P’kudei for Tots: Establishing Structure in the home

P'kudei, Exodus 38:21-40:38

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

In the first month of the second year, on the first of the month, the Tabernacle was set up. Moses set up the Tabernacle, placing its sockets, setting up its planks, inserting its bars and erecting its posts. He spread the tent over the Tabernacle, placing the covering of the tent on top of it-just as the Eternal had commanded Moses.

-Exodus 40:17-19

The Israelites, before Parashat P'kudei, are having some trouble with the nature of God's presence in their lives. Everything is new to them. They leave Egypt, slavery behind them, only to be confronted with what seems like an endless and challenging journey in the desert. When Moses leaves them under Aaron's direction and goes up Mount Sinai, leaving the Israelites under Aaron's direction, they doubt this "God" of which Moses speaks, a "God" that they cannot see, and instead ask Aaron to build them a golden calf resembling the idols that they know from their past. However, as they complete the building of the Mishkan, they have an experience that provides some structure for experiencing God's presence.

In Parashat P'kudei, God gives very explicit instructions for how the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, is to be set up, including the frame, the metalwork, the jewels and the tapestries. It seems that not a detail is omitted. The entire portion, from Chapter 38:21 to Chapter 40:38, which is the end of Exodus, the second book of the Torah, is filled with explanations for how the Israelites are to proceed with the setting up of the Mishkan. In some ways this very structured environment allows for the creativity and focus needed to build a thing of beauty that will be extremely important in the lives of the Israelites and in their relationship with God.

Like the Israelites, young children need both direction and structure that will give them the freedom to create. By establishing and maintaining structure, adults provide safety and comfort for young children. It is this structure that allows a child to predict how his or her day will look. It is this predictability that provides feelings of safety and confidence. It is within the arms of safety that a young child can begin to explore the world, slowly moving and expanding in ever greater circles, just like the Israelites. As an infant people, the Israelites need the structure provided by these detailed instructions to create a beautiful and meaningful Mishkan.

Parents are given the first opportunity and the primary responsibility for providing structure in their children's lives. Whether it is with regular feedings or the appearance of a pair of nurturing arms to calm a fussy baby, children begin to know their world and in turn feel safe. When they go to school, they learn to operate within the confines of the school's schedule. Like the Israelites in Parashat P'kudei, our children learn to follow rules. It is within the structure of these rules and predictable schedules that children come to trust their environment.

Parents and early childhood teachers have the important responsibility of shepherding young children so that they may reach their full potential. By establishing a firm foundation, with structure and boundaries, as well as providing an environment rich in creative exploration, we are giving our children a firm foundation that will encourage and enable them to be healthy, vibrant and happy youngsters.

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. Does your child have a predictable morning and bedtime routine?
  2. Does your child have open-ended toys that encourage him to make his own creations? (blocks, tinker toys)
  3. What type of behavior do you notice in your child when her day follows a predictable routine?
  4. What is your child's demeanor like when he or she has too many choices?

Questions for Children:

  1. Is there anything special you like to do with your parents before you go to bed?
  2. What is one thing you do every morning when you wake up?
  3. What days do you go to school? What days do you stay home?
Reference Materials

The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.

Originally published: