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

Blank

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

Blank
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?

Sefer Vayikra - ספר ויקרא

PARASHAT VAYIKRA - פרשת ויקרא

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

The first parshiot of Sefer Vayikra describe the details of the mishkan (Tabernacle) and the korbanot (sacrifices). Korbanot are hard to understand today - but simply put, they were a way that people would bring gifts to God. Sometimes, these gifts would be a way to say, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake”, or “thank you,” or for other reasons.  It was a way to feel closer to God.

Do you have to be rich to give a really good present? In Parashat Vayikra, we learn that all gifts were equal - whether you are rich or poor. A rich person would bring a cow as a gift and a poor person could bring a bird or even just fine flour. What’s most important is that a person gives it with sincerity. Did you ever give a person a gift that was small, but you gave it with all your heart? Describe what it was and how you felt? How was the gift received?

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER STUDENTS

There are special offerings we are obligated to bring when we sin even without being aware that our actions were forbidden. Why should we be accountable for things that we do not know or are not aware of? How about in interpersonal relationships – should we feel guilty about hurting someone unintentionally? Should we feel slighted when someone says something innocent that happens to hurt us?

Parashat Tzav

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

Among the korbanot (sacrifices) in Parashat Tzav, we learn about the Korban Todah, the thanksgiving offering. This was a way people could say thank you to God for different important events in their life, for example, recovery from an illness, or arriving home safely after a difficult or dangerous trip. Nowadays, we still remember this korban (sacrifice) with a special prayer, called Birkat Ha’Gomel

In this manner, the Torah teaches us the importance of gratitude. Look around you and give a special thank you to someone. Think about what has happened recently that you would like to say thank you to God. How does saying “thank you” make you feel?

Look inside the text (Vayikra 7: 12)

אִם עַל תּוֹדָה יַקְרִיבֶנּוּ וְהִקְרִיב עַל זֶבַח הַתּוֹדָה חַלּוֹת מַצּוֹת בְּלוּלֹת בַּשֶּׁמֶן וּרְקִיקֵי מַצּוֹת מְשֻׁחִים בַּשָּׁמֶן וְסֹלֶת מֻרְבֶּכֶת חַלֹּת בְּלוּלֹת בַּשָּׁמֶן

If he offers it for thanksgiving, he shall offer together with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes with oil mixed in, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of choice flour with oil mixed in, well soaked.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN 

The Torah provides an incredibly detailed description of how Moses dresses Aaron and prepares him for his role. It feels a little like a slow-motion scene of dressing a bride before her wedding. What is it about details that make such a difference in our experience? How does it make you feel when you know that someone invested a lot of thought in the small things? How do we know when we are focusing too much on the small things and not enough on the big things?

Parashat Shemini - פרשת שמיני

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

In Parashat Shemini, we learn about which animals, fish, and birds are kosher. After the rules are started, the next verse explains that we are commanded to eat kosher food to be holy because God is holy. How can eating become holy? Doesn’t everyone just have to eat?

Look inside the text (Vayikra 11:45)

כִּי אֲנִי יְהֹוָה הַמַּעֲלֶה אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לִהְיֹת לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי

For I the LORD am He who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God: you shall be holy, for I am holy.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

Given his position as Kohen Gadol (High Priest), Aaron was denied the opportunity to manifest the mourning for his sons, and the Rabbis commend him for his silent strength through the ordeal. How much of their private lives are public figures expected to sacrifice for the benefit of their constituents? Is the public standing of a leader enhanced or diminished in displaying human emotion or weakness?

Parashat Tazria - פרשת תזריע

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN 

In Parashat Tazria, we learn about an unusual sickness called tzara’at. If someone was afflicted with this disease, they didn’t go to the doctor and get medicine to help them feel better - instead, they went to the kohen (priest)  who would diagnose them and instruct the sick person to leave their home, and live outside the camp or the city for a week. The rabbis explained that this was not a regular kind of sickness, but a punishment for lashon hara  - speaking badly about others and hurting them or gossiping about them. This disease worked as a sort of “time out” - a person who was mean to others did not deserve to be together with others but was sent away to think about what he did and how to be a better person.

Have you ever been hurt by something mean someone said about you? Were they punished? Did you ever have a “time out”? How did you feel about it? 

Look inside the text (Vayikra 13: 2-3)

אָדָ֗ם כִּי יִהְיֶה בְעוֹר בְּשָׂרוֹ שְׂאֵת אוֹ סַפַּחַת אוֹ בַהֶרֶת וְהָיָה בְעוֹר בְּשָׂרוֹ לְנֶגַע צָרָעַת וְהוּבָא אֶל אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן אוֹ אֶל אַחַד מִבָּנָיו הַכֹּהֲנִים׃

When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration, and it develops into a scaly affection on the skin of his body, it shall be reported to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons, the priests.

