Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Yitro



Yitro1Picture the following exchange: Sarah shares a story that is important to her with her friend Adam. He seems distracted and she pauses to check if he is paying attention. He quickly assures her that he is indeed listening. But Sarah retorts, “Ok, you are listening but did you hear me?” Everyone can imagine a conversation like this. The distinction between being listened to and being heard is crucial to the way Sarah feels in this situation. She doesn’t just want someone to listen to her words, she wants to be “heard” or understood. And being able to hear someone is not always an easy task.

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, Moses’s father-in-law, observes Moses at work and offers him what we might call a little “constructive criticism”. Moses, like all of us, is human, and there are a number of ways that he might receive this feedback. However, instead of getting defensive or passing it off as irrelevant, Moses takes an opportunity to truly hear the words being offered to him, and he ultimately changes his course of action based on his new understanding of the situation.

It can often be difficult to truly hear what others are saying to us, especially when we are presented with new ideas or criticism. Being able to go beyond listening takes not only an open ear, but an open mind and an open heart as well. When we push ourselves to go one level deeper, to hear instead of just listen, we both engage the speaker in a more meaningful way, and we allow ourselves to be affected by their words. But this needs to be an intentional shift in the way we approach the conversation. It is easy to simply “listen” to someone. But we stand to benefit much more deeply if we open ourselves up to truly hear them.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the difference between listening and hearing.


  • When was a time you think you were not truly heard? How did that make you feel?
  • When was a time when you only listened to someone and did no love beyond the listening stage?
  • How can you work to keep an open mind when you are hearing new or difficult things?

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



Yitro2Intelligence may be in our genes, but wisdom is certainly not. A person becomes wise when he or she realizes that everything in his or her life is an opportunity to learn something. Everything that happens to us and everyone we know (yes, everyone) can teach us something.

In our portion we find Moses listening carefully to, and implementing, the suggestion of Jethro. Moses was the greatest of all prophets. He communicated directly with G-d and was given the Torah. Not only was Jethro not a prophet, he was Moses’s father-in-law! Yet Moses had the humility and the wisdom to heed Jethro’s advice on how most efficiently to reorganize the courts by appointing a middle level of Judges.

We all excel at something. Some people excel at many things. No matter how accomplished we are, there is always more to learn. The lessons often come in unexpected and surprising ways when people are willing to see life as a learning experience. The people we learn from need not be our peers or superiors in intelligence. Each and every person we interact with can teach something. If we are open to learning the ‘unconventional’ lessons of life, we become wise and inspire those around us to wisdom as well. Let’s turn intelligence into wisdom!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT the importance of being open to learning from everyone.


  • Name something positive you have learned from a friend.
  • Name something you have learned from a sibling.
  • Have you ever learned something important when you were not expecting to?
  • Name something you have learned from a person you did not know before.

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.



yitro3People will take greater notice of our actions than they will of our boasting about them. One of the most important things we can teach our children is not to think only about themselves.  Being sensitive to the feelings of others comes naturally to some, but most need guidance to develop this skill.  As parents, how we model this behavior is crucial.  Having a humble spirit may mean not being easily drawn into a defensive argument when criticized.

In this week’s Torah portion G-d delivers the Ten Commandments and Torah at Mt. Sinai, a small, low, non-descript mountain.  Stories (Midrash) explain why God did not choose other bigger, more beautiful and grander mountains all promoting themselves and expecting to be chosen.  In these stories, God deliberately chose Mt. Sinai, unimpressive and not expecting to be chosen, to show us the value of humility.

Humility in no way means low self-esteem.  According to Rabbi Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel,  we should conduct ourselves with humility, but at the same time consider ourselves to be  of high worth because of our good qualities.  Life is a difficult balance between maintaining humility and nurturing our self-interest and competitive impulses.  The ancient rabbis were much more concerned with overconfidence and arrogance than our being too accommodating to others.  An excellent test of being humble in spirit is the way we treat others of lesser abilities than ourselves. Do we treat them as inferior, or are we able to admire others for the strengths they have?

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about having the security to act with humility.


  • When you are feeling self-confidence and pride in your achievements, how do you maintain humility?
  • Is there a downside to being too humble?
  • Does humility make us more or less accepting of the little annoyances of life?

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.