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.

Parashat Shoftim - פרשת שופטים

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

In this week’s parasha, we read about the laws of a judge and leader. How can money, and bribery make even a wise person blind? Can you think of an example? 

Look inside the text (Devarim 16:19)

 לֹא תַטֶּה מִשְׁפָּט לֹא תַכִּיר פָּנִים וְלֹא תִקַּח שֹׁחַד כִּי הַשֹּׁחַד יְעַוֵּר עֵינֵי חֲכָמִים וִיסַלֵּף דִּבְרֵי צַדִּיקִם

You should not judge unfairly: you should show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

Parashat Shoftim teaches us about different types of leadership. Although very few countries have kings today, it was the most common form of rulership in much of the world for centuries. Kings would have absolute power, but the Torah demands a different kind of king.

Among other rules, a king was not allowed to accumulate too much gold and silver or too many horses. Why is this an important rule? Can it ever be a bad thing to have too much money?

The king is also commanded not to be arrogant and think he is better than others. What is the purpose of this rule? Have you ever known of someone who is in a position of authority and feels they are “better than anyone else”?

Look inside the text (Devarim 17:15-20):

שׂוֹם תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ מִקֶּרֶב אַחֶיךָ תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ לֹא תוּכַל לָתֵת עָלֶיךָ אִישׁ נָכְרִי אֲשֶׁר לֹא אָחִיךָ הוּא

you should be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by God. Be sure to set as king over yourself one of your own people; you must not set a foreigner over you, one who is not your relative.

רַק לֹא יַרְבֶּה לּוֹ סוּסִים וְלֹא יָשִׁיב אֶת הָעָם מִצְרַיְמָה לְמַעַן הַרְבּוֹת סוּס וַיהוָֹה אָמַר לָכֶם לֹא תֹסִפוּן לָשׁוּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה עוֹד

Also, he should not keep many horses or send people back to Egypt to add to his horses, since God has warned you, “You must not go back that way again.”

וְלֹא יַרְבֶּה לּוֹ נָשִׁים וְלֹא יָסוּר לְבָבוֹ וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב לֹא יַרְבֶּה לּוֹ מְאֹד

And he should not have many wives so that his heart does not go astray; nor should he have too much silver and gold.

וְהָיָה כְשִׁבְתּוֹ עַל כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתּוֹ וְכָתַב לוֹ אֶת מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת עַל סֵפֶר מִלִּפְנֵי הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם

When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching written for him on a scroll by the levitical priests.

וְהָיְתָה עִמּוֹ וְקָרָא בוֹ כָּל יְמֵי חַיָּיו לְמַעַן יִלְמַד לְיִרְאָה אֶת יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהָיו לִשְׁמֹר אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה לַעֲשׂתָם

Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to fear God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws.

לְבִלְתִּי רוּם לְבָבוֹ מֵאֶחָיו וּלְבִלְתִּי סוּר מִן הַמִּצְוָה יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים עַל מַמְלַכְתּוֹ הוּא וּבָנָיו בְּקֶרֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל

So, he will not act in an arrogant way toward his fellows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or to the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel.

Parashat Ki Teze - פרשת כי תצא

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Imagine your water bottle has spilled all over the floor! It was just an accident – do you have to clean it up? Why? Does the Torah teach us anything about this? In Biblical times (and hundreds of years afterward) houses were built with flat roofs. The roofs were used for sleeping sometimes and for other activities. The Torah commands the builder of a house to also build a fence around the roof so no one would accidentally fall off. We have the responsibility to make sure that the things we do (or build) are also safe for others!

Look inside the text (Devarim 22:8),

 כִּי תִבְנֶה בַּיִת חָדָשׁ וְעָשִׂיתָ מַעֲקֶה לְגַגֶּךָ וְלֹא תָשִׂים דָּמִים בְּבֵיתֶךָ כִּי יִפֹּל הַנֹּפֵל מִמֶּנּוּ

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

In Parashat Ki Tetze we learn about the mitzvah of hashavat aveida, returning a lost object. Why do you think the Torah gives an example of an ox or donkey which is lost? What would be a modern example? Notice that you should return any item which has been lost. Also notice that we’re told twice not to ignore the object.

Have you ever lost something important which was returned by someone? How did you feel? Have you ever returned something that belonged to someone you didn’t know? Why do you think this was considered important enough to be included in the Torah?