וְרָאָה הַכֹּהֵן אֶת הַנֶּגַע בְּעוֹר הַבָּשָׂר וְשֵׂעָר בַּנֶּגַע הָפַךְ לָבָן וּמַרְאֵה הַנֶּגַע עָמֹק מֵעוֹר בְּשָׂרוֹ נֶגַע צָרַעַת הוּא וְרָאָהוּ הַכֹּהֵן וְטִמֵּא אֹתוֹ׃

The priest shall examine the affection on the skin of his body: if the hair in the affected patch has turned white and the affection appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is tzara’at; when the priest sees it, he shall pronounce him unclean.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN 

Tzara’at is a spiritual disease that has physical manifestations. One of the interesting features of tzara’at is that even with clear signs of tzara’at, the person  (or the house)  is not considered “infected” until he or she is declared impure by the kohen, so much so that the kohen tells the afflicted person to clear the house before he pronounces the decision of pure/impure lest the person’s property is declared impure when the declaration is made. Imagine someone who has violated the norms of their society – a child molester, someone who seduced someone else’s spouse, someone who put friend’s money in bad investments to make himself lots of money – so much so that they need to be shunned, banned, excommunicated, or jailed. How are we to treat the people surrounding them – their parents, spouses, children, siblings? Can we, should we, separate between them and those in their close orbit, or does that minimize the power of the social exclusion?

Parashat Metzora - פרשת מצורע

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

In Parashat Metzora, we continue reading about the disease of tzara’at and about what a person needed to do to able to return home. There was a special korban (sacrifice) he had to bring and things he needed to do, and the kohen (priest) would check that he was really ready to return.

When a person hurts another by the things they say what do you think they can do to make amends and show they will not do it again?

Look inside the text (Vayikra 14:2)

זֹ֤את תִּֽהְיֶה תּוֹרַת הַמְּצֹרָע בְּיוֹם טָהֳרָתוֹ וְהוּבָא אֶל הַכֹּהֵן׃

This shall be the ritual for a person with tzara’at at the time that he is to be cleansed. When it has been reported to the priest.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

When a house was afflicted with tzara’at, it had to go through various stages of purification, including removing the affected stones to dismantling the entire house. According to one midrash, God afflicted some of the houses in the Land of Israel with tzara’at so that the Israelites would dismantle them they would discover a treasure hidden there by the previous residents. What seemed like a terrible punishment turned out to be a gift from God. Have you ever had a bad thing happen to you that you later realize turned out to be an amazing opportunity? How do we turn every negative consequence – both for ourselves and for others – into an opportunity for meaningful growth?

 

Parashat Achrei Mot - פרשת אחרי מות

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

In Parashat Achrei Mot we read about the unique service in the mishkan (Tabernacle) and later in the Temple, and laws of Yom Kippur. During the year, the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would wear a magnificent uniform with a blue (tchelet) and gold. Yom Kippur was the only time he was permitted to enter the Kodesh Kedoshim (Holy of Holies), the holy place where the Aron Kodesh (Ark of the Covenant) was kept. Before entering he had to go to purify himself and change his clothes to plain white garments (This was done five times!)

Although the Temple was destroyed, we have many customs on Yom Kippur to remind us of the service then. We read about it in the Torah reading and also in the prayers of Yom Kippur and it’s a custom to wear white on Yom Kippur. How do these customs help us get into the spirit of Yom Kippur? How do you feel when you look around the synagogue on Yom Kippur?

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

The Torah hints that there are things that are more forbidden in the Promised Land than in other places and that the consequences for violating them in the Promised Land are more serious than the consequences for violating them in other places. What makes a place sacred? Why is it that there are behaviors (like walking around in a bathing suit or speaking loudly) which are considered acceptable in certain places and not in others? How do we deal with situations in which different people have varying understandings about what it means for a place to be sacred (like a Holocaust museum, a concert theater, the president’s house, or a synagogue) and what kinds of behaviors are acceptable in each?

 

Parashat Kedoshim - פרשת קדושים

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN 

Parashat Kedoshim is filled with many mitzvot bein adam l’chaveiro (between man and his fellow), among them, we read

(Vayikra 19:18)

ואהבת לרעיך כמוך - You should love your fellow man as you love yourself. 

Can you really love another person as much as you love yourself? In the Talmud, Rabbi Akiva writes this is a fundamental principle of Judaism. Hillel (Shabbat 31a) explained,  ”Don’t do something which is hateful to you to another person.” Nachmonides explains that it’s impossible to love another person as oneself, but the intention is to be happy for another person’s success and wish them all the good things you would want.

What do you think this means? How can you fulfill this mitzvah?

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

The Torah often emphasizes that we need to be nice to the stranger because we were strangers in Egypt. If we recall correctly, our experience in Egypt was not exactly one of great hospitality and warm feelings. Are we supposed to turn a blind eye to the bad in order to find some redeeming quality in everything? What are the downsides of turning a blind eye to the evil that others do? What kind of people do we become if we remember only the bad in others? What do we become if we remember only the good in others?

Parashat Emor - פרשת אמור

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

In Parashat Emor, we read a review of the holidays. The list begins with Shabbat and continues with Passover. Then there is a description of the omer offering (the first barley harvest) and the verse we read before counting the omer every night between Passover and Shavuot.

Look inside the text (Vayikra 23:15)

  וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם אֶת עֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת תְּמִימֹת תִּהְיֶינָה

And from the day on which you bring the omer offering—the day after Shabbat—you should count off seven weeks. They must be complete.

We are commanded to count the seven weeks and days between Passover and Shavuot. This is unlike any other mitzvah we have - to count days and weeks with a blessing! Some explain that this is an expression of our excitement to receive the Torah.

Can you think of an event for which you actively count the days until it happens? (your birthday? A special vacation? The end of school?) How does counting days help? How does it make you feel?

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

Every culture has holidays. Those are special days for celebration and rejoicing. When the Torah speaks of holidays, it inserts into each of them some obligations – both obligations to God and obligations to other humans. What message does the presence of these obligations send? How do obligations transform us as people?

Parashat Behar - פרשת בהר

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

In Parashat Behar, we have a source for the mitzvah of tzedakah. It is interesting to note that a poor person is described as  ”your brother” and the mitzvah is to help him be able to live with you. Maimonides describes 10 different ways of giving tzedakah, and the best is to help someone be able to “stand on their own feet” and not need tzedakah.  

What are some ways to give tzedakah in your community? What do you think is a good way of giving tzedakah?

(Look inside the text, Vayikra 25:35)

 וְכִי יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָ וּמָטָה יָדוֹ עִמָּךְ וְהֶחֱזַקְתָּ בּוֹ גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב וָחַי עִמָּךְ

If your brother, being in trouble, reach out to help him, and if he comes to stay by you even though he is not a citizen, let him live by your side.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

There is a distinction between real estate deals in cities and those in farm country. If someone sells a house in a city they have one year to “redeem” it back, and if they do not then the sale is permanent. By contrast, in farm country, they have until the Yovel (Jubilee) year to redeem it, and if they are unsuccessful then in reverts back to the original owner automatically. In what ways are the connections between the people and the land different for farm people and city people?  How does living in a city affect us differently?

Parashat Behukotai - פרשת בחוקותי

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

In Parashat Behukotai, we read about reward and punishment for keeping the mitzvot. About ten verses describe the rewards, and thirty describe the punishments which are called the tochacha, “rebuke.”. When this section is read in the synagogue it is often read quickly in a quiet voice – as if we don’t want to really hear about the punishments and want it over as quickly as possible.

Does knowing about a punishment help people do the right thing?

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

A significant part of this parasha focuses on Divine punishments for Israel’s wrongdoing. Do punishments have a positive side? How can we distinguish between a constructive punishment and a destructive one? Is there a difference between punishment on the scale of a family and those imposed by a broader society?

Sefer Bamidbar - ספר במדבר

PARASHAT BAMIDBAR - פרשת במדבר

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

Parashat Bamidbar describes the way the Jewish people camped in the desert on their way to the land of Israel. The people were organized in a large square with the mishkan (Tabernacle) and the Levites in the middle. Each family camped with their tribe and each tribe had its own unique flag. The flags and their colors were influenced by the blessings that Jacob had given the tribes at the end of Sefer Bereshit.

If you were to design a flag to represent your family, what picture would be on the flag?

Look inside the text (Bamidbar 1:52)

 וְחָנוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ עַל מַחֲנֵהוּ וְאִישׁ עַל דִּגְלוֹ לְצִבְאֹתָם

The Israelites will encamp troop by troop, each man with his division and each under his standard.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

The tribe of Levi was marked for special status. It also happened to be the tribe of both Moses and Aaron. How far must we go to avoid the appearance of nepotism? Should we disqualify the best candidates because they have a special relationship with someone making the decisions? Which is more important – getting the best person for the job or maintaining the respect for the integrity of the system?

Parashat Naso - פרשת נשא

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN 

Parashat Naso includes the very meaningful blessing of the Kohanim (priests) which is still recited today in synagogues today. It’s difficult to understand what it means that “God will shine His light on you.”

What do you think it means? Can a person also “shine a light” on others? How? What does it feel like?

Look inside the text, (Bemidbar 6:24-26)

יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָֹה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ

May God bless you and protect you

יָאֵר יְהוָֹה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ

May God deal kindly and graciously with you

יִשָּׂא יְהוָֹה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

May God bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN 

In his search for spiritual elevation, the nazir effectively distances himself from much of public life. His hair grows uncut, he cannot participate in many celebrations (involving wine or alcohol), and he must protect himself from impurity. How do we balance our need for personal space, growth, individuality, and spiritual searching with our responsibility to be part of a community? As parents, or children, how do we balance the responsibilities we have to ourselves, our families, and our communities? Which of those takes precedence and how do we decide?

Parashat Behaalotkha - פרשת בהעלותך

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

In Parashat Behaalotekha, the Jewish people celebrated their first (and only) Passover in the desert. Imagine the excitement now that they had a mishkan (Tabernacle) and could bring a Passover sacrifice. BUT – some people were not able to participate because they were tamei (spiritually impure) and therefore couldn’t bring the sacrifice. They approached Moses because they didn’t want to be left out of the mitzvah and he didn’t know the answer and consulted with God. 

God responded that they can have a second chance exactly one month later -the 14th of the month of Iyaar, which became known as Pesach Sheni (Second Passover). Nowadays many people eat a piece of matzah on this day to remember the occasion.

Why do you think God gave the people a “second chance”? When do you think this is especially important? Do you remember a time when you were given a “second chance?” 

Look inside the text, (Bemidbar 9:7 -11)

:וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים הָהֵמָּה אֵלָיו אֲנַחְנוּ טְמֵאִים לְנֶפֶשׁ אָדָם לָמָּה נִגָּרַע לְבִלְתִּי הַקְרִיב אֶת קָרְבַּן יְהוָֹה בְּמֹעֲדוֹ בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
 :וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם משֶׁה עִמְדוּ וְאֶשְׁמְעָה מַה יְּצַוֶּה יְהוָֹה לָכֶם
 :וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר
 :'דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי יִהְיֶה טָמֵא לָנֶפֶשׁ אוֹ בְדֶרֶךְ רְחֹקָה לָכֶם אוֹ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם וְעָשָׂה פֶסַח לַה
 :בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם בֵּין הָעַרְבַּיִם יַעֲשׂוּ אֹתוֹ עַל מַצּוֹת וּמְרֹרִים יֹאכְלֻהוּ

But there were some men who were spiritually impure and could not offer the Passover sacrifice on that day. Appearing that same day before Moses and Aaron, those men said to them, “Unclean though we are by reason of a corpse, why must we be stopped from presenting God’s offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites?”Moses said to them, “Stand by, and let me hear what instructions God gives about you.”And God spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the Israelite people, saying: When any of you or of your posterity who is defiled by a corpse or is on a long journey would offer a Passover sacrifice to God, they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.”

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

A small group of people was excluded from the Pesach offering in the second year because of their impurity. When they complained to Moses, who then turned to God, they were given a second opportunity to do it a month later. When is it OK to make exceptions to the rule? What happens when every request for an exception is granted? What about our people who are disadvantaged in some way – should we always be looking for ways to accommodate them? What about firefighters or soldiers without legs, or blind surgeons? What are the limits of those exceptions?

 

Parashat Shelah - פרשת שלח

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN 

At the end of Parashat Shelah, we read about the mitzvah of tzitzit (fringes) which is also recited every day as the final paragraph of Shema prayer.  Our sages explain that one purpose of tzitzit is to remind one to do the mitzvot. A special blue string, called techelet, was attached to the tzitzit. This color is the color of the sea, and the sea is a reflection of the blue in the sky. This serves as a reminder of the throne of the glory of God in heaven.

If there is something important you need to remember, do you write it down, or do you have some other special reminder? How can an article of clothing affect your behavior?

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

All of Israel is punished for their reaction to the report of the scouts, but God metes out special punishment to the scouts who brought back a bad report. Do leaders have responsibilities and accountability greater than their followers? Should followers be held accountable for listening to their leaders?

Parashat Korah - פרשת קרח

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

In Parashat Korah, the leadership of Moses and Aaron is challenged by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. They claim that all the people are holy, and it’s not fair that only Moses and Aaron are the ones to lead. 

What do you think was unique about Moses and Aaron that they were chosen above others? What do you think are the qualities of a good leader of the Jewish people? Why are these important? 

Look inside the text (Bemidbar 16:3)

 וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל משֶׁה וְעַל אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב לָכֶם כִּי כָל הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדשִׁים וּבְתוֹכָם יְהוָֹה וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ עַל קְהַל יְהוָֹה

They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and God is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above God’s congregation?”

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

The Israelites are instructed to provide for the basic needs of the Levites since the Levites are landless. Is it good for public servants to be dependent on those whom they serve? Does that create a set of checks and balances on the public servants or does it make them too vulnerable to do their jobs properly? Is it best to have a leadership that is independently wealthy and doesn’t need the financial support of the public?

Parashat Hukkat - פרשת חוקת

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

In this parasha, we learn about the sin and punishment of Moses. When there is no water to drink, the people complain bitterly to Moses, and God tells Moses to take his staff and speak to a rock, and water will flow from it.  Instead, Moses speaks angrily to the people and hits the rock. As a consequence of this sin, Moses is told that he will not enter the Holy Land (the Land of Israel).

Do we expect more of our leaders than we expect of average people? Should leaders be held to a higher standard? Why or why not?

Look inside the text (Bemidbar 20:12)

 וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָֹה אֶל משֶׁה וְאֶל אַהֲרֹן יַעַן לֹא הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לָכֵן לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָהֶם

But God said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.”

