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.



For meaningful discussion questions for older children, please scroll to the bottom of the page. 

Parashat Bereshit - פרשת בראשית

What is a good apology? Has someone ever apologized to you and you felt it wasn’t sincere? In Parshat Bereshit, Kayyin kills his brother, Hevel. Afterward, God punishes him (for FB: but does he really apologize?) and tells him that the land will be cursed and will not provide food easily and that he is banished to be a wanderer for all time. Kayyin then replied,

(Bereshit 4:13-14):

גָּד֥וֹל עֲוֺנִ֖י מִנְּשֹֽׂא׃

“Is my sin too great?” 

הֵן֩ גֵּרַ֨שְׁתָּ אֹתִ֜י הַיּ֗וֹם מֵעַל֙ פְּנֵ֣י הָֽאֲדָמָ֔ה וּמִפָּנֶ֖יךָ אֶסָּתֵ֑ר וְהָיִ֜יתִי נָ֤ע וָנָד֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ

“I have been banished from you and from the land.” 

Do you think he apologizes? What do you think makes a good and valid apology?



Can you resist temptation? In Parashat Bereshit, we read about how the snake tempts Eve to eat from the forbidden tree. He asks her (Bereshit 3:1),

אַ֚ף כִּֽי־אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֔ים לֹ֣א תֹֽאכְל֔וּ מִכֹּ֖ל עֵ֥ץ הַגָּֽן׃

“Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” 

He tempts her with his words, and she is also tempted because the fruit looks good and she takes some to eat and gives some to Adam. Has someone ever tried to tempt you to do something that you knew was wrong? What kind of strategies did they use to try to convince you? When is it hard to avoid temptation? When is it easy?

Parashat Noah - פרשת נח

“The devil made me do it!”After the Flood, God explains that He promises not to destroy the world again, because,

(Bereshit 8:21) 

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל לִבּוֹ לֹא אֹסִף לְקַלֵּל עוֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה בַּעֲבוּר הָאָדָם כִּי יֵצֶר לֵב הָאָדָם רַע מִנְּעֻרָיו וְלֹא אֹסִף עוֹד לְהַכּוֹת אֶת כָּל חַי כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי

A person’s heart is evil from his youth (or, from the time he is born, according to Rashi).

In other words, God has given man an evil inclination and a good inclination. Wouldn’t it be easier if we didn’t have this desire to do bad”? Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t feel a strong temptation to do bad things? Is saying, “I couldn’t help it” a good defense?



Should you defend someone who did the wrong thing? In Parashat Noah, God tells Noah that He is about to destroy the world and tells him how to build an ark to save himself, his family, and some of the animals. (For FB: Should Noah have fought harder to save others beyond his own family, even if they were not good people?) Chazal (the rabbis) criticize Noah for not trying to ask God  for mercy for the people (as Abraham does for Sodom when God tells him about their destruction and Moses does for the Jewish people)

Do you think it’s important to defend someone, or ask for mercy when they have done something wrong? If they “did the crime” shouldn’t they “pay the time”?

Parashat Lekh Lekha - פרשת לך לך

When you’re having an argument and you know you’re right, do you ever compromise just to “keep the peace”? Is compromise always preferable? When Abram returns to Canaan, he and his nephew Lot have a great deal of sheep and their shepherds begin to fight and can’t seem to share the same land. The land has been promised by God to Abram, and he is older and should be respected by Lot. Yet, Abram approaches Lot and is very generous in offering him the first choice in where to live and graze his sheep. Did he do the right thing by offering this compromise?

Look inside the text (Bereshit 13:5-9),

וְגַם לְלוֹט הַהֹלֵךְ אֶת אַבְרָם הָיָה צֹאן וּבָקָר וְאֹהָלִים

Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents,

 וְלֹא נָשָׂא אֹתָם הָאָרֶץ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו כִּי הָיָה רְכוּשָׁם רָב וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו

so that the land could not support them staying together; for their possessions were so great that they could not remain together

 וַיְהִי רִיב בֵּין רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה אַבְרָם וּבֵין רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה לוֹט וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי אָז ישֵׁב בָּאָרֶץ

And there was fighting between the men of Abram’s cattle and those of Lot’s cattle—The Canaanites and Perizzites were then living in the land.

 וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם אֶל לוֹט אַל נָא תְהִי מְרִיבָה בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ וּבֵין רֹעַי וּבֵין רֹעֶיךָ כִּי אֲנָשִׁים אַחִים אֲנָחְנוּ

Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no difficulty between you and me, between my men and yours, for we are family.

 הֲלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ לְפָנֶיךָ הִפָּרֶד נָא מֵעָלָי אִם הַשְּׂמֹאל וְאֵימִנָה וְאִם הַיָּמִין וְאַשְׂמְאִילָה

Is not the whole land before you? Let us separate: if you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north.”



Is it ever OK to lie? When there is a famine in Canaan, Avram and his family go to Egypt (where there is enough food). Avram tells Sarai, his wife, to say that she is his sister and not his wife because he is afraid his life will be in danger and he will be killed and she will be taken by the king. Was it OK for Avram to lie in this situation?

Look inside the text (Bereshit 12:10-12),

 וַיְהִי רָעָב בָּאָרֶץ וַיֵּרֶד אַבְרָם מִצְרַיְמָה לָגוּר שָׁם כִּי כָבֵד הָרָעָב בָּאָרֶץ

 There was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to travel there, for the famine was severe in the land

 וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר הִקְרִיב לָבוֹא מִצְרָיְמָה וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ הִנֵּה נָא יָדַעְתִּי כִּי אִשָּׁה יְפַת מַרְאֶה אָתְּ

As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.

 וְהָיָה כִּי יִרְאוּ אֹתָךְ הַמִּצְרִים וְאָמְרוּ אִשְׁתּוֹ זֹאת וְהָרְגוּ אֹתִי וְאֹתָךְ יְחַיּוּ: יג אִמְרִי נָא אֲחֹתִי אָתְּ לְמַעַן יִיטַב לִי בַעֲבוּרֵךְ וְחָיְתָה נַפְשִׁי בִּגְלָלֵךְ

If the Egyptians see you, and think, ‘She is his wife,’ they will kill me and let you live.

Parashat Vayera - פרשת וירא

If you have two different mitzvot to do at the same time, which one should you do first? What if one is bein adam l’makom (a mitzvah between man and God) and one is bein adam l’chaveiro (a mitzvah between man and his fellow)? What takes priority? Why? Did you ever experience such a conflict? How did you resolve it? 

At the beginning of Parashat Vayera, God “appears” to Abraham, but nothing is written about what is said. Then, Abraham sees visitors and goes running to them. Chazal (the rabbis) use this example to illustrate the principle that “hospitality to a stranger is more important than receiving the Divine Presence.”

 Look inside the text (Bereshit 18: 1-2):

 וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְהֹוָה בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא וְהוּא ישֵׁב פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם

God appeared to him in Alonei Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot.

 וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה שְׁלשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים נִצָּבִים עָלָיו וַיַּרְא וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אָרְצָה

Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground.



In last week’s parasha, we posed a question about lying in order to save your life. In this week’s parasha, we consider another angle of lying: is it OK to lie in order to “keep the peace” and not hurt someone’s feelings? Is telling only part of the story considered a lie? Has this ever happened to you?

When Sarah overhears that she will have a child she laughs and thinks that she and her husband are too old. But, when God reports this to Abraham, He says, “Why did Sarah laugh saying, I am too old?” not including that she mentioned Abraham also being too old. Rashi explains that God did this for the sake of peace. 

Look inside the text (Bereshit 18: 12-13):

 וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה לִּי עֶדְנָה וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן

And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband so old?”

 וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָֹה אֶל אַבְרָהָם לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵד וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי

Then God said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying ‘How in truth can I have a child when I am so old?”


Parashat Chaye Sara - פרשת חיי שרה

How can you reconcile after having a fight or disagreement with someone who was once close to you or a family member? On the one hand, the last time we see Ishmael is when he is banished from Abraham’s house and he almost dies of thirst. Yet, when their father dies, Isaac and Ishmael join together to bury him. Imagine and discuss the conversation that took place between them which enabled them to come together and bury their father.

Look inside the text (Bereshit 25:9), 

וַיִּקְבְּרוּ אֹתוֹ יִצְחָק וְיִשְׁמָעֵאל בָּנָיו אֶל מְעָרַת הַמַּכְפֵּלָה אֶל שְׂדֵה עֶפְרֹן בֶּן צֹחַר הַחִתִּי אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי מַמְרֵא

His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre.



How long does it take for you to judge if someone really is a good person? If you could only ask them one question to help you judge, what would that be? Abraham’s servant is given the task of finding a wife for Isaac. He asks her a key question to determine if she is a good person. How did this “test” prove the worthiness of the girl he was looking for?

Look inside the text (Bereshit 24:14),

 וְהָיָה הַנַּעֲרָ אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיהָ הַטִּי נָא כַדֵּךְ וְאֶשְׁתֶּה וְאָמְרָה שְׁתֵה וְגַם גְּמַלֶּיךָ אַשְׁקֶה אֹתָהּ הֹכַחְתָּ לְעַבְדְּךָ לְיִצְחָק וּבָהּ אֵדַע כִּי עָשִׂיתָ חֶסֶד עִם אֲדֹנִי

Let the girl to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’—let her be the one who You have chosen for Your servant Isaac. From this, I will know that You have done kindness with my master.”

Parashat Toldot - פרשת תולדות

Is new always better? Is it sometimes better to continue with the “old” ways?  Is innovation always needed, or is there a value to maintaining tradition? When the Philistines fill up the wells dug by Abraham, Isaac does not dig new wells, but he digs up those same wells and even gives them the same names as his father did. In many ways, Isaac is not an innovator but follows the path of his father.

 Look inside the text (Bereshit 26:18)

 וַיָּשָׁב יִצְחָק וַיַּחְפֹּר אֶת בְּאֵרֹת הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר חָפְרוּ בִּימֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיו וַיְסַתְּמוּם פְּלִשְׁתִּים אַחֲרֵי מוֹת אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקְרָא לָהֶן שֵׁמוֹת כַּשֵּׁמֹת אֲשֶׁר קָרָא לָהֶן אָבִיו

Isaac dug again the wells which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death, and he gave them the same names that his father had given them.



Is it ok to seize an opportunity even if it means not being kind? When Esau returns hungry and tired from the field, he finds Jacob preparing soup and asks for some. Jacob sees an opportunity to acquire the birthright (which he feels Esau does not deserve) and demands it as paymentIt seems that Esau doesn’t even want the birthright. Should Jacob have taken advantage of this opportunity?

Look inside the text (Bereshit 25: 29-34)

 וַיָּזֶד יַעֲקֹב נָזִיד וַיָּבֹא עֵשָׂו מִן הַשָּׂדֶה וְהוּא עָיֵף

Once when Yaakov was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, hungry

 וַיֹּאמֶר עֵשָׂו אֶל יַעֲקֹב הַלְעִיטֵנִי נָא מִן הָאָדֹם הָאָדֹם הַזֶּה כִּי עָיֵף אָנֹכִי עַל כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמוֹ אֱדוֹם

And Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, because I am hungry”—which is why he was named Edom

 וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב מִכְרָה כַיּוֹם אֶת בְּכֹרָתְךָ לִי

Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.”

 וַיֹּאמֶר עֵשָׂו הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי הוֹלֵךְ לָמוּת וְלָמָּה זֶּה לִי בְּכֹרָה

And Esau said, “I am at the point of death, so of what use is my birthright to me?”

 וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב הִשָּׁבְעָה לִּי כַּיּוֹם וַיִּשָּׁבַע לוֹ וַיִּמְכֹּר אֶת בְּכֹרָתוֹ לְיַעֲקֹב

But Jacob said, “Promise me first.” So he promised him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.

