Acharei Mot for Tots

Acharei Mot, Leviticus 16:1-18:30

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow My laws: I the Lord am your God.

-Leviticus 18:4

What good are rules if you can bend them?
We need a nanny who is disciplined and stern.
With boys and girls you don't befriend them.
I fear that Mary Poppins has a lot to learn.

-Sung by George Banks in the musical "Mary Poppins"

You must play by the rules. How many times did you hear that growing up? Chances are each of us heard it more than once. Probably many more times. Part of learning how to live in a civilized society is learning to live by the rules, whether they are established by your family, school, peer group, place of worship or the community in which you live.

Rules that are understood and followed are a strong source of consistency for young children. Consistency is part of the way they learn to trust the world and the people around them. Infants bond with their caregiver when their needs are met regularly. Toddlers become confident explorers when routines and boundaries are established clearly. Very young children who experience consistency in their school environment learn to trust that the world is a safe and predictable place.

Knowing and experiencing firsthand that things are done on a regular, ongoing basis helps children feel safe. Days can be less chaotic if children learn clearly what is expected of them when they awake in the morning, when they get home from school or when they go to sleep. Limits and guidelines help them learn how to navigate through their day and through their ever-expanding world.

Part of learning about rules involves testing them, pushing the boundaries to see what will happen. When these tests produce consistent results (for example, the same rule is applied each time), children begin to accept the rules as firm guidelines. When they learn that there is a direct cause and effect to their behavior, they begin to understand the responsibility of their choices. They also learn to make careful and wise decisions.

It is important for parents to follow rules as well. Even if the rules you follow are more applicable to adults (not going through red traffic lights, waiting politely in line at the supermarket), by following rules and modeling rule-abiding behavior, you provide an important and valuable lesson to your children.

In Parashat Acharei Mot, the Israelites are given many laws and rules. After some of the laws and rules are stated, God says, "I am the Lord" or "I the Lord am your God." Why was it necessary to remind the Israelites of this so often? Wouldn't it have been enough to say it once?

If we think about this in comparison to giving rules to young children, we know it is never enough to say it once. Sometimes it is amazing (and possibly frustrating) the number of times we have to repeat rules and expectations. It also can be astounding to witness the number of times that a young child can test the same rule. For example, he knows he isn't supposed to stand on a chair at the breakfast table (adult's perspective), but is that also true at lunch, dinner and snack? I better check! (child's perspective).

As exasperating as this can be, it is a wonderful opportunity for a parent's or teacher's consistent application of the "rule" and therefore a natural learning experience for all involved. Ultimately, consistent rules and expectations are tools for mutual understanding.

In this parashah, the Israelites are still at the beginning of their new relationship with God. God has redeemed them from Egypt and slavery, has given them the Ten Commandments and is dictating more laws and rules through Moses for the Israelites to hear. Developmentally, as a people, they are somewhere in the infant-toddler-preschooler stage. Similar to young children who sometimes need reminders, the Israelites not only needed the laws and rules to be reviewed, but they also needed to be reminded that God was doing the commanding and they were doing the listening.

May we all have the wisdom to know when to set the rules and when to follow them!

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. What are some of the rules that you expect your children to follow in your home?
  2. What are the consequences when your children don't follow the rules?
  3. Do you think there are situations in which you can bend the rules?
  4. How did you experience rules when you were a child?
  5. Are there circumstances in which your children can observe you following rules?

Questions for Children:

  1. Can you think of one rule you have to follow at home?
  2. Can you think of one rule you have to follow at school?
  3. Do you think rules are important?
  4. What happens when you don't follow the rules?
  5. If you could make the rules for your house, what would the first rule be?
Reference Materials

Pages 769-794 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.

Originally published: