Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Va-Yigash

SPEAKING SOFTLY…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIGASH

SpeakingSoftlyYoung children are impulsive. They can’t really help it. They feel so intensely they blurt out whatever is on their minds, sometimes with love and sometimes in rage. It’s our job as parents to help them translate the intensity of their feelings into appropriate behavior. They might be angry, but they can’t mistreat their brother or sister, friend or parent. They need to find the right words to express what they are going through. They might want something belonging to a friend or sibling, but they can’t just grab it; they must ask for it respectfully.

In this week’s Torah Portion, Vayigash, Joseph, unrecognizable to his brothers dressed as Egyptian royalty, tests his brothers for having thrown him into a pit and selling him into slavery. He plants his silver goblet in his beloved younger brother Benjamin’s sack, and once it’s discovered declares that Benjamin will be his slave. Judah, an older brother, approaches Joseph with gentleness and softly speaks: “Please, my lord, let your servant speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself”. Doing so, Judah diffuses the tension in the situation. In response, Joseph breaks down and reveals his real identity to his brothers.

By speaking softly at home we can teach children that shouting is not the most effective way. Gentleness can often be more productive than harsh yelling. The more we curb our own compulsions, the more we can show our children that kindness can be more effective in the world.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about what it means to treat someone with loving kindness.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How do you like to be treated?
  • How do you feel when you are treated with less than kindness?
  • How do you feel inside when you are mean to others?
  • What are the results of raising your voice and increasing tensions?

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.

NOT EMBARRASSING OTHERS…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIGASH

NotEmbarrassingOthersChildren often embarrass each other in front of friends, causing great pain and shame. We, as parents, want to make them aware of how hurtful such behavior is. In Jewish thought embarrassing someone in public is considered a serious crime, akin to killing someone. Judaism is sensitive to how painful an experience humiliation can be.

In fact, Joseph provides a good model for us in our biblical portion. Having been estranged and separated from his brothers for years, he vindicates his own painful experience at their hands by becoming a powerful Egyptian ruler. It has been many years and he is dressed as an Egyptian, so the brothers don’t recognize Joseph. After Judah pleads with Joseph not to imprison his younger brother Benjamin, Joseph forgives his brothers. He then demands that all the Egyptians leave the room. Left alone with his brothers, only then does he reveal his identity. Not knowing how they will react, he protects their privacy by asking anyone from outside the family to leave the room. Despite the harm they have done him, he is at this point in our story attuned to their feelings and does not want to embarrass them in front of others.

Joseph’s sensitivity gives us a clue of how to behave in our own home. By being more sensitive to our children’s potential embarrassment, we can teach them to be sensitive to others. Some simple guidelines can spare them embarrassment: don’t talk about your children in the third person, as if they aren’t in the room; don’t reveal their secrets to others; act appropriately with their friends.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how Joseph was sensitive to the feelings of his brothers and spared them embarrassment.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever been embarrassed publicly? How did you handle the
    situation?
  • Have you ever embarrassed someone else publicly? How did he react?
  • Why do we feel the need sometimes to embarrass people in front of others?
  • What can we do to control our urges to embarrass others publicly?

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.

LYING DOES NOT PAY…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIGASH

LyingDoesNotPayMistakes happen, and as self respecting folks we don’t like when we ‘mess up’. It is very tempting, and often convincing, to present and/or perceive the facts a bit differently. We can deny ever having said something compromising or running a stop sign, and maybe convince ourselves that we didn’t do anything wrong. The problem is that we can be a little too short-sighted sometimes.

Joseph is sold by his brothers because they decided they wanted to get rid of him. After selling Joseph, his brothers engage in an elaborate deception designed to give their father the impression that Joseph had been torn apart by wild animals. Much to their shock, Joseph pops up many years later as a ruler in Egypt. Now the brothers are faced with the very uncomfortable reality of being caught. Not only did they commit a crime against their brother, but they also lied to their father.

We rarely lie out of malice or a desire to be dishonest. More often than not, we end up lying because it’s more convenient to say an untruth than to admit to an uncomfortable truth at that particular moment. But if someone else saw or heard, we’re in double trouble now that we’ve lied about it. We must remember to keep the long term ramifications of a lie in mind.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about why lying doesn’t pay. If we come clean right away we’ll usually be forgiven anyway.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Why are we tempted to lie?
  • Is it bad to lie or just not smart?
  • Is it ever right to lie?

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.