 וְיַעֲקֹב נָתַן לְעֵשָׂו לֶחֶם וּנְזִיד עֲדָשִׁים וַיֹּאכַל וַיֵּשְׁתְּ וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלַךְ וַיִּבֶז עֵשָׂו אֶת הַבְּכֹרָה

Jacob then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; he ate and drank, and he got up and went away. In that way, Esau wasted his birthright.

Parashat Vayetze - פרשת ויצא

How can you respond to someone who is complaining and blaming you? What if they are complaining about something that YOU did? Would you feel sympathetic or angry?

When Rachel saw that she had not born any children, she became envious of her sister; and Rachel said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die.” How do you feel about how Jacob reacted to Rachel in this situation?

 Look inside the text (Bereshit 30:2)

 וַיִּחַר אַף יַעֲקֹב בְּרָחֵל וַיֹּאמֶר הֲתַחַת אֱלֹהִים אָנֹכִי אֲשֶׁר מָנַע מִמֵּךְ פְּרִי בָטֶן

He answers in anger, “Am I in the place of God who has not enabled you to have children (or, in other words, it’s not my fault!)



How can one person impact a whole community? This week’s parasha opens by telling us that Jacob left Beer Sheva and went to Haran. Isn’t it enough to write that he went to Haran? Rashi explains that this is to teach us that when a righteous person leaves a city, it makes an impression. When he is there, he adds so much, he is their glory; and when he leaves his absence is felt.

Do you know of anyone who made a big difference in your community?

Look inside the text (Bereshit 28:10)

 וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע וַיֵּלֶךְ חָרָנָה

Jacob left Beer Sheva, and set out for Haran.

Parashat Vayishlah - פרשת וישלח

Nowadays, so much information is shared on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media. If publicizing an event can cause pain and embarrassment, is it better to keep silent? How do you balance wanting to share news and also being sensitive?

In Parashat Vayishlah, we read about the death of Rebecca’s nurse; the place she was buried was called “the tree of cries” (plural). The commentators were puzzled about the inclusion of this detail, and why there would be so much crying over the death of an elderly nursemaid. Rashi (and Rambam) cite a midrash that Rebecca also died at this time and the tears were for her. But the text did not mention it because people would have spoken badly of her as the mother of Esau.

Look inside the text (Bereshit 35:8)

 וַתָּמָת דְּבֹרָה מֵינֶקֶת רִבְקָה וַתִּקָּבֵר מִתַּחַת לְבֵית אֵל תַּחַת הָאַלּוֹן וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ אַלּוֹן בָּכוּת

Deborah, Rebecca’s nurse, died, and was buried under the oak below Bet El; so it was named Alon Becut



What is the power of a name? Are you called by different names, by your parents, friends, or teammates? What’s the significance of these differences Before Jacob’s fateful meeting with Esau, he battles with a man. Despite being injured, Jacob wins the battle and the man changes his name from Jacob to Israel. These names will be used interchangeably throughout the Torah, but each comes with its own meaning. What do you think the significance of these different names is?

Look inside the text (Bereshit 32:28-30)

 וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו מַה שְּׁמֶךָ וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב

He said to him, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.”

 וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ כִּי אִם יִשְׂרָאֵל 

He said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel”

 וַיִּשְׁאַל יַעֲקֹב וַיֹּאמֶר הַגִּידָה נָּא שְׁמֶךָ וַיֹּאמֶר לָמָּה זֶּה תִּשְׁאַל לִשְׁמִי וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתוֹ שָׁם

Jacob asked, “Please, tell me your name.” But he said, “You must not ask my name!” And he left him there.

Parashat Vayeshev - פרשת וישב

What happens when you are the one who did something wrong? How hard is it to accept responsibility? What if you know you can get away with it -can you admit you did the wrong thing?

Tamar becomes pregnant and Judah condemns her to death. Rather than embarrass Judah, she presents the evidence of the identity of the father of her child. Judah publicly admits he was wrong (and he is the father).

