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, click HERE for younger children and HERE for older children.

Sefer Bereshit - ספר בראשית

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Parashat Bereshit - פרשת בראשית

Discussion For Younger Children

Can you resist temptation? In this week's parasha, the snake tempts Eve with his words, but she is also tempted because the fruit on the forbidden tree looks good. Eve then takes some 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?

Look inside the text (Bereshit 3:1) - The snake tempts Eve to eat from the forbidden tree by saying,

אַ֚ף כִּֽי־אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֔ים לֹ֣א תֹֽאכְל֔וּ מִכֹּ֖ל עֵ֥ץ הַגָּֽן
“Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?”

Discussion For Older Children

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 NOACH - פרשת נח

Discussion For Younger Children

Should you defend someone who did the wrong thing? In this week's parasha, 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. Chazal (The Rabbis from the time of the Talmud) 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”?

Look inside the text (Bereshit 6:13-14) - God tells Noah of the plan to destroy the world by saying,

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֜ים לְנֹ֗חַ קֵ֤ץ כָּל־בָּשָׂר֙ בָּ֣א לְפָנַ֔י כִּֽי־מָלְאָ֥ה הָאָ֛רֶץ חָמָ֖ס מִפְּנֵיהֶ֑ם וְהִנְנִ֥י מַשְׁחִיתָ֖ם אֶת־הָאָֽרֶץ....עֲשֵׂ֤ה לְךָ֙ תֵּבַ֣ת עֲצֵי־גֹ֔פֶר
God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth...Make yourself an ark of gopher wood

 

Discussion For Older Children

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

DISCUSSION FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

Is it ever OK to lie? In this week's parasha, there is a famine in Canaan, and 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) - Avram tells Sarai that he will say she is his sister - 

י וַיְהִי רָעָב בָּאָרֶץ וַיֵּרֶד אַבְרָם מִצְרַיְמָה לָגוּר שָׁם כִּי כָבֵד הָרָעָב בָּאָרֶץ
 There was a famine in the land, and Avram went down to Egypt to travel there, for the famine was severe in the land

יא 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.

יב 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.

Discussion For Older Children

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

DISCUSSION FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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) - Sarah learns that she and Abraham will soon be parents in their old age - 

יב 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?”

יג 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?”

Discussion For Older Children

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 Chayei Sara - פרשת חיי שרה

DISCUSSION FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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? In this week's parasha, 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) - Abraham's servant comes up with a test to find the right wife for Isaac - 

ד 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.”

Discussion For Older Children

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 Vayetze - פרשת ויצא

DISCUSSION FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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), Jacob leaves for Beer Sheva, 

וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע וַיֵּלֶךְ חָרָנָה

Jacob left Beer Sheva, and set out for Haran.

Discussion For Older Children

Jacob arrives in Haran and tells Laban “all those things” (Bereshit 29:13). 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 Toldot - פרשת תולדות

DISCUSSION FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

Is it OK to seize an opportunity even if it means not being kind?

In this week's parasha, Esau returns hungry and tired from the field and 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 payment. It 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) - Jacob asks for Esau's birthright in exchange for soup -

 וַיָּזֶד יַעֲקֹב נָזִיד וַיָּבֹא עֵשָׂו מִן הַשָּׂדֶה וְהוּא עָיֵף

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

ל 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

לא וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב מִכְרָה כַיּוֹם אֶת בְּכֹרָתְךָ לִי

Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.”

לב 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?”

לג 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.

לד 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.

Discussion For Older Children

God gives a message to Rebbeca 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 Vayishlah - פרשת וישלח

DISCUSSION FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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) - Jacob receives a new name, 

כח וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו מַה שְּׁמֶךָ וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב

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

כט וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ כִּי אִם יִשְׂרָאֵל 

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

ל 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.

Discussion For Older Children

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?

Parashat Vayeshev - פרשת וישב

DISCUSSION FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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, but also 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), Joseph tattles on his brothers:

 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 old, 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.

Discussion For Older Children

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 מקץ

DISCUSSION FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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), Joseph recognizes his brother but they do not recognize him, 

ו 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. 

ז 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.”

ח וַיַּכֵּר יוֹסֵף אֶת אֶחָיו וְהֵם לֹא הִכִּרֻהוּ

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

Discussion For Older Children

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

DISCUSSION FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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) 

כב 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.

Discussion For Older Children

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

DISCUSSION FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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 textת (Bereshit 49: 5-7):

ה שִׁמְעוֹן וְלֵוִי אַחִים כְּלֵי חָמָס מְכֵרֹתֵיהֶם

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

ו 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

ז 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

Discussion For Older Children

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?

Sefer Shemot - ספר שמות

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Parashat Shemot - פרשת שמות

Discussion for Younger Children

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 (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.

 

Discussion for Older Children

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

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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 (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.”

 

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

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN 

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.

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

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

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER STUDENTS

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 quickly because of some danger. You’re not sure exactly where you’ll be going, but you know you’ll be going on a long journey. What are some of the most important things you will take with you? 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.

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER STUDENTS

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

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER STUDENTS

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.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER STUDENTS

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

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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

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, claim 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

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

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 Tezaveh - פרשת תצווה

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

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 Tissa - פרשת כי תשא

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

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

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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.”

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

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 Pikudei - פרשת פקודי

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

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

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?