The Levites shall then proclaim in a loud voice to all the people of Israel: Cursed be anyone who makes a sculptured or molten image, abhorred by the Eternal, a craftsman's handiwork, and sets it up in secret.-And all the people shall respond, Amen. -Deuteronomy 27:15
Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the country. -Deuteronomy 28:3
In this parashah Moses continues to instruct the Israelites on what their future responsibilities will be when they enter the land of Israel. He explains the procedures for the offering of the first fruits and recounts the curses and blessings that will befall them depending on their compliance with God's commandments. Embedded in the curses are many of the commandments; really what God expects of the Israelites-for which they will be "cursed" if they do not comply. For example, "Cursed be the one who insults father or mother. -And all the people shall say, Amen." Deuteronomy 27:16.
Along with the curses, Ki Tavo also lists the abundant blessings which the Israelites will enjoy if they obey God's commandments. That the people are instructed to say "Amen" after each of the 12 curses, but not after the blessings, contradicts our modern practices. Today, we use the word amen to affirm a blessing; something we are hoping for, not against. A very wise friend once shared that the word amen sounds like the phrase "I'm in." From that day forward, every time I've said the word amen I've been able to place a whole new spin on my intentions. It takes what might appear to be a simple verbal affirmation of whatever precedes the amen, and morphs it into a declaration of rock-solid dedication and commitment.
Although the curses in Parashat Ki Tavo are presented in a negative platform, their mirror image spells out the desired behavior. As in the example above, the opposite of insulting one's mother or father is respecting or honoring them. When the Israelites say amen after these curses, we can read it as something like: 'I will definitely not do that!' In this parashah, Moses is laying out God's expectations for the Israelites. As parents and teachers of young children, we spend a lot of time laying out our expectations. We try to keep our kids on track as we guide them on the path toward becoming conscientious members of society who know what is expected of them (for example, as people who know to keep their feet off the dining table during meals)!
This parashah reminds us that clarity and positive reinforcement can go a long way with young kids. Experts on guidance and discipline remind us to instruct young children on the "do's" rather than the "don'ts." For example, instead of "don't hit," it can be more effective to say: "Be gentle" or "Keep your hands in your own body space," depending on the age of the child you are speaking to. This puts the focus on the behavior that is to be encouraged rather than the behavior we are trying to stop.
Along with the ideas of guidance and positive reinforcement, this parashah reminds us of the importance of learning to recognize and appreciate our blessings. Early childhood is a great time to cultivate an awareness and comfort with recognizing and affirming blessings in our lives.
Here's an action step to help you and your child to begin cultivating an awareness of the daily blessings in our lives:
- Choose a consistent time each day to express a blessing to your child, explaining that his or her responsibility will simply be to say a hearty "Amen!" If your child is reluctant to participate, begin this new daily exercise with your spouse or an older child. Or recite the blessing and say the amen by yourself. In any case, you'll be providing a great model for your child.
- Explain that you will choose (or your child can choose) a particular topic for your blessing, eventually inviting your child to help create his/her new blessing. For example, "I'm going to recite a blessing about our new garden."
- "May our garden be bountiful and full of enough vegetables to give us food to eat throughout the summer AND enough to donate to a local soup kitchen. Amen!"
- Another example might be "I'm going to recite a blessing about your birthday."
- "May your light continue to shine as brightly as the sun and may you grow in strength from year to year. Amen!"
As we move forward in this wonderful life we've been given, let us all consider our blessings, each and every day. Amen!
Questions and Ideas for Parents:
- Listen to the words you choose when you are trying to correct your child's behavior. Are you using do's or don'ts? What are you more comfortable with and what do you find is more effective?
- Try verbalizing one thing each day that makes you feel blessed.
- In the first paragraph of the parshah, the Israelites are given instructions to follow when they enter (or come into) the land that the Eternal your God has given them as a heritage. As a family, discuss and create a blessing that you can say when you return to your house after you've been away for a few days-a post-vacation blessing to be said upon returning home.
Questions for Children:
- Name three things you can say thank you to your parents for. Name three things you can say thank you to your teachers for.
- What do you like about your home? How do you feel when you have been away for a long time and you return home?
- Choose your favorite stuffed animal and tell him/her why you love him/her.