Look inside the text (Bereshit 38: 25-26)

 הִוא מוּצֵאת וְהִיא שָׁלְחָה אֶל חָמִיהָ לֵאמֹר לְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר אֵלֶּה לּוֹ אָנֹכִי הָרָה וַתֹּאמֶר הַכֶּר נָא לְמִי הַחֹתֶמֶת וְהַפְּתִילִים וְהַמַּטֶּה הָאֵלֶּה

As she was being brought out, she sent this message to her father-in-law, “I am with child by the man to whom these belong.” And she added, “Examine these: whose seal and cord and staff are these?”

 וַיַּכֵּר יְהוּדָה וַיֹּאמֶר צָדְקָה מִמֶּנִּי 

Judah recognized them, and said, “She is more in the right than I am”



When you see someone doing something wrong, do you go tell the teacher (or person in authority?) How do you balance wanting to stay friends and doing the right thing when something bad should be stopped? In Parashat Vayeshev, we read that Joseph tattled on his brothers, which contributed to their problematic relationship. Has anyone ever tattled on you? How did you deal with it?

Look inside the text (Bereshit 37:2)

 יוֹסֵף בֶּן שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת אֶחָיו בַּצֹּאן וְהוּא נַעַר אֶת בְּנֵי בִלְהָה וְאֶת בְּנֵי זִלְפָּה נְשֵׁי אָבִיו וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת דִּבָּתָם רָעָה אֶל אֲבִיהֶם

At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers, as a helper to the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought bad reports of them to their father.

Parashat Miketz - פרשת מקץ

Do you think students and teachers should eat together in the lunchroom? What are the reasons for and against? What does eating together symbolize? When Joseph orders food for his brothers, he eats separately from them because it was unacceptable for Egyptians to eat together with Hebrews. Do you think this same idea applies to students and their teachers?

Look inside the text (Bereshit 43:32)

 וַיָּשִׂימוּ לוֹ לְבַדּוֹ וְלָהֶם לְבַדָּם וְלַמִּצְרִים הָאֹכְלִים אִתּוֹ לְבַדָּם כִּי לֹא יוּכְלוּן הַמִּצְרִים לֶאֱכֹל אֶת הָעִבְרִים לֶחֶם כִּי תוֹעֵבָה הִוא לְמִצְרָיִם

They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves; for the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, since that would be inappropriate to the Egyptians.



What happens when you are the person who was wronged? Do you talk to them and expect them to apologize? When Joseph is appointed second in command to Pharaoh, he is placed in charge of the distribution of grain during the years of famine that will be plaguing the area. His brothers come from Canaan to buy grain, he recognizes them, but they don’t recognize him. He gives them a hard time, but also helps them. What do you think about how Joseph treated his brothers in this situation?

Look inside the text (Bereshit 42: 6-8),

 וְיוֹסֵף הוּא הַשַּׁלִּיט עַל הָאָרֶץ הוּא הַמַּשְׁבִּיר לְכָל עַם הָאָרֶץ וַיָּבֹאוּ אֲחֵי יוֹסֵף וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ לוֹ אַפַּיִם אָרְצָה

Now Joseph was ruling the land; it was he who gave out food to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed low to him, with their faces to the ground. 

 וַיַּרְא יוֹסֵף אֶת אֶחָיו וַיַּכִּרֵם וַיִּתְנַכֵּר אֲלֵיהֶם וַיְדַבֵּר אִתָּם קָשׁוֹת וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם מֵאַיִן בָּאתֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ מֵאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן לִשְׁבָּר אֹכֶל

When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them; but he acted like a stranger toward them and spoke harshly to them. He asked them, “Where do you come from?” And they said, “From the land of Canaan, to get food.”

 וַיַּכֵּר יוֹסֵף אֶת אֶחָיו וְהֵם לֹא הִכִּרֻהוּ

Even though Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him.

Parashat Vayigash - פרשת ויגש


If you’re moving to a new country with a different culture and language, how can you best be sure to keep your Jewish identity? What are the most important Jewish institutions to build first?

When the Jewish people go down to Egypt, Judah is sent ahead, “L’horot” (meaning, to show or to teach). Rashi cites a midrash which explains that he is sent ahead to set up schools for the study of Torah. Do you agree that a Jewish school should be the most important to set up first in a new place?

Look inside the text (Bereshit 46:28)

 וְאֶת יְהוּדָה שָׁלַח לְפָנָיו אֶל יוֹסֵף לְהוֹרֹת לְפָנָיו גּשְׁנָה וַיָּבֹאוּ אַרְצָה גּשֶׁן

They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves; for the Egyptians could not dine with the Hebrews, since that would be abhorrent to the Egyptians.



Should certain people receive special privileges above others? What about community leaders who do so much for others? 

In Parashat Vayigash, Joseph is the leader of the Egyptian economy. He buys the land from the people in exchange for food, but the priests are exempt and can keep their land. In Judaism, priests do not receive an inheritance of the land. Should priests be receiving these special privileges, in your opinion?

Look inside the text, (Bereshit 47:22) 

 רַק אַדְמַת הַכֹּהֲנִים לֹא קָנָה כִּי חֹק לַכֹּהֲנִים מֵאֵת פַּרְעֹה וְאָכְלוּ אֶת חֻקָּם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָהֶם פַּרְעֹה עַל כֵּן לֹא מָכְרוּ אֶת אַדְמָתָם

Only the land of the priests he did not take over, for the priests had their own land from Pharaoh, and they lived off the land which Pharaoh had made to them; therefore they did not sell their land

Parashat Vayehi - פרשת ויחי


This parasha is called “Vayechi” –“and he lived” -but it begins with the death of Jacob and ends with the death of Joseph. The other parasha with “life” in its title –“Chaye Sara” begins with the death of Sarah and ends with the death of Abraham. But along with the stories of death, both parshiyot deal with the generations to come and the continuation of the tradition and values of the fathers and mothers.

In the Talmud (Taanit 5b), Rabbi Yochanan states that Jacob never died. His students reply that his death and burial were described in detail! He then quotes from the book of Jeremiah, (30:10) “Fear not, my servant Jacob… I will save you from afar and your children from the land of captivity” In other words, a person continues to live by way of the legacy he has given his children.

Is there a secret for immortality? For thousands of years, man has wondered and searched for a secret to immortality. Why do you think this is true? Does a person “live on” in his children and values?



How do you deal with anger and angry people? Is it better just not to associate with angry people?

In Parashat Vayehi, Jacob blesses all of his sons. In this process, he curses the anger of Simeon and Levi and does not want to be associated with them. Do you agree with this?

Look inside the text (Bereshit 49: 5-7)

 שִׁמְעוֹן וְלֵוִי אַחִים כְּלֵי חָמָס מְכֵרֹתֵיהֶם

Simeon and Levi are a pair; their weapons are tools of lawlessness.

 בְּסֹדָם אַל תָּבֹא נַפְשִׁי בִּקְהָלָם אַל תֵּחַד כְּבֹדִי כִּי בְאַפָּם הָרְגוּ אִישׁ וּבִרְצֹנָם עִקְּרוּ שׁוֹר

I would not want to be included in their community or be part of them. When they are angry, they kill men, and when they are pleased, they hurt oxen.

 אָרוּר אַפָּם כִּי עָז וְעֶבְרָתָם כִּי קָשָׁתָה אֲחַלְּקֵם בְּיַעֲקֹב וַאֲפִיצֵם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל

Their strong anger and endless wrath should be cursed. I will divide them among the descendants of Jacob, scatter them throughout the land of Israel.


Parashat Bereshit - פרשת בראשית

The end of chapter 5 offers a vague description of a situation of men taking “choice” women. The commentaries struggle with explaining the event, but most explanations involve people in positions of power, whether physical, social, or financial, using that power to achieve their desires. Is it wrong for people who have influence to actually use it? For example, is there anything wrong with parents using their contacts to help secure a place for their children in the school of their choice, to get an interview with a particular firm, or to get an early appointment with a particular doctor? If a parent feels uncomfortable using their influence and does not use his/her influence, is their behavior ethically correct or are they being delinquent in their responsibility as a parent?



When Shet (the third son of Adam & Eve) is born, his name is explained that he is the replacement for Hevel, whom Kayyin had killed. When a parent names a child after someone else (usually deceased, in the Ashkenazic tradition, or alive, in the Sefardic tradition) does it place an unfair burden on the child, or is it a gift of a legacy?

