Author Archives: Judith Greenberg

About Judith Greenberg

Judith Greenberg was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is now a rabbi and new mother living in Chicago.

Gleanings From Our Own Blessings

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

It’s easy to look up the street and see that the grass is a little greener at a neighbor’s. Maybe they have a new car or their kids are wearing the newest fashion. You wish you could have those niceties. It’s often much harder to look the other way, down the street or, perhaps, across town, to see how your grass might look greener to so many others. Your car may not be the newest, but it’s a solid, safe car that runs; your kids are comfortable. Though it may be hard to see at times, we all have abundant blessings, and even a surplus, if only we could notice it.

As we think about finding small surpluses, let us turn to this week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim. This week we learn how to harvest our fields. We are told to leave the corners unharvested, and we are told that we cannot go back to collect any produce that we dropped along the way. We learn that we leave this produce in our fields so that those less fortunate – those without fields of their own – will have food to eat and a little livelihood. It is remarkable that there is no minimum size field for leaving this gleaning; the assumption is that any landowner can always spare a little.

This lesson from the Torah helps us to look at what we have and see the corners we could leave unharvested. Can we give a little more money to tzedakah? Can we donate barely used outgrown clothes or sports equipment? Can we forgo a new purchase and give a little more to those who are less fortunate? Or how about putting a few extra cans in the cart at the grocery store each visit, saving up our own gleanings for a food bank?

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of giving to those who are less fortunate.

CONNECT TO THEID LIVES:

· Where do you have a surplus in your life?

· How might you use this surplus to help others?

· Why is it sometimes hard to see the abundance of your blessings?

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Reason is Lost in Anger

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

We all become rash when we are angry. We are quick to condemn others. Anger clouds our reason, and we can accuse others without thinking clearly.  When we become angry we should ask ourselves: what good motivation might this person have for his or her action that I can’t see? What am I missing that this person sees? Though we may have reason to be upset, often our own reactions are clouded by emotion, blinding us from seeing the true situation before us.

In this week’s parashah, Moses gets angry with Eliezer and Itamar, two of his brother Aaron’s sons. He thinks that they have done something wrong, and he loudly scolds them, saying that they really ought to have listened to him. But Aaron interrupts Moses and gently explains how his sons have not actually done anything wrong. Their way of doing things was acceptable, too. In his anger, Moses had lost his reason and knowledge of the law. In the end, he is humbled and gladly relents to his brother.

Moses’ anger clouds his reason, and his nephews suffer from this.  How many times have we exploded at someone, missing their good intentions because of our anger? We miss reasonable explanations because we are angry. We are not alone in our effort to see through our anger. Like Moses and Aaron, we can rely on our friends and loved ones to help us calm down when we are upset and not lose our rational selves to anger.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how it feels to be angry.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· Why is it so hard to give others the benefit of the doubt when you are angry?

· When you look back at a time you had an angry outburst, how do you feel? Would react differently now?

· How can you help someone calm down when he or she is angry?

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Cherishing What Is Broken

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

We are each our own harshest critics. It is very easy to see our own flaws and what we could do better. We dwell on things in ourselves that others don’t even notice. But this does not prevent us also from seeing flaws in those around us. Often it is easy to focus on what is not as we would like. But these flaws, like veins in a beautiful gem, are what remind us that we are each unique creations. Imagine how boring the world would be if we were all perfect and no butterfly were brighter or duller than another.

Furious because the Children of Israel had built the Golden Calf in his absence, Moses threw the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments to the ground nearly immediately after receiving them. They shattered into a million pieces. What happened to the shattered tablets? The obvious thing to do would have been to throw them away. But they were swept up and collected. They were kept and cherished alongside the new tablets that God commanded Moses to make.

In the parashah, when the tablets were broken, we picked them up and valued the pieces. So too, with ourselves, we ought to cherish these broken pieces, these pieces that we maybe wish weren’t there. The broken pieces of tablets are a metaphor for the parts of ourselves that are less than perfect. These parts are sacred and we need to “pick them up,” with honor, in our life’s journey.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about why they might have kept the broken tablets.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· Have you ever kept a toy even though it was broken? Why?

· What is one thing about yourself that you could try to like more?

· How can we learn to be more patient with ourselves and each other?

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Sharing: The New Give & Take

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Though giving demands more of us, many of us have more trouble receiving help than giving it. When we are able to help others, we are declaring ourselves in a secure enough position to help another – this is easy. But it can be hard for our self-image to acknowledge that we need the help of another and that we can’t provide for all of our own needs. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. We are dependent creatures and at various points in our lives we will give more, and at others we will receive more. In sum, we are creatures who share.

This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, tells of the collection of supplies to build the Tabernacle that will be used while the Children of Israel are wandering in the desert. Rather than commanding each household or each tribe to contribute a certain amount, everyone is told to contribute as they are able. No one is keeping track of contributions, of who was able to give more and who was able to give less. In the end, the Tabernacle will belong to everyone equally.

This is the image of a community that is dynamic and interdependent. They are all contributing to the community, with no one feeling bad for contributing less, no one feeling smug for contributing more. This kind of shared responsibility enables everyone in the community to depend on each other, allowing all members to contribute when they are able, while allowing them to receive when they need. It allows that at different times different people will be in different places. Imagine if we could allow this flexibility and care for ourselves!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how each of you gives to each other and receives from each other.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· When do you help others? Must they always ask?

· How does it feel when you need to ask for help?

· Does sharing feel like giving or receiving?Or both?

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Freedom Within Limits

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

How many times have you heard, “I’m bored,” from a child? It’s a rare kid who is able to enjoy large amounts of unstructured playtime. Instructions and limits help kids to enjoy themselves.What would happen to your children if they had a full free afternoon with unlimited sweets? How many kids could avoid boredom and a tummy ache? Though they may not like the idea of rules and restrictions, rules enable fun and even teach kids how to take care of themselves.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vaera, Moses demands that Pharaoh free the Israelites from slavery. Moses is clear why he wants people’s freedom: so that they may serve God. Moses is not seeking absolute freedom for the Children of Israel. Rather, he is seeking to take them from Pharaoh’s harsh rule to the loving guidance of God. Moses knows that unbridled freedom would not be beneficial to anyone. He knows that rules and structures will be liberating for the Israelites.

Though we may bristle at the idea of restrictions placed on ourselves, we see how young people flourish when given clear, easily understood rules. Limits, instructions, and guidelines in our own lives help us to accomplish tasks and fulfill our responsibilities. They enable us to find balance. From speed limits to job descriptions, we, like the Children of Israel, can feel more free with such guidelines.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what helps them have fun.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· Who makes the rules you follow?

· What is a rule that you wish more people followed?

· What do you think makes something a good rule? A bad rule?

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Acting Without Thought

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

When we are angry, our vision narrows and we sometimes act in ways that would shock even ourselves in a better moment. It is hard to maintain perspective when someone or something angers or offends us. But, upon reflection we are able to look back on our actions and make changes for the future. We will not be forgiven for our regrettable actions if we do not make changes in our behavior.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayehi, Jacob is on his deathbed and shares parting words with all of his sons. These are not the blessings you might expect from a dying patriarch. Many of them are quite critical. Jacob scolds his sons Reuben, Simeon, and Levi for their reckless behavior from years before, which includes sexual indiscretion and a murderous massacre. Years later, these sons are still dealing with the consequences of their actions, and their father has not forgiven them. In the moment, when the brothers did these things, they surely did not consider these consequences. Imagine how they must have felt when they realized how much their father was still hurting from their actions, so many years later.

Slowly counting to ten can prevent us from yelling or making a mean remark, whether it be towards a loved one or a colleague. Re-reading an impassioned e-mail can help us press “delete” instead of “send.” When we do take an action that we later regret, we can reflect on what led us to take that step in order to avoid doing it again. Thinking about those we have hurt in the past can help us be more careful in the future.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about why it is important to control their anger.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· What do you do when you are angry?

· Can you think of a time when you stopped yourself from expressing anger?  How did it feel?

· How can you communicate anger in a productive way?

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Moving Beyond Denial

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Sometimes the truth is sitting right in front of us. Sometimes the solution to our problems is the palm of our hands, but we just can’t see it. Luckily, we don’t move through this world alone. We have friends, family, and teachers who can help us gain perspective on our own lives. We just need to learn to listen.

In this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, Joseph’s brothers are blinded by denial. They have come down to Egypt in search of food due to the famine in their own land. None of the eleven brothers can see that the Egyptian official in front of them is their brother, Joseph, whom they sold into slavery years ago, telling their father that he had died. They probably even convinced themselves that he had died. Joseph tries to give them a hint by seating them in age order, an order only a family member would know. But they are unable to notice this. It is not until Joseph, giving up on all subtleties, says to them: “I am your brother Joseph,” that they realize who he is.

