If your kin, being in straits, come under your authority and are held by you though resident aliens, let them live by your side.… Let your kin live by your side as such.
Consider this scenario: Your child is part of a lovely group of friends in her early childhood program. They are suitable playmates and tend to get along well together. One day, Eric, a child who usually plays with other children in the class, asks if he can join their game. Your child and her friends don't want to include Eric. The teacher insists that Eric be invited to play with them. When you pick your child up at the end of the day, she complains that Eric "butted" into their game. Was the teacher right in insisting that Eric be allowed to play with your child and her group of friends? What was the right thing to do?
While we wouldn't call Eric a resident alien, he also isn't a stranger in the class. He is like one of the family. How should he be treated? One of the most important Jewish values we teach our children is hachnasat orchim-welcoming the stranger. Parashat B'har takes this value and brings it closer to home, teaching us the importance of not only welcoming and caring for the stranger but also for those in our more immediate circles-our families, our classmates, our neighbors, our "kin."
Even at this young age, it's not uncommon for children to begin to form cliques. Preschoolers are learning about and "trying on" all kinds of social choices. Inclusion and exclusion are part of the package; they are very powerful experiences. This is a perfect time to model and encourage the positive aspects of these experiences, such as inclusion. Inviting Eric to play with them might not be exactly what your daughter and her friends had in mind, but by being a friend to Eric, they are doing the right thing. By guiding our children to have open and loving hearts and by teaching them the importance of welcoming others, whether new children in the class or familiar classmates who show an interest in playing with them, we help make the world a better place in which to live, and we exemplify Jewish values in our everyday lives.
With Passover just a few weeks behind us, perhaps you still are nibbling on the last box of matzah in your pantry. With the melody of "Dayeinu" still in all of our ears, we are reminded of the Passover directive to open our homes by inviting strangers to our seders. By inviting people who may not have a place to celebrate Passover into your home to join your seder, you are fulfilling the Jewish law that commands us to welcome the stranger, as Jews were once strangers in the land of Egypt. And now, after you wash, fold and put away the tablecloth and napkins from your own seder, and the chameitz find its way back into your everyday lives, may the year ahead remind us that we always should remember the importance of welcoming others, whether the hand of friendship be offered to strangers or those in our very own midst.
Questions and Ideas for Parents:
- Do you remember a time when you were excluded by others?
- If your child came home and told you that he or she had experienced exclusion by other children in his or her class, what do you think you would advise him or her to do?
- How do you feel about inviting strangers to your Passover seder?
- How can you help your children distinguish between the kind of strangers that you want them to avoid and those who you would encourage them to welcome?
Questions for Children:
- Have other kids ever told you that you couldn't play with them? How did you feel?
- Have you ever told other kids that they couldn't play with you and your friends? How did you feel?
- Do you think it is important to let other kids join a game you are playing if they want to join?
- Did you meet any new people at your Passover seder this year?
Pages 849-860 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.