Hopefully you are reading this over Thanksgiving, surrounded by family and friends. 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? Recently, the JCC staff looked at 20-plus Jewish values and had a similar discussion and debate. We aren’t rabbis but we were looking at what values represent us at the J and what values we personally live by. The discussion was 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!
•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 director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.