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 Shemot - פרשת שמות

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

What should you do when you see two people arguing and it looks like someone is going to get hurt? Do you try to stop it? Do you keep on walking because you don’t really know them? Do you run to get help?

In Parashat Shemot, Moses sees two Jews arguing and one is ready to hit the other. He tries to stop them, but he doesn’t receive the response he expected. 

Look inside the text (Shemot 2:13-14)

וַיֵּצֵא בַּיּוֹם הַשֵּׁנִי וְהִנֵּה שְׁנֵי אֲנָשִׁים עִבְרִים נִצִּים וַיֹּאמֶר לָרָשָׁע לָמָּה תַכֶּה רֵעֶךָ׃

When he went out the next day, he found two Hebrews fighting; so he said to the attacker, “Why are you hitting your friend?” 

וַיֹּאמֶר מִי שָׂמְךָ לְאִישׁ שַׂר וְשֹׁפֵט עָלֵינוּ הַלְהָרְגֵנִי אַתָּה אֹמֵר כַּאֲשֶׁר הָרַגְתָּ אֶת הַמִּצְרִי וַיִּירָא מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמַר אָכֵן נוֹדַע הַדָּבָר׃

He answered, “Who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Moses was scared, and thought: Then the matter is known!

 

DISCUSSIONS QUESTION #2

What does it mean to be a responsible sibling or family member? Have you ever had to do something you found difficult in order to take care of a younger sibling? How did you feel while you were doing it? How did you feel afterward?

In Parashat Shemot, Miriam takes on a special role in watching over her baby brother. How do you think it felt for her to have that responsibility?

Look inside the text (Shemot 2:4, 7-8)

וַתֵּתַצַּב אֲחֹתוֹ מֵרָחֹק לְדֵעָה מַה יֵּעָשֶׂה לוֹ׃

And his sister watched from a distance, to learn what would happen to him.

וַתֹּאמֶר אֲחֹתוֹ אֶל בַּת פַּרְעֹה הַאֵלֵךְ וְקָרָאתִי לָךְ אִשָּׁה מֵינֶקֶת מִן הָעִבְרִיֹּת וְתֵינִק לָךְ אֶת הַיָּֽלֶד׃

Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Should I go and get you a Hebrew nurse to nurse the child for you?”

וַתֹּֽאמֶר לָהּ בַּת פַּרְעֹה לֵכִי וַתֵּלֶךְ֙ הָעַלְמָה וַתִּקְרָא אֶת אֵם הַיָּלֶד׃

And Pharaoh’s daughter answered, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother.

Parashat Vaera - פרשת וארא

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Do you think that someone who has a physical disability feels self-conscious? What can you do to make them feel more comfortable?

God tells Moses to speak to Pharoah. But Moses explains that he has a speech impediment and therefore believes that Pharoah won’t listen to him.

Look inside the text (Shemot 6:12)

וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁ֔ה לִפְנֵי יְהוָה לֵאמֹר הֵן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֵלַי וְאֵיךְ יִשְׁמָעֵנִי פַרְעֹה וַאֲנִי עֲרַל שְׂפָתָיִם׃

But Moses spoke to God, saying, “The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh listen to  me, a man with a speech impediment!”

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

In Parashat Vaerah, we see that although Moses begins most of the plagues, it is Aaron who hits the water to begin the plague of blood. The commentator Rashi explains that since the water protected Moses as a baby when he was set in the Nile, it would not be proper for him to punish the water. Do you think that it’s important to show appreciation for nature? After all, what has nature done for us -isn’t it there for us to use?

Look inside the text (Shemot 7:19)

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה אֱמֹר אֶל אַהֲרֹן קַח מַטְּךָ וּנְטֵה יָדְךָ עַל מֵימֵי מִצְרַיִם עַל נַהֲרֹתָם  עַל יְאֹרֵיהֶם וְעַל אַגְמֵיהֶם וְעַל כָּל מִקְוֵה מֵימֵיהֶם וְיִהְיוּ דָם וְהָ֤יה דָם בְּכָל אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וּבָעֵצִים וּבָאֲבָנִים׃

And God said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: Take your rod and hold out your arm over the waters of Egypt—its rivers, its canals, its ponds, all its bodies of water—that they may turn to blood; there will be blood throughout the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and stone.”

Parashat Bo - פרשת בא

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Everyone loves stories! Can it be a mitzvah to tell a story? 

In Parashat Bo, we read about the importance of telling our children the story of the Exodus. 

Why do you think it’s important to tell the story to the children? Why isn’t it enough to read the story in the Torah reading in the synagogue?

Do you think you’ll remember your family story and be able to tell your children one day? 

Look inside the text (Shemot 13:8)

 וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר בַּעֲבוּר זֶ֗ה עָשָׂה יְהוָה לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם׃          

And you will explain to your son on that day, ‘It is because of what God did for me when I went free from Egypt.’

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

In Parashat Bo, we learn of the first mitzvah the Jewish people received as a nation – the commandment of Rosh Chodesh. The months would be counted according to the phases of the moon. As slaves in Egypt, their time was not their own and belonged to their masters. Now, as free people, they will declare when the month begins and will have the responsibility to use their time wisely.

How can you best use your free time? Do you think you typically use your free time well? Why or why not?

Look inside the text (Shemot 12:2)

הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה׃

This month will mark for you the beginning of the months; it will be the first of the months of the year for you.

Parashat Beshalah - פרשת בשלח

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

How do you establish trust? Think of somebody you trust and describe why you trust them. What makes YOU trustworthy?

In Parashat Beshalah we begin to learn about some of the challenges the Jewish people face in the desert. They have no food and God sends them a miraculous kind of food, manna, every morning. But they are only allowed to take enough for the day, and must not leave any leftovers. They need to accept the rules Moses gave them and trust that Hashem will send manna every morning. Some people don’t have the trust, and save some manna for the next day – but it becomes spoiled and wormy and Moses gets angry they disobeyed the rules.

Look inside the text (Shemot 16:20) 

וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֶל מֹשֶׁ֗ה וַיּוֹתִרוּ אֲנָשִׁים מִמֶּנּוּ עַד בֹּקֶר וַיָּרֻם תּוֹלָעִים וַיִּבְאַשׁ וַיִּקְצֹף עֲלֵהֶם מֹשֶֽׁה׃

But they paid no attention to Moses; some of them left of it until morning, and it became infested with maggots and stank. And Moses was angry with them.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

In Parashat Beshalah, the Jewish people leave Egypt. After crossing the Red Sea, Moses leads the nation in song and Miriam leads the women with drums and tambourines. Commentators explain that Miriam was so confident that great miracles were about to occur that she told the women to be sure to bring their musical instruments! Imagine that you had to leave your home in a rush. You’re not sure exactly where you’ll be going, but you know you’ll be going on a long journey. What items could you not leave behind? Why?

Look inside the text (Shemot 15:20)

וַתִּקַּח מִרְיָם הַנְּבִיאָה אֲחוֹת אַהֲרֹן אֶת הַתֹּף בְּיָדָהּ וַתֵּצֶאןָ כָל־הַנָּשִׁים אַחֲרֶיהָ בְּתֻפִּים וּבִמְחֹלֹת׃

Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with tambourines.

Parashat Yiitro - פרשת יתרו

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Why are the ways things are designed important? When you look at the Aron Kodesh at your synagogue or school, how does it make you feel? What’s so special about the way it looks? What do you think the designer or artist was thinking? What is important to include in such a design?

At the end of Parashat Yitro, we are given instructions about how the mizbeach (the altar) was to be made. One important rule was that it be made of whole stones and no iron or metal tool can be used to cut the stone. Commentators explain that metal is used for war, and therefore cannot be used to make the mizbeach which was to be a symbol of peace.

Look inside the text (Shemot 20:22), 

וְאִם מִזְבַּח אֲבָנִים תַּעֲשֶׂה לִּי לֹא תִבְנֶה אֶתְהֶן גָּזִית

And if you make for Me an altar of stones, do not build it of metal stones

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

In Parashat Yitro, the Israelites receive the Ten Commandments. Many of these are important laws like not killing or stealing which are common to all nations. Some are special to the Jewish people like keeping Shabbat. Most are connected to deeds or belief in God.  But the last commandment is connected to thoughts. We are commanded not to be jealous of the house and property of another. We are being given an important message that it’s possible not to be jealous and that we can control our thoughts and feelings. It’s not always easy, but it can be done!

How do you deal with jealousy? Do you ever feel bad when your brother or sister or friend gets a really special toy or game you wish you had? Does it make you feel jealous? Is it possible to control these bad feelings and thoughts?

Look inside the text (Shemot 20:14),

לֹא תַחְמֹד בֵּית רֵעֶךָ לֹא תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ

You should not be jealous of your neighbor’s house: you should not be jealous of your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female slave, or his ox or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

 

Parashat Mishpatim - פרשת משפטים

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

How do you know who is in the wrong in different situations? Imagine you’re walking in the halls at school, and you trip and fall over someone’s school bag which was left on the floor. You complain to them, “Why did you leave your school bag on the floor where someone could trip?”  They respond, “Why didn’t you watch where you were going?”

Who is at fault? Why?

Parashat Mishpatim is filled with laws about the relationships between people. Although it doesn’t list school bags left on the floor, it does discuss someone who digs a hole and doesn’t cover it.  If an animal falls into the hole and dies, the person who dug the hole is responsible. Do you think it is similar?

Look inside the text, (Shemot 21:33-34)

כִי יִפְתַּח אִישׁ בּוֹר אוֹ כִּי יִכְרֶה אִישׁ בֹּר וְלֹא יְכַסֶּנּוּ וְנָפַל שָׁמָּה שּׁוֹר אוֹ חֲמוֹר

When a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it,

 בַּעַל הַבּוֹר יְשַׁלֵּם כֶּסֶף יָשִׁיב לִבְעָלָיו 

the one responsible for the pit must make up for it; he should pay the price to the owner of the animal.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

Parashat Mishpatim has many laws about our relationships with each other. We read that if you find the ox or donkey of your enemy which is lost, you have to return it to him. How do you deal with lost or missing objects? What do you do when you find a watch someone has lost on the lunchroom table? What if you’re in a hurry to go out to recess, and you think probably someone else will find it and deal with it? What do you do if you know it belongs to someone who has been mean to you?

Look inside the text (Shemot 23:4),

כִּי תִפְגַּע שׁוֹר אֹיִבְךָ אוֹ חֲמֹרוֹ תֹּעֶה הָשֵׁב תְּשִׁיבֶנּוּ לוֹ

When you encounter your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering, you must take it back to him.

 

Parashat Terumah - פרשת תרומה

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

How can a place help bring holiness to a community?

One would expect the verse to read, “Make me a sanctuary so that I may dwell with it!” The midrash (and the English translation) offer a beautiful idea. When you donate to building a sanctuary and it is done for the sake of God and it is part of your life, Hashem will bless you and you will feel His presence among you.

Nowadays our synagogues are a “small Temple” – a substitute for the sanctuary we once had. How does your synagogue bring Holiness to the community? During this past year of the pandemic, synagogues became active in many different types of “helping” and chesed in the community. What happened in your community? How can your family take part in it?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

In Parashat Terumah, we read about the plans for building the mishkan (tabernacle), everyone shared in bringing all the materials needed so they felt that it truly belonged to all of them.

How do you divide up responsibilities in your class or your family? If your class was having an end-of-the-year party, Should one rich family provide all of the treats or should they be equally divided among all of the students? Which plan do you think would be more successful? Why?

Look inside the text, (Shemot 25:2)

דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת תְּרוּמָתִי

Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.

Parashat Tezaveh - פרשת תצווה

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Do you think it’s important for people with certain jobs to have a uniform? Why? What kind of uniforms can you think of?  In Parashat Tezaveh, we read about the special clothing the kohanim (priests) and kohen gadol (high priest) wore.  There are many commentaries about the importance of each article of clothing. Why did they need to wear special clothes when they served in the mishkan (tabernacle)?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

There is one person who is in every single parasha from Shemot until the end of Devarim, except for this parasha! Can you guess who it is? Why is he missing?

