B'chukotai for Tots

B'chukotai, Leviticus 26:3-27:34

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant you rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit.

-Leviticus 26:3

But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments, if you reject My laws and spurn My rules, so that you do not observe all My commandments and you break My covenant, I in turn will do this to you…

-Leviticus 26:14-16

Parashat B'chukotai begins with the listing of blessings (Leviticus 26:3-13) that will be granted to the Israelites if they faithfully observe God's commandments. This is certainly the positive, feel-good part of the portion. Immediately following these wonderful statements of blessing, however, the portion takes a turn and continues with the listing of many curses, all of which will occur if the Israelites do not observe God's commandments (Leviticus 26:14-41), dire consequences if they are not obedient.

Why are both blessings and curses included in Parashat B'chukotai? Wouldn't it have been enough to just remind the Israelites that they would be granted an abundance of blessings if they walked the straight and narrow? Perhaps because of prior behavior by the Israelites or perhaps because of God's parental role in their lives, this parashah clearly sets out an either-or scenario.

As a parent or teacher of young children, you've likely made statements resembling the following: "If you don't listen to me, you won't be able to __________" or "If you don't stop doing__________, I will __________." Does this language have a ring of familiarity to you? Despite our best efforts to use praise and positive language to motivate the best behavior in children, the consequence of loss often is more powerful in getting someone's attention and teaching him or her how the laws of life work. Certainly after a day full of guiding behavior, when you are close to the end of your rope, it is human nature to resort to this type of discipline.

While none of us, whether parents or teachers, wants to be in the position of having to remind our children of the negative consequences of their behavior, it seems to be built inherently into the process of guidance or discipline. Consequences are really scenarios of cause-and-effect. In thinking about how young children learn, cause-and-effect is an important concept that they are trying to understand in all areas of their lives; behavior is no exception.

Cause-and-effect is the ability to perceive the relationship between actions and reactions, the understanding that one action causes another action to occur. In many ways, young children are scientists; they are experimenting constantly with the world around them. In fact, they often do things just to see what will happen.

Discipline is an area in which children can understand easily and concretely the results of the choices they make. If a child intentionally spills a cup of milk on the floor, then asking him to help wipe up the spilled milk will help him understand more fully the consequences of his behavior. If a child deliberately knocks over another child's blocks, then she may not be allowed to play in the block area or she should be asked to help the other child rebuild the block structure. By experiencing the firsthand results of cause-and-effect, children will be better prepared to understand that their behavior or the choices they make will have a result for which they are responsible.

Youngsters of the same chronological age often function on many different developmental levels. Every child proceeds at his or her own rate and pace of development. But with plenty of developmentally appropriate opportunities to experience cause-and-effect, children eventually will understand that following the rules will be rewarding.

The entire text of Parashat B'chukotai is filled with a plethora of either-or stipulations declared by God: "If you follow My laws…I will grant you… But if you do not obey Me….I in turn will do this to you…." What can we learn from this? While parenting and teaching has its share of wonderful and wonder-filled moments, we must remember that as parents and teachers of young children, we are charged with helping our children learn that each of us ultimately is responsible for the choices we make and the results of those choices.

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. What is the earliest memory you have of there being consequences as a result of a decision you made?
  2. What are some ways that you have seen your child experiment with cause and-effect?
  3. What are some ways that you help your child understand cause and-effect?
  4. How do you feel about using consequences to guide your child's behavior?

Questions for Children:

  1. What are some rules you have to follow every day in your life?
  2. What happens if you don't follow these rules?
  3. What do you think would happen if you never brushed your teeth or had a bath?
Reference Materials

Pages 864-879 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.

Originally published: