Sages offer wise answers to ethical dilemmas

Posted on 31 January 2013 by admin

By Laura Seymour

seymourforweb2The words my children would roll their eyes at were: Did you know that … ?

They always dreaded the bits of Jewish knowledge I would throw at them although I’m not sure why — there certainly wasn’t going to be a test, and more often than not, the tidbit was sparked by something that was happening at the moment (I do try for relevancy, plus lessons tend to stick better if they relate to the moment).

So how can you become a parent who has the relevant Jewish story filled with the right values ready for the “teachable moment”? Listen, learn and tuck away the important messages for the right moment.

There are questions that children ask that we answer easily. There are questions they ask that are simply beyond answers. And then there are those questions that challenge us because we must question our own thoughts and values.

An ethical dilemma is hard, not because we don’t know what is right and wrong, but because in a dilemma there are competing “rights” — how do we choose?

No one wants to be told what to do — especially our children — so Judaism has the perfect method. Every answer begins with the statement “The rabbis said….” In other words, you, don’t need to listen to me because people addressing these issues were much wiser.

So with all this introduction in a short little letter, what’s the dilemma and what are the words of wisdom for the day? What do we do and what do we say to our children (and ourselves) when we see people begging on the street?

This is not a new problem and we can turn to the wisdom of a Chasidic rebbe, Chaim of Sanz (who died in 1786), for the answer. “The merit of charity is so great that I am happy to give to 100 beggars even if only one might actually be needy. Some people, however, act as if they are exempt from giving charity to 100 beggars in the event that one might be a fraud,”  he said.

Or the answer from another rabbi: “If we must judge, let us judge favorably.”

Giving the benefit of the doubt is an important Jewish value. Think about it, talk about it, do it — and, of course, teach it to your children.

Laura Seymour is director of Jewish life and learning and director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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