Look inside the text (Devarim 22:1-3),

לֹא תִרְאֶה אֶת שׁוֹר אָחִיךָ אוֹ אֶת שֵׂיוֹ נִדָּחִים וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ מֵהֶם הָשֵׁב תְּשִׁיבֵם לְאָחִיךָ

וְאִם לֹא קָרוֹב אָחִיךָ אֵלֶיךָ וְלֹא יְדַעְתּוֹ וַאֲסַפְתּוֹ אֶל תּוֹךְ בֵּיתֶךָ וְהָיָה עִמְּךָ עַד דְּרשׁ אָחִיךָ אֹתוֹ וַהֲשֵׁבֹתוֹ לוֹ

וְכֵן תַּעֲשֶׂה לַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֵן תַּעֲשֶׂה לְשִׂמְלָתוֹ וְכֵן תַּעֲשֶׂה לְכָל אֲבֵדַת אָחִיךָ אֲשֶׁר תֹּאבַד מִמֶּנּוּ וּמְצָאתָהּ לֹא תוּכַל לְהִתְעַלֵּם

If you see your friend’s ox or sheep who had gotten lost, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your friend.

If your friend does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you should bring it home and it should remain with you until your friend claims it; then you should give it back to him.

You should do the same with his donkey; you should do the same with his clothing; and so too should you do with anything that your friend loses and you find: you must not remain indifferent.

Parashat Ki Tavo - פרשת כי תבוא

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Do you have grandparents or cousins who live in a different city? What is a more memorable experience -visiting together and seeing each other or just talking on the phone or computer? Why? In the Torah we read how important experiences were sometimes seen, sometimes heard, and sometimes both seen and heard. Our experience as slaves in Egypt and our redemption were seen (and felt) by the nation. Therefore, it is especially remembered. Why would this be so important for the people?

Look inside the text (Devarim 29:1),  

 וַיִּקְרָא משֶׁה אֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם

 ‘אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה ה 

לְעֵינֵיכֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְפַרְעֹה וּלְכָל עֲבָדָיו וּלְכָל אַרְצו

Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: You have seen all that God did before your very eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his courtiers and to his whole country.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

Parashat Ki Tavo begins with the mitzvah of Bikkurim, the offering of the first fruits. When a farmer harvests his fields and fruit trees, he is commanded to bring the first fruits to the priest in the Temple. Every farmer would say the same declaration. Each one would begin with the story of the Jews as slaves in Egypt and God taking us out of Egypt and bringing us to the land of milk and honey.

Why would you have to tell the story of liberation from slavery in Egypt when you’re bringing your Bikkurim hundreds of years after that happened? Is it important to know your history and to tell the story? Why or why not?

Look inside the text (Devarim 26: 5-10),

וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט וַיְהִי שָׁם לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב

וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים וַיְעַנּוּנוּ וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה

וַנִּצְעַק אֶל ה’ אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵינוּ וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָֹה אֶת קֹלֵנוּ וַיַּרְא אֶת עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת לַחֲצֵנוּ

וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ ה’ מִמִּצְרַיִם בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל וּבְאֹתוֹת וּבְמֹפְתִים

וַיְבִאֵנוּ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וַיִּתֶּן לָנוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ

‘וְעַתָּה הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה לִּי ה

You should then recite as follows before God: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to God of our fathers, and God heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. God freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and miracles. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, God, have given me.” You shall leave it before God and bow low before God.

Parashat Nitzvaim - פרשת נצבים

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Can people change? If someone did something wrong, how can it be fixed? Do you sometimes need help to fix something you did wrong? This week’s parasha is usually read on the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the Shabbat is called Shabbat Shuva. This is a time we especially focus on doing Teshuvah, repentance – making amends for things we did wrong during the year. It’s time to return to God. This is not easy to do, and in the parasha, we are assured that God will help us with the task if we just begin the process and want to do better.

Look inside the text (Devarim 30:1-3),

 וְהָיָה כִי יָבֹאוּ עָלֶיךָ כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ אֶל לְבָבֶךָ בְּכָל הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר הִדִּיחֲךָ ה’ אלקיך שָׁמָּה:
 וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד ה’ אלקיך וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בְקֹלוֹ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשֶׁךָ:
 וְשָׁב ה’ אלקיך אֶת שְׁבוּתְךָ וְרִחֲמֶךָ וְשָׁב וְקִבֶּצְךָ מִכָּל הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר הֱפִיצְךָ ה’ אלקיך שָׁמָּה

When all these things befall you—the blessing and the curse that I have set before you—and you take them to heart amidst the various nations to which your God has banished you,

and you return to your God and you and your children heed God’s command with all your heart and soul, just as I enjoin upon you this day,

then your God will restore your fortunes. [God] will bring you together again from all the peoples where your God has scattered you.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

At the end of his life, Moses gathers all of the Jewish people – young and old, men and women – everyone – to hear and accept the promise to keep the mitzvot and the obligations of the Jewish people.

Why do you think it is important that even the children hear about the laws? Notice that everyone is called together, from the simple workers to the leaders and most important people in the community. Why is it important that everyone hears Moses and accepts the promise? Wouldn’t it be enough for Moses to tell the leaders and they will let the people know?

Does it make a  difference if your parent tells you something very important which you need to do or your sister or brother tells you that your parent told them to tell you?

Look inside the text (Devarim 29: 9-12)

אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם כֹּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל

טַפְּכֶם נְשֵׁיכֶם וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶיךָ מֵחֹטֵב עֵצֶיךָ עַד שֹׁאֵב מֵימֶיךָ

לְעָבְרְךָ בִּבְרִית ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ וּבְאָלָתוֹ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ כֹּרֵת עִמְּךָ הַיּוֹם

לְמַעַן הָקִים אֹתְךָ הַיּוֹם לוֹ לְעָם וְהוּא יִהְיֶה לְּךָ לֵאלֹהִים כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לָךְ וְכַאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב

You stand this day, all of you, before God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer—to enter into the covenant of God, which God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as He promised you and as He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Parashat Vayelekh - פרשת וילך

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Do you sometimes have a school assembly when there is an important message to tell everybody or an important event to share? How does it make it extra special when you see everyone in the school gathered together? This is the commandment to gather together as a nation, every 7 years, to hear the Torah being read together, known as Hakhel. There was a special power to everyone being together and listening to the message.

Look inside the text (Devarim 31:10-12),

 וַיְצַו משֶׁה אוֹתָם לֵאמֹר מִקֵּץ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים בְּמֹעֵד שְׁנַת הַשְּׁמִטָּה בְּחַג הַסֻּכּוֹת
 בְּבוֹא כָל יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵרָאוֹת אֶת פְּנֵי ה’ אלקיך בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחָר תִּקְרָא אֶת הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת נֶגֶד כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּאָזְנֵיהֶם
 הַקְהֵל אֶת הָעָם הָאֲנָשִׁים וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַטַּף וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ לְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ וּלְמַעַן יִלְמְדוּ וְיָרְאוּ אֶת ה’ אלקיכם וְשָׁמְרוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת

And Moses instructed them as follows: Every seventh year, the year set for remission, at the holiday of Sukkot,

when all Israel comes to appear before your God in the place that [God] will choose, you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel.

Gather the people—men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities—that they may hear and so learn to revere your God and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

We are almost at the end of Moses’s final words to the people before he dies. God commands him to write down the Torah and uses the word shira, a song or poem, and tells him to teach the people. What makes a song easier to remember than a regular text? How is the Torah like a song? Do you have a favorite song whose words you remember even though you learned it a long time ago?

Look inside the text (Devarim 31:19),

יט וְעַתָּה כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶת הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת וְלַמְּדָהּ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שִׂימָהּ בְּפִיהֶם לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה לִּי הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת לְעֵד בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Therefore, write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be My witness against the people of Israel.

Parashat Ha'azinu - פרשת האזינו

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Much of this week’s parasha is written as poetry. Often in poetry, pictures in words are used to convey a message. Think of the expression, “I’m as hungry as a bear” or someone is “slow as a turtle”. Moses reminds the people of God’s love and uses the image of the love of an eagle for its young. Why do you think Moses uses this image? What does this say about God’s love for the Jewish nation? Can you think of an example of how you might use an image from nature to express a feeling of love?  

Look inside the text (Devarim 32:11),

כְּנֶשֶׁר יָעִיר קִנּוֹ עַל גּוֹזָלָיו יְרַחֶף יִפְרֹשׂ כְּנָפָיו יִקָּחֵהוּ יִשָּׂאֵהוּ עַל אֶבְרָתוֹ

Like an eagle who rouses its nestlings, gliding down to its young, so did [God] spread wings and take them, bear them along on pinions.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

Moses tells the people over and over again to be sure to obey the laws of the Torah. Talmudic sages play a word game with the puzzling phrase “it is not an empty thing for you” (Devarim 32:46-47). One interpretation is that er should know that the Torah is not empty for you, it will help you live a long life in the land you’re about to inherit. Another interpretation is that the Torah is not empty teaching, and if you think it is, it’s because of you – you didn’t try hard enough to understand it.

Has it ever happened to you that you studied something which you thought was too hard, but then you worked on it and were able to understand it and make it meaningful? Are your parents and teachers the only ones with a responsibility to teach? Do you also have a responsibility to work hard and understand?

Look inside the text (Devarim 32:46-47),

וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם שִׂימוּ לְבַבְכֶם לְכָל הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מֵעִיד בָּכֶם הַיּוֹם אֲשֶׁר תְּצַוֻּם אֶת בְּנֵיכֶם לִשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת

כִּי לֹא דָבָר רֵק הוּא מִכֶּם כִּי הוּא חַיֵּיכֶם וּבַדָּבָר הַזֶּה תַּאֲרִיכוּ יָמִים עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ

he said to them: Take to heart all the words with which I have warned you this day. Teach them to your children, that they may observe faithfully all the terms of this Teaching.

