D'varim for Tots

D'varim, Deuteronomy 1:1−3:22

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

"These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan."

-Deuteronomy 1:1

"People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell." -Elie Wiesel

Stories offer us many gifts. They tell us about ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbors, or people we've never met. Stories give us a unique opportunity to see the commonness in our humanity and the incredible within our midst. The telling and hearing of stories help us to learn about, understand and make sense of our lives. Stories teach us about hope, solace, morality, ritual, trust, faith, courage, justice, love, hate, the beautiful and the ugly. They also ultimately allow us to reflect on how we live our lives each day.

Parashat D'varim is the first story in the last book of the Torah. Moses, who has been bringing God's words to the Israelites, finally takes the stage as storyteller, addressing the community in his own words. Before he hands over the reigns for leading the Israelites to Joshua, Moses retells much of the story of the past 40 years of the Exodus experience. It is said that when something is repeated in the Torah, it is particularly significant. Through this retelling of the story, we are given a chance to review, relive and reflect upon the Exodus experience. With repetition, we are encouraged to sit up and take notice.

It is clear how important stories are in the lives of young children, both the stories they hear and the stories they tell. Stories are not just told through words. They also are transmitted through deeds, values, words and actions. When you retell stories about your childhood, your parents and other family members, you are teaching your children valuable lessons about how you and your family (their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles) affected the world. And as you live your life today, by your word and your deed, you are re-creating multifaceted stories, adding your contribution to the history that will be passed on to the future generations of your family. L'dor v'dor, from one generation to the next.

Stories also are told through and inspired by images. In our house we have hung as many pictures of past generations of our families as we could find. Now, each time we climb up and down the stairs, we are reminded of their stories. This stairway pictorial history also gives us a chance to tell our family stories to our young adult offspring and to visitors (who always ask about the people in the photos!). Most importantly, by hanging pictures of all the generations in our family, we are able to keep alive the connection between now and then, between our children and our ancestors. Once again, l'dor v'dor in action. Children likewise tell stories through images. Next time your child draws a picture, ask him or her to tell you about it and write down the description on the drawing. Seeing one's own words in print is a key component of developing literacy.

On an even shorter timeline, stories of the past are important for young children to hear. Does your 3- or 4-year-old ask you to tell again and again about when he or she was a baby? It doesn't seem that long ago, but it is already an important piece of a child's history and of the development of his or her self-esteem. As children's awareness and interest in others expands beyond their natural early childhood self-centeredness, they likely will ask about the stories of others in the family and then others in the world. Responding to this innate curiosity allows you to provide security, history and context for your children. By telling our stories, we ultimately are helping our children understand that they also own a piece of the past and the future. We are providing grounding in their family, community and eventually in their world. The gift of telling our stories is one of the most valuable gifts that we can give. The Torah, the book of our stories, is one of the most valuable gifts that we cherish as a people.

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. Do your children ask you to tell them stories about their past?
  2. Do you tell your children stories about your childhood and your family?
  3. Do you have family photos displayed in your house? How far back do they go?

Questions for Children:

  1. Do you know any stories about things you did when you were a baby?
  2. Do you have a favorite story that tells something about your family?
  3. Do you have a favorite story book?
Reference Materials

Pages 1161-1173 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.

Originally published: