Ki Tisa for Tots: Nature Vs Nurture: Discovering Your Child’s Passions

Ki Tisa, Exodus 30:11−34:35

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

"The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: See, I have singled out by name Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft…"

Exodus 31:1-3

Some people believe that human beings are born with a blank slate, a tabula rasa to be filled and shaped by their experiences in the world. In this view, our environment (or how we are nurtured) really makes us who we are, and our nature (or genetics) has very little to do with it. Other people like Steve Pinker, author of "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature," believe that genetics (or nature) play a major role in who we become.

On which side of the fence do you side? Which holds more credence: nature or nurture? Is it possible that there is validity in both? Parashah Ki Tisa gives us the opportunity to explore and reflect on this age-old debate.

In this parashah, God continues to instruct Moses on the building of the Tabernacle. We read that God has singled out Bezalel and endowed him with skill. Bezalel is then to take the lead in crafting everything that needs to be made.

On which side of the "nature vs. nurture" argument does Bezalel fall? Was his talent entirely God-given at that moment, or did God choose Bezalel because of some propensity he showed for this type of craft? The language of the parashah is ambiguous. Perhaps we can consider that both sides offer possibilities. Although we can't really answer this question, considering it can help us to think about the opportunities, support and space that we give our children as they grow and develop.

Educators may be experts in child development, but you, the parents, are the experts regarding your own child. As such, you are in the wonderful and unique position of truly being the person who knows your child best.

You can use what you know already as well as what you continue to learn about your child to provide experiences that allow him or her to grow and develop in various areas. While your child's genes might predispose him or her to become a musician or a long-distance runner, we also can empower our children to develop and nurture their own skills and talents by paying attention to the signs we get from our children. Their behaviors and predilections give us clues that enable us to create an environment that will help support and nurture them.

Does your child like to draw? Provide an art area at home with paper, pencils, pens, crayons and markers. You even can create a portable art center by having a bag of these items in the car, which is great for long car rides or for a quick activity while waiting at the pediatrician's office.

Is your child skilled at building structures? Take her to see construction sites and read books about construction machines; give him an opportunity to experiment with many different kinds of building materials-wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs, LEGO bricks, cardboard boxes.

Michelangelo said that by carving the stone, he simply released the sculpture that was already inside of it. Whether you believe that your child is born with an inherent personal roadmap of skills, talents and abilities or that he or she is an unformed being whose interests will evolve as he or she grows and develops, you can help your child find his or her passions.

The Jewish Community Day School of Newton, Mass., has a motto that reflects its commitment to igniting and nourishing the love of learning in its students: "A child is not a vessel to be filled but a flame to be kindled." Let us all have the wisdom, strength and resources to help our children's lights shine bright.

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. Do you have a skill or talent that was recognized and nurtured by your parents? Do you still pursue it today?
  2. What activity does your child enjoy the most?
  3. Do you think that your child shows any interest or skill in something at which you also are skilled?
  4. Does your child have "unprogrammed" time each day to play freely, directing his or her own activities? What do you notice about your child when he or she is playing this way?

Questions for Children:

  1. What is your favorite thing in the world to do?
  2. What do your parents like to do for fun?
  3. Is there something you like to do that you can teach someone else to do?
  4. Where is your favorite place to play?
Reference Materials

Pages 581-597 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.

Originally published: