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.



matot4Picture this: Mom comes home and finds broken glass in the kitchen, sticky juice and muddy footprints all over the floor, and no one in sight. Three kids and the dog are watching TV in the den. When mom comes in, everyone shouts “It wasn’t me!” and points their finger across the room. Sound familiar? It’s always easier to blame a younger sibling or the dog. It’s less scary to point your finger at someone else than to point it at yourself.

Even Moses falls into this trap in this week’s Torah reading. Moses accuses Israel’s enemies of tempting the Israelite men to sin, instead of placing the blame on the Israelites themselves.

Is it helpful to place the blame on someone else? Does accusing others fix the problem? When you claim that a mistake is someone else’s fault, not only are you still left with broken glass and a sticky floor, but you have also hurt someone else’s reputation and damaged your relationship. It’s more complicated to improve a reputation and mend a relationship than it is to clean the kitchen. As difficult as it can be to take responsibility for your own actions, try pointing your finger at yourself and admitting truthfully, “It’s my fault.”

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about taking responsibility for their own actions.


  • Have you ever blamed someone else for your actions?  Why?
  • Have you ever been blamed for someone else’s mistake? How does it feel to be accused?
  • What is the downside of being consistently truthful?
  • Why do we usually trust people who are consistently truthful?

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.




Parenting is tricky. We may attempt to balance our individual desires with our instinctive urge to direct our children. The result can sometimes be a confused melding of the two: setting up our children to live their lives the way we want to live ours. We may push them to get into a school we admire or play a sport we like, even if it’s not necessarily the right thing for them. Our children are unique individuals with their own sets of needs and desires.

Torah portion Matot relates the quandary presented by two and a half tribes of the Jewish nation. The plan was for the entire nation to cross over the Jordan River and inherit their land on its western side. This group expressed to Moses that the eastern side was the best place for their families and their wish to remain there. Moses questioned them and ultimately made an agreement whereby they could remain on the eastern side while the men who were warriors would continue the campaign with the rest of the nation.

We need to be sure that the decisions we make for our children are truly for their own good. We cannot provide our children with happiness, but we can give them tools to achieve happiness themselves. To do so, we must ensure that we know our children well, and understand their unique qualities, and be willing to forgo our own dreams to help them pursue theirs.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what brings happiness to each individual.


  • What activities (art, music, sports, reading, and writing) do you enjoy most?
  • How can you do more of activities you enjoy?
  • What activities don’t you like and why?

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.