Author Archives: Yael Hammerman

About Yael Hammerman

Yael is a student in the Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbinical School and The Davidson School, and is a graduate of List College's Double Degree Program. She is currently the director of student placement for The Rabbinical School and H. L. Miller Cantorial School, and has served as coordinator for the InterSeminary Dialogue group and Isha el Akhota: The Women's Center at JTS.

Sharing is Letting Go of Control

Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Some people need to be in the driver’s seat. Some reign over the kitchen like it’s their personal kingdom, while others refuse to hand over the TV remote. It can be hard to relinquish control, in the car and at home, at work and in school. Children and adults alike take part in power struggles, vying to get their way and be in charge. What does it take to loosen our grip and share control?

This week’s Torah portion, Behar-Behukotai, teaches us an important lesson about letting go of control. Every seven years we have to give up control over our land and indentured servants. The Torah is legislating away slavery and being very “green” by giving land a year of rest from planting and harvesting.

Above the crack on the Liberty Bell, it says “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all its inhabitants!” which is in this week’s Torah portion. Our founding fathers made this ideal a foundational principle of America.  How can we bring this lesson into our homes? While it may be impossible to “Proclaim liberty throughout the home, unto all its inhabitants” without creating too many fissures in the family, we can start small. Begin with sharing control over the car, in the kitchen, in front of the TV, and with our toys. Letting go is hard work, but loosening our grip will ultimately make us feel freer.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT the dangers of abusing control and the benefits of sharing.


· What’s the difference between losing control and loosening your control?

· When is being in control a good thing, and when would you benefit from sharing power?

· It has been more than 250 years since the Liberty Bell was inscribed. Has liberty been given to all the inhabitants of the land? How can you help make this ideal a reality?  How can you bring this process into your own home?

Say No To Revenge And Grudges

Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

There are plenty of reasons to hold a grudge or seek revenge in life. Is it worth it? Some say yes and are energized by animosity to others. Most people, however, realize the futility and burden of carrying grudges. We all need to be taught to let go of slights, insults, and bad behavior of others. Rabbi Hillel has a great image for everyone. When challenged to explain the entire Torah on one foot, he responded “What is hateful to you, do not do to another.” The rest is commentary, now go study.”

This week’s Torah portion teaches us not to bear a grudge or take revenge on others and is directly followed by probably the Torah’s most famous line, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Deep down we know that may not always be possible, but it is still a worthy goal.

We easily excuse our own bad behavior because we are tired, annoyed, or distracted. Shouldn’t we be as charitable in judging others? When we bear a grudge or take revenge, we do not allow other people to say they are sorry and fix their mistakes. We do not give them the chance to try again. Wouldn’t we want to be given another chance? Rabbi Hillel’s one-foot image of not doing to others what you wouldn’t like could be a wonderful family motto.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about not bearing grudges or taking revenge on others.


· What does it means to love others as you love yourself?  How can you do this?

· Can you think of a time when you held a grudge or took revenge? How did it make you feel?  How do you think it made the other person feel?

· How would you explain the Torah while standing on one foot? Try it out!

How to Use Your Most Powerful Weapon

Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Everyone is born with a powerful weapon, which can be used for both good and evil. This weapon grows over time, but remains small and mostly concealed. It’s bumpy, pink and slippery, but can be pulled out and put away in a blink of an eye. This weapon is your tongue. Your tongue is used to create thousands of words every day, and each word has the power to harm or to heal, to hurt or to help. We are defined by how we use our tongues and by the words that leave our lips each day.

This week’s Torah portion, Tazria, teaches us about the strength of words. The ancient Sages believed that leprosy was a punishment for slander and spreading malicious gossip. By gossiping, you hurt someone’s reputation and make them appear poorly in public. In return, you are punished with a skin disease that causes you to appear poorly before others.

Once words are released, they cannot be brought back. Your tongue is like an arrow. Once unleashed, it cannot be withdrawn. Like arrows, words have the ability to pierce those with whom they come in contact. We must be careful with our most precious weapons, our tongues, and the words they create.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how our words define us, and how words can be both helpful and harmful.


· When have your words hurt someone else? How did you feel after saying something hurtful?

· When has another person’s words hurt you? How did it feel?

· How can you use your words to help others?

· How will you use your most powerful weapon, your tongue?


Actions Have Consequences

Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

In the 1600’s, Sir Isaac Newton taught us that for every action in the physical world, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For example, if you press a button with your finger, your finger is also pressed by that button. (Try it!) Newton’s principle not only applies to the physical world; it applies to many areas of our own lives as well. Every action we take produces a reaction. Our actions have consequences.

Centuries before Newton discovered his laws of motion, Aaron’s sons learned this lesson the hard way in this week’s Torah portion. They acted poorly and strangely and were instantly very severely punished. The Torah portion is teaching us that our actions can have important and immediate consequences.

Life brings both good and bad consequences depending on our actions. Sometimes we can predict what the consequences may be. For example, if we hit our baby sister, she will probably cry. Buy our mother flowers, and she will probably give us a big hug and kiss. Do not study, and we will probably not do well on the test. Sometimes, though, we cannot tell what the consequences of our actions will be. We just have to trust that, if we make the right choices, good consequences will follow.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about understanding that their actions have consequences which they did not consider before they acted.


· Has there been a time in your life when you have done something without first thinking about the consequences for yourself or for others?

· Can you think of a time when your actions have had negative, or positive, consequences?  How did it make you feel? What did you learn from the experience? 

· Have you ever predicted the consequences of your actions and been surprised by a different outcome?


Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

In a world of text messaging and twitter, writing a proper thank-you note has become a lost art. We express our appreciation by quickly texting THNX!!! while out-and-about and multitasking on smart phones. In contrast, in order to write a thank-you note you must sit at a desk and have a pen, stationery, and a stamp on hand. You need to write legibly, know your recipient’s street address, and have ample time and quiet to focus on expressing sincere gratitude. Unlike texting, however, sending a thank-you note shows that you are willing to sacrifice precious time to appreciate fully what you have been given.

In Torah portion Vayikra, God commands the Israelites to donate the first fruits of their harvest to the Temple. Though the Israelites worked hard all year to grow their crops and waited anxiously to see the fruits of their labor, they were required to give away their best produce instead of enjoying it themselves. Donating their first fruits to the Temple was an expression of gratitude for all the goodness in their lives.

A properly handwritten thank-you note would have been insufficient for the Israelites to thank God for the blessings in their lives. Like the Israelites, we too have much to be thankful for in our lives. But how do we express our gratitude? How do we sincerely thank the people in our lives who give us the gifts of time, support, and love? The next time you have the urge to quickly type THNX!!!, take a moment instead to express your appreciation more slowly and thoughtfully. The fruits of your labor will be greatly appreciated in return.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what they are thankful for and how they express their gratitude.


· What are you thankful for?

· How do you express your gratitude – to your friends, your family and your teachers?

· Have you ever written a thank-you note?  Have you ever received a thank-you note? What did it say? How did it make you feel?

· If you could write a thank-you note to God, what would it say?

Breaking the Cycle of Deceit

Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Nothing gets you attention at summer camp like pulling a good prank. The pranks start out small:  first the boys bunk toilet papers the girls’ cabin. The girls retaliate by short-sheeting the boys’ beds. The boys hit back by putting the girls’ luggage in the dumpster and soon the boys find their own sleeping bags filled with shaving cream. Before you know it, a full-blown prank war spirals out of control between all the boys and girls in the eldest division. No one is safe from the practical jokes–or from punishment from the Camp Director. What began with one roll of toilet paper and a small act of trickery quickly erupts into a serious situation with serious consequences.

In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Toldot, Jacob pulls the ultimate prank on his father Isaac. He pretends to be his twin brother Esau in order to receive the blessing reserved for Isaac’s firstborn son. Though Jacob fled from his father’s house, he could not escape his deceitful act. Just as Jacob fooled his own father, Jacob himself was deceived in turn by his father-in-law Laban and by his own sons.

Just as Jacob could not escape from his history of trickery, our misdeeds follow us in unimaginable ways as well. As one deceitful act leads to the next, it can feel like we are stuck in a never-ending prank war. It’s hard to break the cycle. However, before the deceit follows us with serious consequences, we must figure out how to call a truce.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the ways our deceitful acts follow us.