Parashat Noah - פרשת נח

Marital relations were forbidden during the Flood because they would have been inappropriate in a time when the world was drenched in sorrow. Is it necessary, or appropriate, for individuals to suspend their personal lives and aspirations when the broader community faces a serious crisis? Many people refused to have children during the Shoah while others insisted on doing so as an affirmation of life. What would you do?



Noah decrees that his grandson, Canaan, is to be a servant to his brothers. Does that suggest that, for all eternity, Canaan’s descendants are destined to slavery? Can such a “decree” be undone? Can it be that our fate is predetermined by the actions of our ancestors?

Parashat Lekh Lekha - פרשת לך לך

Why did God demand Avram leave his family to pursue the Divine mission? Might Avram not have been more successful operating within a familiar culture – why did he need to leave and enter a new place in order to fulfill his destiny?



Pharaoh pays Avram handsomely for Sarai, whom Pharaoh believed was Avram’s sister. As a result, Avram’s wealth increases substantially. Is it ethical to reap the benefits of an immoral act? Similar debates raged after the Shoah as to whether it was appropriate to accept reparations from Nazi Germany. Would doing so effectively put a price on human life?

Parashat Vayera - פרשת וירא

After an uncomfortable incident with Avimelekh (a Philistine king), the king offers to establish a treaty with Abraham. Abraham gently rebukes Avimelekh but then signs the treaty. Is it appropriate to hold a grudge and not allow someone the opportunity to make amends? Is it appropriate to “forgive and forget” and ignore wrongs that were done previously? What are the disadvantages of each approach? Is one approach “more correct” than the other?



Lot is advised to flee the city of Sodom in advance of its destruction. He tries to encourage his family members to join, but most don’t pay much attention to his warning. Should Lot have at least told his neighbors, or announced to the townspeople, that something terrible was about to happen, and give some the opportunity to save themselves? If you knew that a fire had just broken out, would you not warn your neighbors to get out of harm’s way? If you found out about an opportunity to make a large sum of money, would you tell others about it or keep it a secret?

Parashat Chaye Sara - פרשת חיי שרה

Eliezer asks God to send him a sign that the woman greeting him is indeed the appropriate mate for Isaac. Is it appropriate to ask God for signs? Can we expect God to respond to such requests? Do such requests turn God into our servant, rather than the reverse?



Abraham has additional children with Keturah, but sends them away from Isaac. What happens to those descendants later in history? What kind of relationship do they develop with the descendants of Isaac? What impact may their being sent away have on them, or on Isaac Is it possible that Isaac’s desire to keep Esau close at hand is a reaction to his father’s handling of his own brothers?

Parashat Toldot - פרשת תולדות

Following in his father’s footsteps, Isaac tells Avimelekh that Rebecca is his sister. How important is it to be truthful? Are there circumstances in which it is justified to say things that are not true? How should someone feel about having to violate their own word? What dangers does such a practice, even if justified, carry for the person who is dishonest?



God gives a message to Rebecca about her children, yet there is no indication that she shared that message with Isaac. How might the story have turned had God NOT delivered that message to her? How might the story have turned out had she shared that message with Isaac? How might the story be different had Jacob and Esau told Isaac about the sale of the birthright?

Parashat Vayetze - פרשת ויצא

Jacob makes a deal with Laban regarding the white and the non-white sheep, after which he does some mysterious things with the mating of the sheep. While we don’t know the precise nature of what he did, whether it was through some kind of shepherd’s secret, magic, or selective breeding, Laban did not anticipate this and Jacob gains considerable wealth in a short period of time. When dealing with dishonest people, do we have an obligation to be straightforward or is it OK to engage in some form of deception to protect ourselves and “even the playing field?” Are there limits to the amount of deception that we can use or the extent of what we can gain from it? What kind of circumstances could justify that deception – potential financial loss or gain, political positioning, angling to get a job or landing a contract, personal safety, national security?