One reason is that this parasha deals with the clothes of the kohanim (priests) and their inauguration. Perhaps Moses, in his modesty, lets the kohanim (priests) have center stage.

The midrash offers another reason. After the sin of the golden calf, Moses tells God, “If you don’t forgive your people erase me from your book.”  The rabbis explain that the words of a righteous person are taken very seriously. Even though God did forgive the people, Moses’s name was not included in Parashat Tezaveh.

Can a person be careful about everything they say? How important is this?

Look inside the text, (Shemot 32:32)

וְעַתָּה אִם תִּשָּׂא חַטָּאתָם וְאִם אַיִן מְחֵנִי נָא מִסִּפְרְךָ אֲשֶׁר כָּתָבְתָּ

If you don’t forgive your people erase me from your book.

 

Parashat Ki Tisa - פרשת כי תשא

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Do you think it’s better to be in a class where everyone is at the same level as you, or is it better to be in a class with kids at different levels? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

In Parashat Ki Tisa we read about the recipe for the incense which was burned on the golden mizbeach (alter). We would imagine that all the ingredients would have a nice smell. But one of the ingredients, galbanum, had a very bad smell! Rashi, a famous medieval commentator, explains that this comes to teach us an important lesson of unity. Everyone – good and bad – has a share in serving God.

Look inside the text (Shemot 30:34)

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה קַח לְךָ סַמִּים נָטָף וּשְׁחֵלֶת וְחֶלְבְּנָה סַמִּים וּלְבֹנָה זַכָּה בַּד בְּבַד יִהְיֶה׃

And God said to Moses: Take the herbs stacte, onycha, and galbanum—these herbs together with pure frankincense; let there be an equal part of each.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

Is it harder to be good when everyone else is doing the wrong thing? Were you ever in a class where the teacher had to leave for a few minutes and then there was chaos? Did you join or wait quietly? How did the teacher react when he/she returned?

Parashat Ki Tisa tells the story of how the Jewish people began to worship the golden calf when Moses did not return from Mt. Sinai when they expected. God wanted to punish them severely and Moses pleaded for them. One of his arguments was that God put them in a “bad neighborhood”, in Egypt for 210 years! It’s not surprising that they were influenced by idol worship there.  Therefore, God should forgive them.

Look inside the text (Shemot 32:11)

 וַיְחַל משֶׁה אֶת פְּנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהָיו וַיֹּאמֶר לָמָה יְהוָֹה יֶחֱרֶה אַפְּךָ בְּעַמֶּךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בְּכֹחַ גָּדוֹל וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה

But Moses pleaded with God, saying, “Don’t let Your anger, God, blaze against Your people, whom You delivered from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand.

Parashat Vayakhel - פרשת ויקהל

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Can the design of an object teach an important lesson?

In this parasha, we read about the making of the Tabernacle. The Ark had a special cover of gold which had two kruvim (cherubs) on it. The kruvim had wings that spread upwards and they faced each other on top of the Ark. There is a midrash that one had the face of a girl, and one of a boy. When the Jewish people were just and obeyed the laws of God, they faced each other. When the Jewish people sinned, they turned their heads away.

The Ark was the holiest object in the Tabernacle. It had the Tablets inside and was kept in the Holy of Holies. Why would it be designed with the face of a girl and boy looking at each other?  Is this the holiest image possible?  What do you think is the connection between the cover of the Ark and what was inside?

Look inside the text (Shemot 37:9)

 וַיִּהְיוּ הַכְּרֻבִים פֹּרְשֵׂי כְנָפַיִם לְמַעְלָה סֹכֲכִים בְּכַנְפֵיהֶם עַל הַכַּפֹּרֶת וּפְנֵיהֶם אִישׁ אֶל אָחִיו אֶל הַכַּפֹּרֶת הָיוּ פְּנֵי הַכְּרֻבִים

The kruvim had their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They faced each other; the faces of the kruvim were turned toward the cover.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

What does it mean to do something “with all your heart”? When you do something or make something for your parent or friend, do you do it with “all your heart”? What makes it special?

