Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Toldot

BREAKING THE CYCLE OF DECEIT…

TORAH PORTION: TOLDOT

toldot3Nothing gets you attention at summer camp like pulling a good prank. The pranks start out small:  first the boys bunk toilet papers the girls’ cabin. The girls retaliate by short-sheeting the boys’ beds. The boys hit back by putting the girls’ luggage in the dumpster and soon the boys find their own sleeping bags filled with shaving cream. Before you know it, a full-blown prank war spirals out of control between all the boys and girls in the eldest division.

No one is safe from the practical jokes – or from punishment from the Camp Director. What began with one roll of toilet paper and a small act of trickery quickly erupts into a serious situation with serious consequences. In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Toldot, Jacob pulls the ultimate prank on his father Isaac. He pretends to be his twin brother Esau in order to receive the blessing reserved for Isaac’s firstborn son. Though Jacob fled from his father’s house, he could not escape his deceitful act. Just as Jacob fooled his own father, Jacob himself was deceived in turn by his father-in-law Laban and by his own sons.

Just as Jacob could not escape from his history of trickery, our misdeeds follow us in unimaginable ways as well. As one deceitful act leads to the next, it can feel like we are stuck in a never-ending prank war. It’s hard to break the cycle. However, before the deceit follows us with serious consequences, we must figure out how to call a truce.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the ways our deceitful acts follow us.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever pulled a prank? Has anyone ever pulled a prank on you?
  • What was it like to pull the prank? What was it like to be on the receiving end?
  • Have you ever deceived anyone? Has anyone ever deceived you? How did it feel?
  • Have your actions ever come back to haunt you?
  • How can you break the cycle?

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.

WAITING FOR THE COOKIE TO COOL…

TORAH PORTION: TOLDOT

toldot2The sweet scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies wafts through the kitchen. Your mouth waters and your tummy rumbles as you pull the hot tray out of the oven. The cookies look moist and delicious as the chocolate bubbles and melts. The recipe tells you to let the cookies cool for thirty minutes before eating them. But how can you wait thirty whole minutes when the cookies are calling your name right now?! You try to pick up just one cookie, but it crumbles and you burn your finger. You put the crumbs in your mouth and burn your tongue as well. So much for the perfect chocolate chip cookie… The chocolate chip cookie incident, with which many of us are all too familiar, teaches us that we can’t always get what we want right when we want it. Often, we will appreciate the cookie even more if we wait until it cools. So too there are many things and experiences in life that are well worth waiting for.

In this week’s Torah reading, Toldot, Esau came in from the field starving and begged Jacob for some lentil stew. Jacob agreed to give Esau the stew, but only after Esau promised to sell his younger twin brother Jacob his birthright. Esau traded the significant material benefits of his inheritance for one meager meal of stew because he thought with his stomach and acted on his animal instincts. If Esau had been more thoughtful and patient, he most likely would have made a different decision despite his growling belly.

The story of Esau and the lentil stew teaches us the importance of delayed gratification. While it may not feel good to put a few dollars of your allowance in your piggy bank each week, it feels great when you have finally saved enough money to buy a new bike. It might be painful to run sprints each morning or do endless sets of soccer drills, but it feels glorious when you cross the finish line or score the winning goal.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about appreciating the benefits of delayed gratification.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever let your stomach make a decision for you, which you later regretted?
  • Have you ever acted on an impulse, instead of thinking through a decision more carefully?
  • Can you think of a time when you didn’t get what you wanted right when you wanted it?
  • Have you ever worked really hard to achieve a goal? How did it feel when you  accomplished the goal?
  • What are the benefits of delayed gratification?

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.

WHEN SIBLINGS FIGHT…

TORAH PORTION: TOLDOT

WhenSiblingsFight2Sibling rivalry occurs in all families with more than one child.  It can, in many cases, be an insidious problem, and many parents are at a loss at how to deal with it.

In our Torah portion, sibling rivalry becomes a lethal drama, with parents who – instead of putting a stop to the dynamic — actually participate in the competition to advance their favorite child. Esau, as the eldest son of Isaac and Rebekah, stands to obtain the preferred blessing of the eldest.  However, Jacob, with his mother’s help, presents himself to his dim-eyed father pretending to be Esau. Isaac gives Jacob the blessing reserved for the eldest, believing he is Esau.  When Esau discovers this terrible deception, he cries a heart rending cry and says, “Do you have but one blessing, my father”?  Isaac at first refuses this request, saying that the blessing has already been spent on Jacob, but then relents and blesses Esau also.  Yet Esau seethes with resentment at his brother.  Jacob runs away from home to escape his brother’s wrath, never to see his parents alive again.

Most sibling problems do not reach these mythic proportions.  Yet even on a more limited scale, they can be pretty intense.  Maybe there is something we can learn from the rather extreme example the Torah offers us. The key is in Esau’s words, “Do you have but one blessing, my father?”  The answer, in fact, for parents is “no”.  Each of us, has many blessings to offer, and each child needs different kinds of blessing from his parents.  Focusing on what each child needs rather than on distributing our attentions fairly can sometimes take the edge off the competition between siblings.  We as parents might be better off starting from the realization that the love that we have to give is not a limited commodity which we divide equally, but rather an endless blessing that is received differently by each of our children.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the problem of sibling rivalry.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Do you ever feel that things are unfair between you and your brother and sister?
  • Do you feel that your place in the family birth order (first, middle, last) put you at   a disadvantage?
  • Do you feel your gender has put you at a disadvantage?

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.