Jacob arrives in Haran and tells Laban “all those things.” It is possible that Jacob’s honesty ended up lowering his status in Laban’s eyes, which had all sorts of effects on their relationship. While honesty is obviously an important value, is it possible that too much honesty can be damaging? When is it appropriate to hold back critical information in certain relationships? How do we draw the line between what is appropriate to share and what is not?


Parashat Vayishlah - פרשת וישלח

Following the decimation of the city of Shechem by Simon and Levi, there is a debate between them and Jacob. Jacob, the statesman, was outraged by their actions while they, as idealistic activists, defended it. Similar debates have been held throughout history between young idealists and seasoned diplomats, sometimes resulting in important and successful social revolutions and other times resulting in disaster. How does one judge the “correctness” of a revolutionary movement?



The Torah describes that Reuben slept with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. Jacob doesn’t react immediately, but years later, when giving blessings to his sons, Jacob cites this as a key reason that Reuben lost his prominent role as the leading son. Most children, at some point, will do things that anger, embarrass, or harm their parents. Is there a red line which, if crossed, makes it appropriate for a parent to disown a child? Should a parent support their child even s/he turns out to be an abuser, a thief, or worse? Where do we draw those red lines – ethically lines, ideologically, religiously? How do we manage relationships between parents and children while encouraging children to become independent adults who will make their own decisions?

Parashat Vayeshev - פרשת וישב

Judah loses his status amongst his brothers as a result of multiple acts of deception and regains his position only after he learns to accept responsibility for his actions even though he could get away with another act of deception. What holds us back from taking responsibility for our actions? What do we gain from that and what do we lose? If we damage our own reputation, what do we have to do to rebuild it?



In Parashat Vayeshev, Reuben tries to save Joseph by deceiving his brothers. What did Reuben think would happen when his brothers found out that he lied to them? Assuming that Reuben’s motives were pure, why did he not make a principled stand against killing Joseph? What prevents us from standing up for things that we believe are right, and what happens to us when we fail to do so?

Parashat Miketz - פרשת מצץ


Joseph displays significant humility when meeting Pharaoh for the first time, insisting that he is incapable of interpreting anything and that only God has interpretations. Humility is a noble trait, but is it always appropriate? Is having low self-esteem the same as humility? What are the differences between them? Can you think of a situation where humility would not be appropriate? How do you decide when it is and when it is not appropriate?



Jacob is mortally fearful of letting Benjamin go with his brothers to Egypt, even at the risk of losing Simeon, and both Reuben and Judah make dramatic offers to convince Jacob that it is the right thing to do. Elderly people are often fearful of losing their security and independence, even as their decision-making abilities may be compromised. Is it right or fair to try to convince them to accept decisions with which they are not comfortable? How do we know if, in trying to convince them, we are serving their best interest or ours? Can we ever truly know what’s better for someone else, more than they know themself?

Parashat Vayigash - פרשת ויגש


Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and presents a grand plan to save the family. He repeatedly states that he bears no grudge against them for their actions. What he does not offer, however, is an apology for the ordeal that he put them through while being harsh, holding Simeon captive, and threatening to imprison Benjamin. Why is apology important? Can we move beyond the hurt when there is no apology? What kinds of responses to an apology could be beneficial in rebuilding a relationship?



In Parashat Vayigash, Joseph supports his family while the Egyptians starve and sell everything they own for the food he provides them. Is it ethical to provide for people of privilege while others are left out? How do we balance our responsibilities to our loved ones with our general responsibilities to all of society? When there are limited resources, how do we decide who gets access to them?

Parashat Vayehi - פרשת ויחי


Jacob blesses his grandchildren, insisting that they “belong to him.” How much should grandparents be involved in raising their grandchildren? What level of interference in parental decisions is acceptable or not? If grandparents are footing the bill for their grandchildren’s education, should that give more of a say in how they are raised? How do we balance the need for grandparents to be involved, as an integral part of the children’s history and tradition, and the need to avoid meddling in the decisions made by the parents?



Jacob insists, both from Joseph and his other sons, that they return him to his ancestral plot in the Machpelah Cave for burial. There is a general norm, as well as a halakhic directive, to honor the wishes of a dying person. Are there limitations to that? What if their wishes violate local laws or our ethical and/or religious values?