It took the shock of finding their long lost brother to open their eyes to reality. Do we miss important clues in our own lives? Do we hold back from new challenges because we are in denial about our abilities to handle the new challenge? All of us can break out of denial into reality, but it is hard to do alone. We each have people in our own lives who can help us break from unrealistic denial. Parents, teachers, brothers, and sisters are often able to help us see our own world properly. We just need to be open to them.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what clues to their abilities they may be denying.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· When have you learned a lesson about yourself from a friend?

· What makes it hard to listen when someone is giving you advice?

· How can we learn to be more open?

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Tithing

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

We all have something to give.  By giving, we show that we are responsible for those less fortunate in our communities and, more broadly, in the world. We can give financially, starting as small as a child setting aside a small part of his or her allowance. Or we can give by volunteering our time. Especially when we feel things are missing in our own lives, helping others can help us realize how we are blessed in different ways.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayetze, Jacob promises to give a tenth of everything he receives. At this point, he has nothing. He has just run away from home and left everything behind.  Having no idea what is before him, he makes this promise. If he remains poor, a tenth would be a small gift, but a dear sacrifice. If he grows wealthy, a tenth would be a much larger gift, but perhaps easier to part with. Jacob makes this promise: whatever comes his way, he will give a tenth of it.

Giving to those less fortunate than ourselves can help us recognize the great blessings in our lives. It reminds us that we cannot take full credit for the richness we receive. Just as Jacob did not know what was before him, we do not know what the future will bring for us. But, like Jacob, we should not wait for a better day to help others; we should commit to help today – and every day.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways your family is able to help others.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· In what ways do you feel blessed?

· Who in your community needs your help?  Who in the broader global community?

· How does it feel to give to those less fortunate than you when you don’t feel that you have a lot to give?

· Does giving of our time bring a different kind of satisfaction from giving money or objects?

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Avoid Hurting Words

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Obviously, people are not all the same. We feel differently about how neat to keep our rooms, what we eat, and the activities we like.  It’s easy to dwell on the differences, but there are many core similarities that we share, and we need to focus on them.

Isaac and Ishmael were Abraham’s two sons. They were half-brothers from different mothers and very different in age, temperament, experiences, mannerisms, and character. Yet this week’s Torah portion, Haye Sarah, emphasizes that when the time came to bury and mourn for their father Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael did so together. Even Isaac and Ishmael were able to set aside their distance and differences to focus on what united them.

Can we set aside our differences for the common good? Not everyone can or should be the same, and we often feel that another person is very wrong. But we all have much in common. While we must be realistic about acknowledging our differences, we need to focus on what unites us, such as family, values, community, and interests, and seek ways in which we can work together in harmony.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about respecting differences in family members.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· Give an example of an insignificant difference between you and another family member.

· Give an example of a major difference between you and another family member.

· What do you have in common with that person and how can you work together?

· Why is this important?

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Saying No To Temptation

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

We are surrounded by things that tempt us. Unhealthy foods, video games, and gossip are just a few of the things enticing us. It’s hard to make the decision to eat healthily.  Or to not play “just one more round!” Or to keep from spreading a juicy piece of news. When confronted with a temptation, we know what the right decision is, but in the moment, it can be so hard to stay connected to our values, be they healthful eating, productive use of time, or not engaging in lashon hara or gossip.

In this week’s Torah portion we have one of the most famous – and fateful – examples of someone giving in to a temptation. In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and bad.  But the snake tempts Eve, and she eats from the tree. Eve was tempted because she forgot about consequences and saw that the tree was appetizing and a source of wisdom. Shortsighted, Eve fell to temptation because she thought only of immediate gratification.

When we give in to small temptations, our consequences might not be as grave as Eve’s, but they also take a toll on us. When we know that something is important to us, but continually give in to temptation, we stop valuing that thing. We lose the long-term value in place of instant gratification. Not giving in to temptations helps us to clarify our values and stick to our convictions.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how to stay “No” to temptations.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· What are some things that tempt you?

· What are temptations that you should say “No” to?

· How can you try to avoid or overcome some of your temptations? 

· Does thinking long-range help us to handle temptations in our lives? 

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