Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Shemot

WOMEN AS HEROES – WHEN TO HAVE THE COURAGE TO DEFY…

TORAH PORTION: SHEMOT

Shemot-WomenAsHeroesHeroes inspire us. They move us to action when otherwise we might remain stagnant. They are especially important for children, who need role models as they figure out how they want to live in the world. Heroes can be found everywhere, not only in the usual places like history and storybooks, but even in your own extended family or neighborhood. It’s possible to find heroes just by opening one’s eyes and ears to those who are standing up for what’s right wherever they happen to be.

Our Torah portion is filled with heroes. All the heroes who sprinkle the beginning of the portion are women, mostly ordinary, but who display extraordinary courage. Pharaoh, the evil Egyptian king, orders the midwives to kill every male child when they deliver Israelite babies. The midwives disobey Pharaoh. Pharaoh then orders every male Israelite baby to be thrown into the Nile. Mosses’ mother, Yocheved, hides Moses, and then his sister Miriam and the daughter of Pharoah save his life. The daughter of Pharaoh adopts him as her very own son and raises him in the Egyptian palace. 

The midwives, Yocheved , Miriam, and Pharaoh’s daughter all have the strength to disobey an evil decree and therefore sustain life. As far as we know, they were not encouraged to do what they did from an outside source, and they did not consult a morals manual. Rather they had a strong sense of right and wrong and acted from that internal compass. The more we expose our children to those who act from an internal sense of right and wrong, the more our children will develop their own internal moral compasses.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about heroes in our Torah portion or local heroes, who had courage and a strong moral compass.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Who are your heroes? Why?
  • What did they do that inspires you?
  • What would you like to do in your life to inspire others?

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.

MINDING YOUR OWN BUSINESS VS INTERVENING – FINDING THE CORRECT BALANCE…

TORAH PORTION: SHEMOT

MindingYourOwnBusinessSometimes we see things, whether at work or at school, and we know they are wrong.  But the question for us is to decide when to intervene.  We all make decisions regarding when it’s “just not our business” and when it would be wrong not to say something.  But knowing which is which is difficult.  If we see someone helpless being demeaned, it’s important to step in and help out.  Whether acting discreetly or out in the open is a decision we will have to make in each situation.

In our Torah parsha this week, Moses grows up and begins to feel compassion for his people who are suffering in slavery.  One day he sees two Hebrews fighting and confronts the one who started the conflict.  He simply says to him, “Why do you strike your fellow?”  Moses’ action tells us that simply asking the right question at the right moment can serve as a powerful intervention to protect someone from being hurt.

Talk to your children about the difference between minding your own business and knowing when to intervene.  It’s not an easy distinction to make.  But parents can become a model for their children in knowing the difference between when to intervene concerning their children’s behavior and when to just let things be.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about Moses intervening when he sees two of his brethren fighting.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever seen a situation where you felt as if you should have gotten involved and didn’t?
  • What happened? What do you think you could have done?
  • When are times not to get involved and when are times to get involved?
  • If a situation seems unsafe for you to intervene, what else might you do?

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.

WHEN SHOULD PATIENCE TRUMP PASSION?

TORAH PORTION: SHEMOT

Shemot-PatiencePassionChildren, naturally, don’t have patience. In fact, the younger they are, the less they have. When they are preschoolers, they can sometimes behave like a roiling bundle of impulses and passions. “It’s not fair,” they cry out—or they throw a tantrum over something they want and can’t have or, even worse, hit another child. It is our job as parents to take those impulses and passions, and channel them. Some of those impulses are positive—they may have an early sense of justice—but they can’t express that sense of justice through hitting. Though children may be demanding their rights, a temper tantrum won’t help them to get what they want. We parents, the adults in their lives with the long view, need to teach our children how to wait, how to take a stand appropriately, and how to ask for what they want.

When Moses first sees the suffering of his brothers and sisters, he responds with a primal sense of justice. When he sees an Egyptian striking an Israelite, he kills the Egyptian and hides his body. Was there another way Moses could have handled the situation, other than killing? Maybe so but perhaps his ability to be patient had not evolved. Later Moses has an encounter with God at the burning bush, and God bestows upon him a mission to save his people. Now Moses’ individual sense of justice and murderous outrage is transformed into a sense of national mission. He goes to Pharaoh again and again, undeterred, uttering the words “Let my People Go” instead of lashing out aggressively by killing slave masters.

Our children, like Moses, need to transform their natural impulses into something higher. We as parents can help them do that by guiding them to use other behavior. Instead of hitting, they can use their words to speak out – forcefully, but peacefully. Instead of a temper tantrum over their demands, they can learn to ask for what they want civilly. From the midst of their passions and impulses, children can learn to behave constructively and wisely, learning habits that will serve them well throughout their lives. In addition, as they see adults around them model restraint, they will internalize that as well.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what makes them fly off the handle. Discuss with them other ways they might be able to handle their feelings.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What makes you angry?
  • What do you do when you get angry? How else could you respond?
  • What do you think is unfair?
  • What are the best ways to deal with unfair situations?

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.