Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Va-Yera

AVOIDING HURTING WORDS…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YERA

va-yera3We use words to express so many different things: from basic things like “I’m hungry” to deeper things like “I love you.” Words have power to do good, but it is easy to forget how much harm we can do with them. We often think that our words cannot be hurtful if the person we are speaking about is not around. But with the prevalence of e-mail, texting, and twitter, seldom do our words end when we first express them. It is safe to assume that any words we say will be heard again.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-Yera, Sarah’s words would be hurtful to Abraham. Thinking he cannot hear, she laughs about her aged husband’s ability to father a child in his old age. Imagine how Abraham would feel if he had heard Sarah’s laughter. Later in speaking to Abraham, God rephrases Sarah’s words so as not to hurt Abraham’s feelings. The Torah is teaching us to avoid hurtful speech.

How often do we speak carelessly and hurt those we love? Sarah shows us how easy this is to do. This lesson shows us how to communicate when we are upset. We learn from them that being in a relationship means using our words to heal, not only after we have been hurt but also after we have hurt someone else. Pausing to take a deep breath and counting to ten helps us to rephrase or avoid hurtful words. Shalom bayit, peace in the house, is the responsibility of each family member.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being careful with their words.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What can you do to avoid speech that hurts others?
  • What are words that you can say after you have hurt someone?
  • What is a good way to express your feelings when you have been hurt by someone else’s words?
  • When is it hard to forgive? What makes it easier?

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.

BEING ABSOLUTELY HONEST…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YERA

va-yera1We, as parents, tell our children never to lie. However, as adults we most probably tell white lies fairly often. “How do I look in this dress?” a wife asks her husband as they walk into a party. Is that the moment the husband should tell the absolute truth and say– “darling, I hate to tell you, but that dress makes you look fat”? Or should the husband say, “Beautiful– that color brings out your eyes”. Ethically, are there ever times to lie? Yes. When the truth will hurt someone’s feelings for no good reason. When a three year old on a city bus, for instance, points to an obese man and says loudly, “Why is that man so fat?”, we surely tell him to hush, even though he is surely telling the truth.

In this week’s Torah portion, Sarah, when she hears that she will bear children, says to herself: “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment, with my husband so old?” God amended Sarah’s comment when God repeats it to Abraham, telling him that she said, ‘Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?’ The tradition understands God’s change, leaving out the part about her husband being so old in order to promote something called “shalom bayit”, peace in the household.

So, where does that leave us with our children? Do we tell them lying is wrong? Or do we give them the more complicated version of the truth, that lying is sometimes necessary to spare someone’s feelings in order to maintain peace? It depends on the age of the child. Younger children can only understand clear rules — never lie — as opposed to it’s okay sometimes to lie. But older children begin to understand moral complexity. You can explain the notion of lying for the sake of a greater good. But be careful: this ethic can be dangerous. We can all justify to ourselves that we lied in order to spare someone’s feelings, when the truth is, at times, that we lie because we didn’t have the courage the hard truth requires.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about how destructive lying is, unless there is a special reason to keep feelings from being hurt.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Can you ever trust people who often lie?
  • Why is lying destructive to all concerned?
  • Is it ever acceptable not to tell the truth? If so, when?
  • Would it be acceptable to lie if you or someone with you were being threatened?

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.

WELCOMING GUESTS INTO YOUR HOME…

TORAH PORTION VA-YERA

VA-YERA1 copyHospitality is a powerful way to model kindness. Opening one’s home to others is a way for people to share with one another the uniqueness of who they are and the blessings they have.

Abraham in our Torah portion shows what an essential value hospitality is in the Bible. Even though he is in the midst of a conversation with God, he surprisingly interrupts it to welcome three strangers he sees from afar. He begs them to stay awhile and have a morsel of bread and some water. Meanwhile, he and Sarah prepare a sumptuous meal for them. Abraham promises little but delivers much. He is a humble yet generous host.

Being humble and grateful for your blessings can make a guest feel comfortable in your home. Helping someone feel at home can go a long way toward forming and deepening friendships. Just as Abraham modeled exceptional behavior for us to learn from and to follow, so too parents have an enormous impact on their children’s development. By modeling kindness and generosity of spirit through hospitality, these attributes will become engrained in children.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how Abraham and Sarah graciously welcomed people into their tent.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • When your friends are in your home, what are some of the special ways you should treat them?
  • Why do you think it’s important to treat guests well?
  • Are you quick to offer your home to family and to friends traveling or in need?

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.