Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Va-Era



FreeWillTry telling a teacher, parent, or friend that you just HAD to do something they deem inappropriate. Nine times out of ten, the response will be “That’s ridiculous! Nobody can force you to do something!” We have a deep belief in, and awareness of, our freedom to choose when making decisions.

In Va’era, this week’s Torah portion, God informs Moses that He will harden Pharoah’s heart and Pharoah will refuse to release the Jews from captivity. Pharoah’s heart is ‘artificially’ hardened, but the rest of us are in fact free to choose between right and wrong. The contrast is deliberate.

Throughout life, one encounters decisions. As we grow, the nature of these challenges shift, but what remains constant is our ability to choose our own path. For the adolescent this may take the form of taking school seriously, resisting smoking, or being kind to others. For people facing serious hardships, all they may have left to choose is how to react and set their attitude. There is always a choice to be made. Let’s celebrate the gift of choice!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about free will and our ability to turn every moment into a victory by making proper choices.


  • What have friends pressured you to do that you didn’t want to do?
  • Do you have any red lines? Anything you won’t do no matter what?
  • What decisions are you most proud of that were hard to make?

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.



FreedomWithLimitsHow many times have you heard, “I’m bored,” from a child? It’s a rare kid who is able to enjoy large amounts of unstructured playtime. Instructions and limits help kids to enjoy themselves. What would happen to your children if they had a full free afternoon with unlimited sweets? How many kids could avoid boredom and a tummy ache? Though they may not like the idea of rules and restrictions, rules enable
fun and even teach kids how to take care of themselves.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-era, Moses demands that Pharaoh free the Israelites from slavery. Moses is clear why he wants people’s freedom: so that they may serve God. Moses is not seeking absolute freedom for the Children of Israel. Rather, he is seeking to take them from Pharaoh’s harsh rule to the loving guidance of God. Moses knows that unbridled freedom would not be beneficial to anyone. He knows that rules and structures will be liberating for the Israelites.

Though we may bristle at the idea of restrictions placed on ourselves, we see how young people flourish when given clear, easily understood rules. Limits, instructions, and guidelines in our own lives help us to accomplish tasks and fulfill our responsibilities. They enable us to find balance. From speed limits to job descriptions, we, like the Children of Israel, can feel more free with such guidelines.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what helps them have fun.


  • Who makes the rules you follow?
  • What is a rule that you wish more people followed?
  • What do you think makes something a good rule? A bad rule?

By Rabbi Judith Greenberg

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



AcceptingResponsibilityMost of us resist accepting responsibility at one time or another.  Depending on what they are, responsibilities can be challenging and feel burdensome.  Children especially have a difficult time learning that they can’t play all the time.  Sometimes they are inundated by activities, chores and school work and can feel very burdened.  It’s important to help our children find the right balance between work and play, between structured time and unstructured time.

Perhaps we can learn something about accepting responsibility from this week’s Biblical portion. Moses, at the burning bush, does not want to accept the responsibility of freeing his people from slavery.  It means facing the Pharaoh,and Moses is afraid that neither the Pharaoh nor his own people will listen to him.  Moses is a stutterer and feels deeply insecure about his ability to communicate.

In the end, Moses is able to accept responsibility.  God, understanding that Moses is anxious about communicating, appoints his brother Aaron as a spokesperson.  God helps Moses compensate for his weakness.  When we see that things are simply too hard for our children, we need to figure out what their weak spots are and how to help our children compensate for them. We can relieve pressure by helping them address their weaknesses.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how a great leader like Moses had a difficult time accepting his mission.


  • Which responsibilities are hardest for you?
  • What do you think might help you meet these responsibilities?
  • How do we balance our time in order to meet our responsibilities but not feel overwhelmed?

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.