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

In a famous ironic twist, while the person whom the Red Heifer is prepared for is purified by it, everyone involved in its preparation becomes impure (albeit to a lesser extent). It could be argued that everyone who helps others needs to sacrifice some of themselves for the benefit of those they are helping. This is true for friends, parents, teachers, medical professionals, and more. How do we know when the sacrifice is too much? At what point are the givers allowed to say that they need time or energy for themselves? Do we resent the givers who pull back to take care of themselves?

Parashat Balak - פרשת בלק

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

In this parasha, Bil'am the magician is hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the Jewish people because he is afraid of them. Bil'am agrees, but instead of cursing the Jews, he blessed them. Among his blessings are the words we say in our prayers every morning: He blesses the tents (homes) of the Jewish people! What do you think is a good blessing for a home -what makes it a good place to be?

 Look inside the text (Bemidbar 24:5)

מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל

How fair are your tents, Jacob, Your dwellings, Israel!

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

After having seen the Israelites destroy the powerful nations of the Emorites and the Bashan, Balak sends for the sorcerer Bil’am to curse the Israelites. Success can sometimes backfire, as it builds envy or fear in others. Should we let that stop us? Is it possible to be too successful? Can we mitigate the fear that others have of our success?

Parashat Pinhas - פרשת פנחס

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

Parashat Pinhas lists all the special korbanot (sacrifices) which were brought on Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh, and the holidays. Although we no longer bring sacrifices, this mitzvah is preserved in our Torah reading and our prayers. The korbanot were a way to express our gratitude to God and come closer. How do we make our holidays special today?

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

The daughters of Tzelofhad appeal to Moses that their father’s name not be erased from the land because he has no sons. Every human who passes through life has a desire that something of them remain after they are gone – their name, children, an idea, or something that they did. Beyond the desire to immortalize ourselves, is there a meaningful value in publicizing the good acts and generosity of individuals? Which is more important – making a difference in people’s lives or being known for making a difference in people’s lives?

 

Parashat Matot - פרשת מטות

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

Parashat Matot begins with the law of nedarim, a solemn promise made before God. It is very important to keep your promises - especially when it is made in the form of a solemn promise, or neder. These types of promises are so serious that the very famous prayer of “Kol Nidrei” which is said at the beginning of the Yom  Kippur holiday is all about solemn promises which a person did not keep during the year.

Do you ever make a promise that you wanted to keep but couldn’t? Is it better not to make a promise and just say “you’ll try your best”?

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN 

After the conquest of the eastern bank of the Jordan, two tribes request to stay behind and receive their portion of the land in the recently captured area. Moses is enraged and challenges them: “Shall your brothers go to war while you settle here?!” There are many times when we are part of a group and, along with the other members of the group, have made a commitment. Take, for example, a school sports team, a kibbutz, or a band. The departure of one or two members of the group places extra hardship on the other members. Do we have a right to pull out of communal commitments? Do we owe other people when we commit to something together?

Sefer Devarim - ספר דברים

PARASHAT DEVARIM - פרשת דברים

SEFER DEVARIM - ספר דברים

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

Sefer Devarim is also called the Mishneh Torah because it is a review of key events and mitzvot (and some additional mitzvot). This is Moses’s “Last Will and Testament “ to the nation about to enter the promised land. According to the midrash, this took place over a period of only five weeks – from the first day of the month of Shvat until the seventh day of the month of Adar, when Moses dies.

When Moses was first chosen by God and speaks to God at the burning bush, Moses claimed that "לא איש דברים אנוכי"  (Shemot 4:10) – I am not a man of words. Yet, he is the voice of Sefer Devarim! Do you think a job can change a person? Were you ever given something that was difficult and you felt different once you accomplished it?

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

In Sefer Devarim, Moses retells a number of stories that we are familiar with from earlier in the Torah. A close reading of those stories reveals that he changes them somewhat, and those changes are likely intentional, with important educational messages. Is it OK to reshape past events in order to convey important core ideas, or is the truth of the past more important? If it is OK to make changes, are there limits to how much we can change? What are the risks involved? (This is a burning question in questioning the truth of the historical foundations of modern countries, in Holocaust education, and much more!)

Parashat Ve'et'hanan - פרשת ואתחנן

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

The Ten Commandments are repeated in this section and we would expect to read exactly the same words as in Parashat Yitro. Yet, there are differences! The biggest difference is with the commandment of Shabbat - in this version, we are commanded to remember what it was like to be a slave in Egypt.

What is the connection between Shabbat and remembering that we were once slaves? 

Look inside the text: (Devarim 5: 14-15)

 וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַיהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה כָל מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ וְשׁוֹרְךָ וַחֲמֹרְךָ וְכָל בְּהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ כָּמוֹךָ

 וְזָכַרְתָּ כִּי עֶבֶד הָיִיתָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וַיֹּצִאֲךָ יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ מִשָּׁם בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה עַל כֵּן צִוְּךָ יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת

But the seventh day is Shabbat for God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your donkey, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do.

Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore God has commanded you to observe Shabbat.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

One of the core mitzvot emphasized in Sefer Devarim is the command to teach our children. Where is the line between education and indoctrination? To what extent should openness and exploration be part of the educational process, especially if the process is designed to generate commitment and continuity?

 

Parashat Ekev - פרשת עקב

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN 

Moses tells the people how they received manna – a special miraculous food from God – during their journey in the desert and describes it as a test. Why would getting food from God almost every day (except Shabbat) be considered a “test”? How do you understand the statement that “man doesn’t live by bread alone”?

Look inside the text: (Devarim 8:2-3)

 וְזָכַרְתָּ אֶת כָּל הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר הוֹלִיכֲךָ יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ זֶה אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה בַּמִּדְבָּר לְמַעַן עַנֹּתְךָ לְנַסֹּתְךָ לָדַעַת אֶת אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבְךָ הֲתִשְׁמֹר (מִצְוֹתָו) [מִצְוֹתָיו] אִם לֹא

Remember the long way that God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that He might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep His commandments or not.
 וַיְעַנְּךָ וַיַּרְעִבֶךָ וַיַּאֲכִלְךָ אֶת הַמָּן אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַעְתָּ וְלֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ לְמַעַן הוֹדִיעֲךָ כִּי לֹא עַל הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם כִּי עַל כָּל מוֹצָא פִי יְהוָֹה יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם
He subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that God decrees.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN 

The Torah describes the material benefits of obeying God’s instructions together with the negative consequences of ignoring them. Given the clarity of that presentation, why is it hard for people to do the right thing?

Parashat Re'eh - פרשת ראה

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

In Parashat Re’eh we read about bringing sacrifices to the place that God chooses, which we understand to be the Temple to be built in the future in Jerusalem. There is an additional mitzvah that appears three times. Did you know that it is a mitzvah to be happy? What do you think is special about being happy with everything God has blessed you? Did you notice that happiness is to be shared with children, servants, and the Levites? Why do you think the Torah makes a point of sharing happiness (especially with this list)?

Look inside the text: 

(Devarim 12:7)

וַאֲכַלְתֶּם שָׁם לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וּשְׂמַחְתֶּם בְּכֹל מִשְׁלַח יֶדְכֶם אַתֶּם וּבָתֵּיכֶם אֲשֶׁר בֵּרַכְךָ יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ
Together with your households, you shall feast there before God, happy in all the undertakings in which God has blessed you.

(Devarim 12:12)

וּשְׂמַחְתֶּם לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אַתֶּם וּבְנֵיכֶם וּבְנֹתֵיכֶם וְעַבְדֵיכֶם וְאַמְהֹתֵיכֶם וְהַלֵּוִי אֲשֶׁר בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶם כִּי אֵין לוֹ חֵלֶק וְנַחֲלָה
And you shall rejoice before God with your sons and daughters and with your male and female slaves, along with the Levite in your settlements, for he has no territorial allotment among you.

(Devarim 12:18)

כִּי אִם לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ תֹּאכֲלֶנּוּ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ וְהַלֵּוִי אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ וְשָׂמַחְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכֹל מִשְׁלַח יָדֶךָ
These you must consume before God in the place that God will choose—you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female slaves, and the Levite in your settlements—happy before God in all your undertakings.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

We are used to non-centralized religion. Each community has a synagogue, a Rabbi, a school that is attuned to its needs. The ideal set out in the Torah is one in which worship is centralized in a single place. What do we gain by having a centralized place of worship? What do we lose? Is there a way to maximize the best of both approaches?

Parashat Shoftim - פרשת שופטים

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

Parashat Shoftim teaches us about different types of leadership. Although very few countries have kings today, it was the most common form of rulership in much of the world for centuries. Kings would have absolute power, but the Torah demands a different kind of king.

Among other rules, a king was not allowed to accumulate too much gold and silver or too many horses. Why is this an important rule? Can it ever be a bad thing to have too much money?

The king is also commanded not to be arrogant and think he is better than others. What is the purpose of this rule? Have you ever known of someone who is in a position of authority and feels he or she is “better than anyone else”?

Look inside the text (Devarim 17:15-20):

שׂוֹם תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ מִקֶּרֶב אַחֶיךָ תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ לֹא תוּכַל לָתֵת עָלֶיךָ אִישׁ נָכְרִי אֲשֶׁר לֹא אָחִיךָ הוּא

you should be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by God. Be sure to set as king over yourself one of your own people; you must not set a foreigner over you, one who is not your relative.

רַק לֹא יַרְבֶּה לּוֹ סוּסִים וְלֹא יָשִׁיב אֶת הָעָם מִצְרַיְמָה לְמַעַן הַרְבּוֹת סוּס וַיהוָֹה אָמַר לָכֶם לֹא תֹסִפוּן לָשׁוּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה עוֹד

Also, he should not keep many horses or send people back to Egypt to add to his horses, since God has warned you, “You must not go back that way again.”

וְלֹא יַרְבֶּה לּוֹ נָשִׁים וְלֹא יָסוּר לְבָבוֹ וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב לֹא יַרְבֶּה לּוֹ מְאֹד

And he should not have many wives so that his heart does not go astray; nor should he have too much silver and gold.