· Have you ever pulled a prank? Has anyone ever pulled a prank on you? What was it like to pull the prank? What was it like to be on the receiving end?

· Have you ever deceived anyone? Has anyone ever deceived you? How did it feel? 

· Have your actions ever come back to haunt you?

· How can you break the cycle?

It was a dark and stormy night…

Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Snoopy begins each of his stories with the words “It was a dark and stormy night…” Even if you’re not a beagle living on top of a red doghouse, life can often feel dark and stormy. Where do you go when you’re having a tough day? Whom do you turn to when you’re having a bad night? We often turn to our families to help us through the rough patches in life. 

Like Snoopy, Noah had many dark and stormy nights. While it rained and poured for forty days and nights, Noah’s ark protected his family.Though the water raged and flooded the entire world, Noah’s wife and children remained secure. As a family, they made it through the flood safely and were able to start their lives again in peace. 

Just as Noah and his family were protected from the flood by their ark, we also have our own arks that guard us from the dark and stormy world. Our families are our arks. We turn to our family when we need protection. Like an ark, our families provide us with shelter and guide us through life. However, in order to make sure that our ark feels safe for each family member, we need to watch how we speak to one another and pay attention to how we handle our differences. Maintaining peace and security in our own families helps us keep the stormy world at bay. 

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways we can make sure that our family feels safe, like an ark, for each family member. 


· When has your life felt dark and stormy?  To whom have you turned to for help? 

· How is our family like an ark?  How can our family be more like an ark?

· How can we make sure that our family is a safe space for each family member? 

· How do we maintain peace in our home and in our family?  

Waiting for the Cookie to Cool

Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

In this week’s Torah reading, Toldot, Esau came in from the field starving and begged Jacob for some lentil stew. Jacob agreed to give Esau the stew, but only after Esau promised to sell his younger twin brother Jacob his birthright. Esau traded the significant material benefits of his inheritance for one meager meal of stew because he thought with his stomach and acted on his animal instincts. If Esau had been more thoughtful and patient, he most likely would have made a different decision despite his growling belly.

cookiesThe story of Esau and the lentil stew teaches us the importance of delayed gratification. While it may not feel good to put a few dollars of your allowance in your piggy bank each week, it feels great when you have finally saved enough money to buy a new bike. It might be painful to run sprints each morning or do endless sets of soccer drills, but it feels glorious when you cross the finish line or score the winning goal.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about appreciating the benefits of delayed gratification.


· Have you ever let your stomach make a decision for you, which you later regretted? Have you ever acted on an impulse, instead of thinking through a decision more carefully?

· Can you think of a time when you didn’t get what you wanted right when you wanted it?

· Have you ever worked really hard to achieve a goal? How did it feel when you accomplished the goal? 

· What are the benefits of delayed gratification? 

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side

Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Jealousy rears its ugly head when we’re least expecting it.  We may feel jealous of our friend’s summer vacation plans, our brother’s charisma and charm, or our colleague’s corner office.  We may be envious of people we love and people we don’t even know.  We might resent a model’s shiny hair, thin waist and radiant smile, or a singer’s ability to hit an F-sharp.  However, envy fogs our ability to think straight and make good choices.

In this week’s Torah reading, Lekh-L’kha, Sarah was jealous of her maid Hagar. Hagar easily became pregnant while Sarah struggled to conceive. Resentment of Hagar’s good fortune caused Sarah to treat Hagar harshly.  

grass with dewThere will always be times when we find ourselves fueled by jealousy. However, like Sarah, we must realize that envy leads us to make poor choices and treat others unfairly. Moreover, jealousy leads us to feel dissatisfied with our own lives so that  we don’t appreciate our own good fortune. As opposed to looking over someone else’s shoulder and wanting what he or she has, try to examine the blessings in your own life.  When you feel jealous, remember that others are probably jealous of you as well. Try to stand in their shoes and appreciate all the wonderful things you have in your life. 

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the dangers of jealousy. 


· When have you been jealous of others? 

· Why would someone feel jealous of you?

· How can you remember your own good fortune when you feel envious of others?