Jewish values: how to live our lives

Dear Families,

Hopefully you are reading this as you prepare for Thanksgiving and getting ready to be surrounded by family and friends (in person or on Zoom). It is the perfect time to talk about family values. Today we are looking for the quick answer — the brand, the vision, the jingle — that will tell us how to live our lives. “Just Do It” or “Have It Your Way” are great examples or those slogans that we all remember. However, our sages did the same thing! They wanted to give all of us the message of how to live our lives. Let me paraphrase Genesis Rabbah 24:7 to show you the thought process:

The rabbis ask, “What is the most important verse in the whole Torah?” Each had a different answer. Ben Azzai said the most important verse in the Torah is: “This book is the family history of Adam” (Genesis 5:1). Rabbi Akiva said that the most important verse is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbi Tanhuma added: “In the image of G-d were people created” (Genesis 1:27).

Was there a winner? Which one speaks to you? Talk about why you think each of these verses was chosen. As staff at the J we learn together, and Jewish value discussion and debate always makes for thought-provoking conversations. We aren’t rabbis, and you don’t need to be one, but we talk about what values represent us at the J and what values we personally live by. The discussion is always wonderful — in fact, it is the discussion that is often more important than the decision. Here is a list of “Jewish Values” — put them on cards and, together with your family (or the people you work with), pick the three that will serve as guiding principles in your lives. Remember, there is no wrong answer! (And you can Google and find many more if these aren’t enough for you.)

Tzelem Elohim — Image of G-d

Kavod — Respect

Emet — Truth

Rachamim — Compassion

Hachnasat orchim — Welcoming guests

Shem tov — A good name

Shalom — Peace

Sayver panim yafot — Greeting everyone with a pleasant face

Anavah — Humility

Now after you have chosen your “family values” take the next step — what does each value look like? How do we act to show respect? What does it mean that we have a welcoming home? What do we do to achieve a good name? Judaism takes the big picture and makes it action-based — if we can’t do it, how will we or anyone else know that this is what we stand for? Enjoy the conversations! And perhaps even make a family T-shirt!

Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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