Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Shoftim

WILL YOU SPEAK FOR THE TREES…

TORAH PORTION: SHOFTIM

shoftim2Dr. Seuss introduced us to the children’s book The Lorax, his 1971 children’s book that was recently remade into feature-length film. The Lorax tells the story of how the environment is destroyed by human activity and ambition. We hear the unforgettable voice of the gruff but wise Lorax, who says to the greedy Onceler. “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues!”

Like the Lorax, we too learn to speak for the trees in this week’s Torah reading. Portion Shoftim includes the mitzvah to protect fruit trees from destruction. Trees should not be chopped down for the benefit of humans. This mitzvah is the foundation for the Jewish value of ba’al tashchit which teaches us not to be wasteful and to care for the environment. Ba’al tashchit shows us the “green” side of Judaism.

Trees and the environment cannot protect themselves. It is up to us humans to guard them. Like the Lorax, we too can find ways to “speak for the trees” in our homes and schools, at work and in play. You can start by examining your daily actions. How can you be less wasteful each day? You can also look at the world around you. There are an infinite number of large and small ways to incorporate the value of ba’al tashchit into your life, your community, and our world.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways to protect the environment in their daily lives.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Think about all the things you use on a daily basis. How can you apply the mitzvah of ba’al tashchit, not being wasteful?
  • What do you waste as a family? How can you work together to limit your wastefulness?
  • How can you advocate for the environment?
  • How can Shabbat be a time when your family practices ba’al tashchit?

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.

“IT’S NOT FAIR!”…

TORAH PORTION: SHOFTIM

shoftim1Children are perpetually concerned with fairness. “It’s not fair,” they cry when a sibling gets something they don’t. It’s a phrase they often use when there’s something not exactly to their liking. But “it’s not fair” can become something more mature as they grow older. It can become a concern for justice. It’s not fair, for example, can become it’s not right that a classmate is being teased on the playground, or can extend beyond their immediate environment to –it’s not right that a person has no place to sleep at night, or that a child has not enough to eat.

This week’s Torah parsha urges us repeatedly to pursue justice. It is concerned with fairness in the courts, not taking bribes, and the poor having as much of a right to achieve justice as the rich. The aim of setting up a court system is ultimately to have a just society with access to fairness for all.

We as parents can nurture our children’s more immature concern with “fairness” with a concern for justice. First of all, we can do the best we can to navigate fairly in all the situations at home when a concern for fairness is raised. That can be the small beginnings of coming to know what justice can mean out in the wider world. Next, when our children show curiosity about poverty, we can begin to educate them in ways appropriate for their age to such problems as homelessness, hunger, inadequate schools, and racism.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about the concept of fairness and how it extends beyond their own worlds.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What does it mean to be fair? When is something unfair?
  • What do you think is the best way to deal with something when it is unfair?
  • Are there situations in which being fair does not mean being equal?

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.

JUSTICE, JUSTICE, YOU SHALL PURSUE…

TORAH PORTION: SHOFTIM

shoftimOur world is results-oriented.  We are used to productivity as a measure of what’s good and right.  Whether it’s writing software that does what we want it to do or closing a business deal, our environment celebrates the ‘bottom line’ far more than it judges the methods used getting there.

The beginning of Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion, contains instructions for judicial proceedings.  We are commanded to “pursue justice justly”.  Not only are the judges enjoined to focus on a just outcome, but also the litigants themselves are reminded that their pursuit of justice must be done legitimately.  Justice cannot result if one party alters the facts the tiniest bit,  just to make his case simpler, even if he knows he is right.

Focusing on the bottom line and results is only part of the story.  We need to pursue what is good and right even in the methods we use to accomplish our goals.  A business transaction must be done with honesty.  If there’s something wrong with the house or car you’re selling, tell the buyer.  Maybe this particular buyer will back out, but someone else will come along who’ll appreciate your honesty and will be confident that now he knows exactly what to expect.  Moreover, he or she will be right!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about valuing correct behavior.  A good end does not justify the wrong means.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why does a court always require complete evidence even if it seems obvious who is at fault?
  • How do you feel when you purchase something that has been misrepresented?
  • Would you be likely to shop again in a store where the truth was not told?
  • How much would you trust a friend who often stretches the truth or misrepresents?

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.