וְהָיָה כְשִׁבְתּוֹ עַל כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתּוֹ וְכָתַב לוֹ אֶת מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת עַל סֵפֶר מִלִּפְנֵי הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם

When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching written for him on a scroll by the Levitical priests.

וְהָיְתָה עִמּוֹ וְקָרָא בוֹ כָּל יְמֵי חַיָּיו לְמַעַן יִלְמַד לְיִרְאָה אֶת יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהָיו לִשְׁמֹר אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה לַעֲשׂתָם

Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to fear God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws.

לְבִלְתִּי רוּם לְבָבוֹ מֵאֶחָיו וּלְבִלְתִּי סוּר מִן הַמִּצְוָה יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים עַל מַמְלַכְתּוֹ הוּא וּבָנָיו בְּקֶרֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל

So, he will not act in an arrogant way toward his fellows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or to the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

The Torah mandates the death penalty for a number of different kinds of crimes, especially those which threaten to undermine the very fabric of society. Rabbinic interpretation and legislation limited the death penalty so much that it is nearly impossible to ever carry out. Can you imagine a case in which there should be a death penalty? For what kinds of crimes would it apply? Are there alternatives? What is its purpose? What is the purpose of any form of punishment?

Parashat Ki Tetze - פרשת כי תצא

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN 

In Parashat Ki Tetze we learn about the mitzvah of hashavat aveida, returning a lost object. Why do you think the Torah gives an example of an ox or donkey which is lost? What would be a modern example? Notice that you should return any item which has been lost. Also notice that we’re told twice not to ignore the object.

Have you ever lost something important which was returned by someone? How did you feel? Have you ever returned something that belonged to someone you didn’t know? Why do you think this was considered important enough to be included in the Torah?

Look inside the text (Devarim 22:1-3)

לֹא תִרְאֶה אֶת שׁוֹר אָחִיךָ אוֹ אֶת שֵׂיוֹ נִדָּחִים וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ מֵהֶם הָשֵׁב תְּשִׁיבֵם לְאָחִיךָ

וְאִם לֹא קָרוֹב אָחִיךָ אֵלֶיךָ וְלֹא יְדַעְתּוֹ וַאֲסַפְתּוֹ אֶל תּוֹךְ בֵּיתֶךָ וְהָיָה עִמְּךָ עַד דְּרשׁ אָחִיךָ אֹתוֹ וַהֲשֵׁבֹתוֹ לוֹ

וְכֵן תַּעֲשֶׂה לַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֵן תַּעֲשֶׂה לְשִׂמְלָתוֹ וְכֵן תַּעֲשֶׂה לְכָל אֲבֵדַת אָחִיךָ אֲשֶׁר תֹּאבַד מִמֶּנּוּ וּמְצָאתָהּ לֹא תוּכַל לְהִתְעַלֵּם

If you see your friend’s ox or sheep who had gotten lost, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your friend.

If your friend does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you should bring it home and it should remain with you until your friend claims it; then you should give it back to him.

You should do the same with his donkey; you should do the same with his clothing; and so too should you do with anything that your friend loses and you find: you must not remain indifferent.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN 

There are many mitzvot in the Torah that suggest that people with an excess of wealth should express care for and share with those who lack that wealth. If I earn money because of my hard work, skill, or even good fortune, why should I share it with others who don’t have the same talents as me? Is this just about feeling sorry for those who don’t have or are there other underlying values?

Parashat Ki Tavo - פרשת כי תבוא

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

Parashat Ki Tavo begins with the mitzvah of Bikkurim, the first fruits. When a farmer harvests his fields and fruit trees, he is commanded to bring the first fruits to the priest in the Temple. Every farmer would say the same declaration. Each one would begin with the story of the Jews as slaves in Egypt and God taking us out of Egypt and bringing us to the land of milk and honey.

Why would you have to tell the story of liberation from slavery in Egypt when you’re bringing your Bikkurim hundreds of years after that happened? Is it important to know your history and have to tell the story? Why or why not?

Look inside the text (Devarim 26: 5-10)

וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט וַיְהִי שָׁם לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב

וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים וַיְעַנּוּנוּ וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה

וַנִּצְעַק אֶל יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵינוּ וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָֹה אֶת קֹלֵנוּ וַיַּרְא אֶת עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת לַחֲצֵנוּ

וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ יְהוָֹה מִמִּצְרַיִם בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל וּבְאֹתוֹת וּבְמֹפְתִים

וַיְבִאֵנוּ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וַיִּתֶּן לָנוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ

וְעַתָּה הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה לִּי יְהוָֹה

You should then recite as follows before God: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there, but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to God of our fathers, and God heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. God freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and miracles. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, God, have given me.” You shall leave it before God and bow low before God.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

Moses instructs Israel that upon crossing the Jordan they set up stone monuments to commemorate the crossing. Do family heirlooms have meaning without the stories attached to them? How much of our lives should be rooted in the past as opposed to creating new experiences in the present or preparing for the future?

