What you value

Back to Basics Series

Jewish Family Education with Candace R. Kwiatek, The Dayton Jewish Observer

Two equally accomplished young women left their abusive marriages. One took her grandmother’s recipes and her Shabbat candlesticks while the other took an assortment of empty Gucci purses.

If you had only hours to pack up your life, what would you take? What would your choices say about what you value?

An online search of “things you value” more often than not emphasizes values themselves.

“Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work. They (should) determine your priorities…” MindTools explains, offering a list of 100 common values including community, faith, and curiosity.

Commentary in a Success magazine article on the same topic includes courage, reputation, and happiness as values.

At the core of Judaism and Jewish living are myriad moral, ethical, and cultural values.

Whatever your individual values, they are formed by a combination of family, religion, culture, and social environments.

“Every human being lives according to their highest values,” writes motivational speaker Chaney Weiner.

Yet, like most people, sometimes what you claim as a value doesn’t show up in your life. Why? “This may sound shocking,” Weiner responds, “but the answer is because it isn’t something you value.”

Knowing theoretical values like kindness, humility, and gratitude doesn’t automatically translate into determining priorities, choosing “value-able” behaviors, making decisions, or identifying what things are important to you.

“Our true values are clearly shown by what we do,” South African motivational speaker Andrew Horton echoes. Take a look: Do you see the values you think you hold dear reflected in your choices and behaviors?

What do the things you value say about your values? When a woman said her three babies were inside a fiercely burning house, Arizona firefighters risked their lives to search for the children. It turned out she was referring to her pet cats. The fire chief commented: “We (consider) the importance of people’s pets…but we also take into consideration the value of people’s lives, and we wouldn’t have committed firefighters (to a search had we known).”

The growing popularity of the small-and-tiny house movement offers another perspective on things of value. Homeowners explain that the financial freedom and limited space encourages them to pursue experiences rather than material possessions, increasing happiness.

Researcher Thomas Gilovich concurs, noting that unlike material possessions, “experiences connect us to one another, evolve into the stories we share, and become an ingrained part of our identity.” What we value mirrors our values.

What do your behaviors say about your values? At meetings with Jewish educators and program coordinators, the topic of late R.S.V.P.s for events invariably comes up. Nothing — from bribes to no-excuse deadlines — seems to resolve the issue, despite the problems such behavior causes.

It’s disconcerting that a related widespread behavior, Jewish standard time (15 minutes late to everything), appears in the Urban Dictionary. Do we no longer consider derech eretz — civility and consideration of others in action and speech — to be a key Jewish value?

And what about time itself? Its value is expressed by the design of the universe, by the pattern of Shabbat, festivals, and holidays, and by Ecclesiastes’ “To every season.”

Time cannot be earned, multiplied, or recovered — only spent. How does your use of time express your values?

How do you choose when values collide? The Talmud offers an example. What do we do when pikuach nefesh – saving a life — might require breaking Sabbath laws?

After all, Shabbat appears in the Ten Commandments. On the other hand, we regard human life, made in the image of God, as sacrosanct.

The sages of the Talmud concluded that almost any mitzvah might be suspended in order to save a life because we are to live by the law, not die by it (Lev. 18:5).

Less clear-cut is the following scenario: The chemical pesticide DDT, the only effective means of killing malaria-causing mosquitoes, nearly eradicated the disease and dramatically accelerated economic progress in developing countries.

However, claims of environmental dangers initiated by DDT led to a U.S. ban and global censure. According to an article in Scientific American, these decisions condemned more than 50 million people to death, most in sub-Saharan Africa, while millions more were doomed to perpetual poverty caused by disease and debilitation. Save the people or protect the environment? Both are Torah obligations. Which you choose expresses what you value.

Have you looked lately? Knowledge, study, even the conviction that you hold a core set of personal values isn’t enough. What counts is whether or not your values are reflected in your choices and behaviors.

If there’s a disconnect, what values are actually guiding your life? Are they just unexpected or are they disconcerting?

No one is born a mensch, a person of moral integrity; it requires learning about values. It requires putting those values into practice.

Most importantly, it requires constant self-reflection about one’s choices and behaviors and the values they actually reflect. Integrity isn’t just the values you affirm, but what you visibly value.


Literature to share

King David and Akavish the Spider by Sylvia Rouss. This delightful picture book for preschool and elementary ages retells the midrash of a tiny spider who saves David’s life before he becomes king. Without being preachy, Sylvia Rouss (of Sammy Spider fame) highlights the values of kindness, gratitude, and the ability of everyone to make a difference. The movie-like illustrations are mesmerizing.

Reclaiming Israel’s History: Roots, Rights, and the Struggle for Peace by David Brog. Hot off the press, Brog’s book tackles the myths and realities of modern Israel’s roots, events, and challenges. Unapologetically pro-Israel, Brog does not overlook Israel’s shortcomings throughout the Arab-Israeli conflict, but seeks to present them in a fair-minded, realistic, and historically accurate manner. Easy to read while thorough and thought provoking, this work is highly recommended.

To read the complete May 2017 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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