Meaningful discussions on the parasha are an excellent tool for challenging children to clarify their thoughts on a particular topic. When introducing a meaningful discussion based on Parashat Ha-Shavua, we create an opportunity to bring the weekly Torah portion into our everyday lives, spark curiosity, encourage critical thinking, and teach respectful discourse. 

Below, please find discussion topics for both younger and older children that may be utilized in the physical or virtual classroom, in a family or informal group setting, and more. For tips on how to host meaningful parasha discussions for younger children, click HERE. For tips on how to host meaningful parasha discussions for older children, click HERE.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

Parashat Devarim - פרשת דברים

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Sefer Devarim is comprised of Moses’s last teachings to the Israelites before they enter the Land of Israel. He tells them about their wanderings in the desert and the important mitzvot to remember. This parasha ends with a summary of the battles they fought and encouragement for the battles they will need to fight in the land.

Did you ever move to a new place? Or a new school or even a new summer camp? How did you feel? Excited? A little frightened?  What type of conversation would help you feel more confident? How did this help them feel better?

Look inside the text (Devarim 3:22):

 לֹא תִּירָאוּם כִּי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הוּא הַנִּלְחָם לָכֶם

God tells the people not to be afraid because He will fight for them.

 

DISCUSSIONS QUESTION #2

Sefer Devarim is also called the “Mishneh Torah” because it is a review of key events and mitzvot (and some additional mitzvot). This is Moses’s “Last Will and Testament “ to the nation about to enter the promised land. According to the midrash, this took place over a period of only five weeks – from the first day of the month of Shvat until the seventh day of the month of Adar, when Moses dies. 

When Moses was first chosen by God and speaks to God at the burning bush, Moses claimed that “לא איש דברים אנוכי”  (Shemot 4:10) – I am not a man of words. Yet, he is the voice of Sefer Devarim!

Do you think a job can change a person? Were you ever given something that was difficult and you felt different once you accomplished it?

Parashat Va’et’hanan - פרשת ואתחנן

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Did you ever need a special code in order to get into a house? Sometimes in movies, you’ll see that you need the right knock or words in order to be let in. Does Judaism have a special code or phrase that shows you belong?

In Parshat Ve’et’hanan we read the famous words (Devarim 6:4)

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ה’ אֱלֹקינוּ ה’ אֶחָד

Hear Israel, God is our God, God is One

During many difficult times in Jewish history, this phrase was used to demonstrate that a person is indeed Jewish. Why do you think these words became a “special “code”?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

The Ten Commandments are repeated in this section and we would expect to read exactly the same words as in Parashat Yitro. Yet, there are differences! The biggest difference is with the commandment of Shabbat – in this version, we are commanded to remember what it was like to be a slave in Egypt.

What is the connection between Shabbat and remembering that we were once slaves? 

Look inside the text: (Devarim 5: 14 -15)

 וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה כָל מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ וְשׁוֹרְךָ וַחֲמֹרְךָ וְכָל בְּהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ כָּמוֹךָ

 וְזָכַרְתָּ כִּי עֶבֶד הָיִיתָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וַיֹּצִאֲךָ ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ מִשָּׁם בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה עַל כֵּן צִוְּךָ יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת

But the seventh day is a sabbath of your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do.

Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore your God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.

Parashat Ekev - פרשת עקב

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Throughout Sefer Devarim, Moses reminds the Israelites of how important it is to observe the commandments. What does God expect of the Jewish people?

What do you think is the difference between doing something out of a feeling of fear (or awe), or doing something out of a feeling of love? Can you share some examples? (Think about how you might obey a policeman, a teacher, or a parent)

Look inside the text: (Devarim 10: 12)

 וְעַתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל מָה ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ שֹׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ כִּי אִם לְיִרְאָה אֶת ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ לָלֶכֶת בְּכָל דְּרָכָיו וּלְאַהֲבָה אֹתוֹ וְלַעֲבֹד אֶת ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשֶׁךָ:

And now, Israel, what does your God demand of you? Only this: to revere God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve God with all your heart and soul

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

Moses tells the people how they received manna – a special miraculous food from God – during their journey in the desert and describes it as a test.

Why would getting food from God almost every day (except Shabbat) be considered a “test”? How do you understand the statement that “man doesn’t live by bread alone”?

Look inside the text (Devarim 8:2-3), 

 וְזָכַרְתָּ אֶת כָּל הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר הוֹלִיכֲךָ יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ זֶה אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה בַּמִּדְבָּר לְמַעַן עַנֹּתְךָ לְנַסֹּתְךָ לָדַעַת אֶת אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבְךָ הֲתִשְׁמֹר (מִצְוֹתָו) [מִצְוֹתָיו] אִם לֹא

 וַיְעַנְּךָ וַיַּרְעִבֶךָ וַיַּאֲכִלְךָ אֶת הַמָּן אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַעְתָּ וְלֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ לְמַעַן הוֹדִיעֲךָ כִּי לֹא עַל הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם כִּי עַל כָּל מוֹצָא פִי ה’ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם

Remember the long way that God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that He might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep His commandments or not.

He subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that God decrees.

Parashat Re'eh - פרשת ראה

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

 In this week’s parasha, God describes His relationship with us as a parent to a child. What does it mean when God calls us His children? What does this indicate about his relationship with us even when we don’t obey the law? What is different between the relationship of a parent to a child and a teacher to a child?

Look inside the text (Devarim 14:1), 

בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם

You are like sons to your God

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

In Parashat Re’eh we read about bringing sacrifices to the place that God chooses, which we understand to be the Temple to be built in the future in Jerusalem. There is an additional mitzvah that appears three times. Did you know that it is a mitzvah to be happy? What do you think is special about being happy with everything God has blessed you? Did you notice that happiness is to be shared with children, servants, and the Levites? Why do you think the Torah makes a point of sharing happiness (especially with this list)?

Look inside the text: 

1. Devarim 12:7

וַאֲכַלְתֶּם שָׁם לִפְנֵי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וּשְׂמַחְתֶּם בְּכֹל מִשְׁלַח יֶדְכֶם אַתֶּם וּבָתֵּיכֶם אֲשֶׁר בֵּרַכְךָ יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ

Together with your households, you shall feast there before God, happy in all the undertakings in which God has blessed you.

2. Devarim 12:12

וּשְׂמַחְתֶּם לִפְנֵי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אַתֶּם וּבְנֵיכֶם וּבְנֹתֵיכֶם וְעַבְדֵיכֶם וְאַמְהֹתֵיכֶם וְהַלֵּוִי אֲשֶׁר בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶם כִּי אֵין לוֹ חֵלֶק וְנַחֲלָה

And you shall rejoice before God with your sons and daughters and with your male and female slaves, along with the Levite in your settlements, for he has no territorial allotment among you.

3. Devarim 12:18

כִּי אִם לִפְנֵי ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ תֹּאכֲלֶנּוּ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ וְהַלֵּוִי אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ וְשָׂמַחְתָּ לִפְנֵי ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכֹל מִשְׁלַח יָדֶךָ

These you must consume before God in the place that God will choose—you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female slaves, and the Levite in your settlements—happy before God in all your undertakings.

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

Parashat Devarim - פרשת דברים

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

On their march toward their promised land, the Israelites are instructed not to start wars with Edom (descendants of Esau, our cousins), Ammon, and Moab (also cousins, descendants of Lot), because God had given them their lands the same way that he would give us ours. Everyone likes to feel special, and it’s probably important that everyone understand that they are special. How does it make us feel when we discover that other people are special in ways that we thought we were unique? How can we maintain our own feeling of uniqueness without feeling threatened by other people’s specialness?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

In Sefer Devarim, Moses retells a number of stories that we are familiar with from earlier in the Torah. A close reading of those stories reveals that he changes them somewhat, and those changes are likely intentional, with important educational messages. Is it OK to reshape past events in order to convey important core ideas, or is the truth of the past more important? If it is OK to make changes, are there limits to how much we can change? What are the risks involved? (This is a burning question in questioning the truth of the historical foundations of modern countries, Holocaust education, and much more!)

Parashat Va’et’hanan - פרשת ואתחנן

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Sefer Devarim contains some of the most strident arguments against intermarriage, especially with the seven Canaanite nations. Today that could be labeled as ethnocentric, anti-democratic, discriminatory, or even racist. How do we navigate the tension between the desire for continuity of a tradition with contemporary Western values?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

One of the core mitzvot emphasized in Sefer Devarim is the command to teach our children. Where is the line between education and indoctrination? To what extent should openness and exploration be part of the educational process, especially if the process is designed to generate commitment and continuity?

Parashat Ekev - פרשת עקב

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Are rewards and punishments meted out on an individual basis or on a communal-national one? Which of those seems more ethical? Which of those seems more beneficial? Why should individuals suffer because of the sins of the masses? Why should individuals benefit from the rewards of the masses?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

The Torah describes the material benefits of obeying God’s instructions together with the negative consequences of ignoring them. Given the clarity of that presentation, why is it hard for people to do the right thing?

Parashat Re'eh - פרשת ראה

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

We are commanded to follow the direction of a prophet but forbidden from listening to false prophets, even when they produce miracles to prove their position. The difference between a false prophet and a true one is that the words of the genuine prophet come true while the predictions of the false one do not. This presents us with a problem – the only way to know if someone is a true prophet or a false one is to wait and see if their predictions come true, but by then it is too late! How can we decide who to listen to when they first give us their message? The same could be said for any religious leader. They represent many different opinions – how do we know which ones to follow?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

We are used to non-centralized religion. Each community has a synagogue, a Rabbi, a school that is attuned to its needs. The ideal set out in the Torah is one in which worship is centralized in a single place. What do we gain by having a centralized place of worship? What do we lose? Is there a way to maximize the best of both approaches?