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.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

For tips on how to host meaningful parasha discussions for younger children, click HERE.

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.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

For tips on how to host meaningful parasha discussions for older children, click HERE.

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?