Parashat Nitzavim - פרשת נצבים

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN 

At the end of his life, Moses gathers all of the Jewish people -young and old, men and women - everyone - to hear and accept the promise to keep the mitzvot and the obligations of the Jewish people.

Why do you think it is important that even the children hear about the laws? Does it make a  difference if your parent tells you something very important which you need to do or your sister or brother tells you that your parent told them to tell you?

Notice that everyone is called together, from the simple workers to the leaders and most important people in the community. Why is it important that everyone hears Moses and accepts the promise? Wouldn’t it be enough for Moses to tell the leaders and they will let the people know?

Look inside the text (Devarim 29: 9-12)

אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם כֹּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל

טַפְּכֶם נְשֵׁיכֶם וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶיךָ מֵחֹטֵב עֵצֶיךָ עַד שֹׁאֵב מֵימֶיךָ

לְעָבְרְךָ בִּבְרִית יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וּבְאָלָתוֹ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ כֹּרֵת עִמְּךָ הַיּוֹם

לְמַעַן הָקִים אֹתְךָ הַיּוֹם לוֹ לְעָם וְהוּא יִהְיֶה לְּךָ לֵאלֹהִים כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לָךְ וְכַאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב

You stand this day, all of you, before God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer—to enter into the covenant of God, which God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as He promised you and as He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

God punishes us when we stray from the correct path and we are expected to return to God. Who should make the first move? When two people, or two groups, are in a relationship that frays, who should make the first move to break the impasse? What if the relationship is not between equals, but one in which one side clearly wields more power than the other?

Parashat Vayelekh - פרשת וילך

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

We are almost at the end of Moses’s final words to the people before he dies. God commands him to write down the Torah and uses the word shira, a song or poem, and tells him to teach the people. What makes a song easier to remember than a regular text? How is the Torah like a song? Do you have a favorite song whose words you remember even though you learned it a long time ago?

Look inside the text (Devarim 31:19)

 וְעַתָּה כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶת הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת וְלַמְּדָהּ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שִׂימָהּ בְּפִיהֶם לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה לִּי הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת לְעֵד בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Therefore, write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be My witness against the people of Israel.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

The scroll that Moshe instructs to be written is to serve as a reminder to the people when eventually they are plagued by God’s punishment. When someone says, “I told you so,” it gives some sense of satisfaction to the one who says it. Doe sit have value beyond that feeling of satisfaction? What might be a more productive way of dealing with a situation in which one side warned the other of a consequence which eventually came true?

Parashat Ha'azinu - פרשת האזינו

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN 

Moses tells the people over and over again to be sure to obey the laws of the Torah. Talmudic sages play a word game with the puzzling phrase “it is not an empty thing for you” (Devarim 32:46-47). One interpretation is that er should know that the Torah is not empty for you, it will help you live a long life in the land you’re about to inherit. Another interpretation is that the Torah is not empty teaching, and if you think it is, it’s because of you - you didn’t try hard enough to understand it.

Has it ever happened to you that you studied something which you thought was too hard, but then you worked on it and were able to understand it and make it meaningful? Are your parents and teachers the only ones with a responsibility to teach? Do you also have a responsibility to work hard and understand?

Look inside the text (Devarim 32:46-47)

וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם שִׂימוּ לְבַבְכֶם לְכָל הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מֵעִיד בָּכֶם הַיּוֹם אֲשֶׁר תְּצַוֻּם אֶת בְּנֵיכֶם לִשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת

כִּי לֹא דָבָר רֵק הוּא מִכֶּם כִּי הוּא חַיֵּיכֶם וּבַדָּבָר הַזֶּה תַּאֲרִיכוּ יָמִים עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ

he said to them: Take to heart all the words with which I have warned you this day. Teach them to your children, that they may observe faithfully all the terms of this Teaching.

For this is not an empty thing for you: it is your very life; through it, you will long live on the land that you are to possess upon crossing the Jordan.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN 

The song of Ha’azinu, like much of poetry, is written in a way that allows for multiple interpretations. In what ways can leaving an ambiguous legacy be more powerful than one which is absolute?

Parashat VeZot HaBerakha - פרשת וזאת הברכה

DISCUSSIONS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN 

Moses ends the book of his speech by blessing the tribes. He doesn’t only bless the people as a  group but blesses each tribe according to their own qualities.

What do you think would be a good blessing to give your friend? Your parent? What is a blessing which you would like to receive? 

Look inside the text (Devarim 33:1):

 וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה אֲשֶׁר בֵּרַךְ משֶׁה אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לִפְנֵי מוֹתוֹ

This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, gave to the Israelites as a farewell before he died.

 

DISCUSSIONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

Moses’s burial place has left a mystery, and some have explained that God was concerned lest his tomb is turned into a place of veneration and worship, as happened to many other righteous people. What is the value of connecting to great ancestors? What is the danger in connecting to great ancestors?

 

!חזק חזק ונתחזק