In Parashat Vayakhel, we read about how the Jewish people were very enthusiastic about contributing to the building of the mishkan (tabernacle). So much so that they had to be told to stop bringing gifts because they were so generous. In these verses, the word for heart – לב, לבו,לבם – appears many times. Why do you think it’s repeated so many times?

Look inside the text (Shemot 36:5)

 וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר מַרְבִּים הָעָם לְהָבִיא מִדֵּי הָעֲבֹדָה לַמְּלָאכָה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָֹה לַעֲשׂת אֹתָהּ

and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than is needed for the work needed in the work that God has commanded to be done.”

Parashat Pekudei - פרשת פקודי

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Do you feel/act differently depending on what you’re wearing on your head?

In Parashat Pekudei we read about the making of the clothing of the priests and the High Priest. The High Priest had a special gold band he wore on his head.

What do you think it means to have to wear a band like that on your head? How might it affect you?

Think of other items worn on a head -a yarmulke, tefillin (phylacteries), a crown, a clown’s hat – How might what you wear on your head affect a person? Think of some other examples.

Look inside the text (Shemot 39:30), 

 ‘וַיַּעֲשׂוּ אֶת צִיץ נֶזֶר הַקֹּדֶשׁ זָהָב טָהוֹר וַיִּכְתְּבוּ עָלָיו מִכְתַּב פִּתּוּחֵי חוֹתָם קֹדֶשׁ לַה

The golden band he had to wear on his head was inscribed with the words, “Holy for God.”

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

Why is it important to keep a record of everything? Imagine you are collecting money from all the members of your class to give a gift to your teacher. Is it important to keep a record of how much money you collected and how much money you paid? After all, you’re an honest person! Why would a record of the money make a difference?

Parashat Pekudei begins with an accounting of all the gold, silver, and copper brought for the building of the mishkan (Tabernacle). Even though Moses was the holiest of prophets and leaders and everyone trusted him, he set a role model for good and honest leadership in listing all the amounts given.

Look inside the text (Shemot 38:24-25)

כָּל הַזָּהָ֗ב הֶֽעָשׂוּי לַמְּלָאכָה בְּכֹל מְלֶאכֶת הַקֹּדֶשׁ וַיְהִ֣י זְהַב הַתְּנוּפָה תֵּשַׁע וְעֶשְׂרִים כִּכָּר וּשְׁבַע מֵאוֹת וּשׁלשִׁ֛ים שֶׁקֶל בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ׃

All the gold that was used for the work, in all the work of the sanctuary—the elevation offering of gold—came to 29 talents and 730 shekels by the sanctuary weight.

וְכֶסֶף פְּקוּדֵי הָעֵדָה מְאַת כִּכָּר וְאֶלֶף וּשְׁבַע מֵאוֹת וַחֲמִשָּׁה וְשִׁבְעִים שֶׁקֶל בְּשֶׁ֥קֶל הַקֹּֽדֶשׁ׃

The silver of those of the community who were recorded came to 100 talents and 1,775 shekels by the sanctuary weight.

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

Parashat Shemot - פרשת שמות

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

After Moses’s first encounter with Pharaoh, the condition of the Jews gets worse. They complain to Moshe, who in turn complains to God. God responds that now Moses will see that Pharaoh will indeed free the people. Moses, as the middleman between God and the people, is put into an uncomfortable position and needs to rely on the authority of someone else, in this case, God, to take responsibility for the outcome of his actions. When is it appropriate to rely on reassurances from the authorities that our actions are OK, and when must we take personal responsibility for them? For example, at what point can, or must, a soldier refuse to obey the authority of a commanding officer because the soldier deems it immoral? What would happen to armies, or any organized system, is every individual decided for themselves what was appropriate or inappropriate?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

God is patient with Moses as Moses repeatedly looks for excuses to avoid taking on the mission. Taking on responsibility for the community is praiseworthy – at what point does someone have the right to say “NO, thank you” and bow out? Is it justified to pressure someone to take on a responsibility they don’t want to assume? How do we balance the needs of the individual and the needs of the community?

Parashat Vaerah - פרשת וארא

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

The plagues apparently affected all Egyptians. (We know, for example, that the plague of the firstborn affected every Egyptian household without exception.) Is it possible that there were no good Egyptians? There has been much discussion over the past few years about a book called “Hitler’s Willing Executioners,” in which the author claims that hatred of Jews was so deeply embedded in German culture that it was easy for the masses of Germans to join in the Nazi campaign of extermination. In the last two years, there has been an alarming resurgence of European antisemitism. Can a culture of hate be undone?

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

Many of the plagues sound like they are punishment for Pharaoh’s, and Egypt’s, mistreatment of the Jewish people. What sort of punishment is appropriate for someone who is a mass murderer? What about if it is someone who has denied the masses their civil rights, or embezzled members of his community to the tune of billions of dollars?

Parashat Bo - פרשת בא

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

With the Exodus, Jews were given their own calendar, which operates on a different system from that of other nations. Whereas all other nations have either solar or lunar calendars, the Jewish calendar is comprised of lunar months and solar years with a complex system of adjustments. What are the advantages of such a system? What does having a separate calendrical system do to the interaction between Jews and other nations? Is that a good or a bad thing?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

In ancient cultures, the first-born was considered naturally superior to all his siblings and given the rule of the household. The Torah instructs that the first-borns, even of the animals, are holy and must be dedicated to God. Is the Torah trying to continue the ancient practices or disrupt them? Should there be a natural heir in every family, or is some other system of distribution more equitable? Does Judaism believe that certain individuals, by virtue of their birth, are considered superior?

Parashat Beshalah - פרשת בשלח

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

With the parting of the Red Sea, there is an outburst of song. Immediately afterward, the Israelites arrive at Elim, where they find an oasis with abundant water and date trees. Yet at Elim, there is no song, expression of wonderment, or even a sense of thanks. What is it that sparks people to acknowledge only the extraordinary gifts bestowed upon us but not the ordinary? Is it possible to train oneself to become appreciative of the small things which are done for us regularly?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

After the battle with Amalek, God vows an eternal battle against Amalek. People often hold grudges against those who have wronged them. For how long is that appropriate? After World War II, many Jews refused to buy German products. Now, more than 75 years later, many Jews are living in Germany. Should we let time, and history, heal all wounds, or are there some things that are different? How do we decide what things fall into those we can put behind us and those things which need to be seared into our permanent memories? 

Parashat Yitro - פרשת יתרו

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

When the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, God offered them an upgrade to their relationship with Him – they would have to perform the mitzvot (commandments) and adhere to the covenant, and in return, their status will be changed and they will become God’s special nation. Everyone likes to feel special, but what motivates that desire? Does highlighting the uniqueness of the individual run the risk of creating self-centered narcissists who believe that they are better than everyone else? Are there circumstances when we should stand on our need to feel special?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

A close reading of the Torah reveals that Moses is at the bottom of the mountain when the Ten Commandments are proclaimed, but some of the commentaries suggest re-ordering the text so that Moses is at the top. How do we want to view our leaders and heroes? Do we want them to be superhuman and untouchable, above our experience, or are we more comfortable with flawed characters who share our struggles and look like us? Why do some people want superheroes and others want regular people who rise above? What happens when we discover that our superhero is not so super or that the person who we thought was just like us turns out to be different?

Parashat Mishpatim - פרשת משפטים

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

The Torah warns us not to be unkind to the stranger, for we were once strangers ourselves in Egypt. Is there an obligation to be nice to the stranger, or just not to be unkind? Is it possible to draw a line distinguishing between being nice and avoiding being unkind? How far must we take this obligation? Does this apply to every individual, or to the community as a whole? How well does your community accept people who are different?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

One of the curious laws about slavery is that the slave can choose to remain with his master rather than going free in the seventh year, but there is a special ritual that must be performed. Laws are often legislated to protect people. Does a person have the right to reject that protection, or should society insist that they be protected? If someone is in an abusive relationship, and although miserable, claims that they want to remain in that relationship, should their friends (or the authorities) encourage/insist that they get out for their own protection?

Parashat Terumah - פרשת תרומה

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

Many of the vessels created for use in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) were made of pure gold or a gold coating over wood. Despite their beauty, they were seen only by a select group of Kohanim (priests) during the service. Are the most important qualities of a person those which are seen on the outside or those which are hidden? What use is there in values which are hidden? 

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

The initial-stated function of the mishkan (tabernacle) was for God to dwell amongst the people. That is a noble desire, but possibly terrifying as well. God sees all and knows all; having that palpable presence in our neighborhood can be overwhelming. Would we prefer living in a society with greater individual freedoms, in which the authorities are kept at a distance, but which affords little protection, or one in which “Big Brother” sees all and knows all, providing a high level of protection, but limiting our freedoms and individuality?

 

 

Parashat Tezavah - פרשת תצווה

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

On the one hand, the Kohen Gadol is to be totally dedicated to God, sanctified to God, and on the other, he was to wear a number of garments whose function was for him to carry a symbol representing the people before God. Is the job of public officials – Rabbis, politicians, judges, etc. – to protect and preserve the ancient traditions, the things which are considered sacred in their culture, or to serve the needs of the people?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

Aaron and his sons, the kohanim (priests) were distinguished by special clothes. Many people wear uniforms in their jobs. While a uniform offers a mark of distinction, it also sets the individual apart. Do uniforms separate between different levels of society? Do people wearing special clothes feel superior to those who are not wearing them? Is it possible to bridge the gaps within society without removing the special place each individual has?

Parashat Ki Tisa - פרשת כי תשא

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

One of the key arguments that Moses uses to save the Israelites was that destroying them would create a desecration of God’s name. Apparently, as a result of Moses’s argument, God relents. What other kinds of behaviors create a desecration of God’s name? Does that only apply to those things which are public?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

God instructs that two people lead the efforts to construct the mishkan (Tabernacle) – Betzalel, from a noble family of Judah, and Oholiav, from an unknown family of Dan. These two come from dramatically different backgrounds: Judah is the tribe of royalty who marches first in the wilderness and Dan is from one of the maidservants who brings up the rear in the procession. Is it always important to have more than one person in a leadership position? While diversity helps more people to feel involved, what do we lose in pursuing it? What do/should we sacrifice for diversity?

Parashat Vayakhel - פרשת ויקהל

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

There is incredible precision in designing and building the mishkan (Tabernacle). Like a very complex Leg construction, if the pieces are off by just a fraction of an inch (or millimeter) things won’t fit properly or the entire project won’t be stable. Precision gives us a sense of beauty, almost of a quest for perfection. What is the price we pay for pursuing that precision? Is it always worth it? Is it possible to achieve that same kind of precision and perfection in our human interactions?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

Moses calls for donations to help construct the mishkan (tabernacle) and the response is so overwhelming that he needs to ask for people to stop bringing. What brings people to such a level of zeal that they rise way beyond the level of expectation? When is that level of zeal a good thing and when does it become dangerous? How can we tell the difference?

Parashat Pekudei - פרשת פקודי

DISCUSSION QUESTION #1

The Torah goes to great lengths to account for every item donated for the construction of the mishkan (Tabernacle). Should we demand more or less accounting from public institutions than from private ones? Which is worse, an individual who cheats another in a business deal or someone who collects a welfare check without qualifying for assistance?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION #2

The most significant phrase in this entire parasha is כאשר צוה ה’ את משה – they did as God had commanded Moses. That phrase appears at the end of nearly every paragraph and emphasizes the extent to which the Israelites followed God’s commandments to a tee. At the same time, Betzalel, the architect of the mishkan (Tabernacle), was given special wisdom – apparently to make a variety of decisions regarding the design and implementation of the construction. When is it good to simply follow orders and when is it more appropriate to be creative – or even to defy orders?