For this is not an empty thing for you: it is your very life; through it, you will long live on the land that you are to possess upon crossing the Jordan.

Parashat Vezot HaBerakha - פרשת וזאת הברכה

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

This is the last parasha in the entire Torah and we read about the death of Moses and how he was unique. How many different ways can you describe Moses as being the most special of Jewish leaders and prophets? What do you think the text means that Moses spoke to God “face to face” (after all God does not have a face!)?

Look inside the text (Devarim 34:10),

 וְלֹא קָם נָבִיא עוֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּמשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוֹ יְהֹוָה פָּנִים אֶל פָּנִים

Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses—whom God singled out, face to face.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

Moses ends the book of his speech by blessing the tribes. He doesn’t only bless the people as a  group but blesses each tribe according to their own qualities.

What do you think would be a good blessing to give your friend? Your parent? What is a blessing which you would like to receive? 

Look inside the text (Devarim 33:1),

 וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה אֲשֶׁר בֵּרַךְ משֶׁה אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לִפְנֵי מוֹתוֹ

This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, gave to the Israelites as a farewell before he died.

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?

Parashat Shoftim - פרשת שופטים

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

We are commanded to pursue justice. Does justice mean that everyone gets the same treatment? Is it reasonable to expect the same behavior from a fifteen-year-old and a fifty-year-old? Is justice served when a wealthy businessperson who shoplifts a candy bar is treated the same as a hungry homeless person who shoplifts the same candy bar? Think about two people who drove through a red light – one was driving his wife to the hospital while she is in labor and the other didn’t want to miss me opening scene of a movie. How do we decide what is just?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

The Torah mandates the death penalty for a number of different kinds of crimes, especially those which threaten to undermine the very fabric of society. Rabbinic interpretation and legislation limited the death penalty so much that it is nearly impossible to ever carry out. Can you imagine a case in which there should be a death penalty? For what kinds of crimes would it apply? Are there alternatives? What is its purpose? What is the purpose of any form of punishment?

Parashat Ki Teze - פרשת כי תצא

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

There is a mitzvah to return a lost object. Do we have the right to expect that our lost things will be returned or is the Torah asking us to do what is “nice” – above and beyond the norm?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

There are many mitzvot in the Torah that suggest that people with an excess of wealth should express care for and share with those who lack that wealth. If I earn money because of my hard work, skill, or even good fortune, why should I share it with others who don’t have the same talents as me? Is this just about feeling sorry for those who don’t have or are there other underlying values?

Parashat Ki Tavo - פרשת כי תבוא

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

When bringing the first fruits to the Temple, we are instructed to retell our history dating back to even before we were slaves in Egypt. While our past is important for understanding who we are, we need to create our identities and move forward, living in the present and striving for the future. For some people, the past is a huge burden, even when that past is a glorious one. Just think of members of royal families who needed to break away from the traditions which constrained them. How can we embrace our past without it strangling us?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

Moses instructs Israel that upon crossing the Jordan they set up stone monuments to commemorate the crossing. Do family heirlooms have meaning without the stories attached to them? How much of our lives should be rooted in the past as opposed to creating new experiences in the present or preparing for the future?

Parashat Nitzavim - פרשת נצבים

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Moses orchestrates a major ceremony to recommit to the covenant with God, emphasizing that the covenant applies equally to all – from the most respected to the poorest people and from the most educated elders to the most ignorant of children. Who should be making decisions for society – the elite few who have knowledge and expertise or the uneducated masses? How do we include everyone in the process while ensuring that the best decisions are made?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

God punishes us when we stray from the correct path and we are expected to return to God. Who should make the first move? When two people, or two groups, are in a relationship that frays, who should make the first move to break the impasse? What if the relationship is not between equals, but one in which one side clearly wields more power than the other?

Parashat Vayelekh - פרשת וילך

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

The scroll that Moses instructs to be written is to serve as a reminder to the people when eventually they are plagued by God’s punishment. When someone says, “I told you so,” it gives some sense of satisfaction to the one who says it. Doe sit have value beyond that feeling of satisfaction? What might be a more productive way of dealing with a situation in which one side warned the other of a consequence which eventually came true?

Parashat Ha'azinu - פרשת האזינו

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

The song of Ha’azinu, like much of poetry, is written in a way that allows for multiple interpretations. In what ways can leaving an ambiguous legacy be more powerful than one which is absolute?

 

Parashat VeZot HaBerakha - פרשת וזאת הברכה

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Moses’s burial place has left a mystery, and some have explained that God was concerned that his tomb is turned into a place of veneration and worship, as happened to many other righteous people. What is the value of connecting to great ancestors? What is the danger in connecting to great ancestors?