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.

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 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 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 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 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?