Sh'mini for Tots

Sh'mini, Leviticus 9:1-11:47

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

Then Moses said to Aaron: "Come forward to the altar and sacrifice your purgation offering and your burnt offering, making expiation for yourself and for the people; and sacrifice the people's offering and make expiation for them, as the Eternal has commanded."

Leviticus 9:7

Leading up to Parashat Sh'mini, the Israelites have begun to use the Tabernacle that they built and have been learning about the laws of sacrifice and the ways of their new relationship with God. At this stage in the history of the people, the priests (Aaron and his sons) are integral to the religious practices of the community. They perform many of the rituals of sacrifice on behalf of the community.

In Parashat Sh'mini, Aaron, the High Priest, comes before God to make offerings of purification and expiation (make amends, apologize) for himself and on behalf of the Israelites. His willingness to do this represents a confession of his own shortcomings, a humble admission of his imperfections and mistakes. It is pretty amazing to think that we human beings have been making mistakes throughout history and we continue to do so. There must be a good reason for that!

Mistakes-we all make them, young and old alike. Although they may be frustrating, mistakes provide parents with a great opportunity to demonstrate for their children how to process and deal with things in a healthy and productive manner. By acknowledging your own mistakes, you reveal that you are not infallible. When you pick yourself up and start again, you are showing your children that it's perfectly acceptable to not be perfect. By looking at mistakes as learning opportunities, by admitting when we miss the mark, we are more open to examining our behavior and determining how not to make the same mistake again. By asking "How can I learn from this?" we are provided with a valuable lesson for ourselves and for our children.

Admitting imperfection isn't necessarily easy to do for people of any age. Young children may have a very low threshold of frustration when things don't go their way, even when it is because of something they did by "accident." For adults, there also may be an element of "saving face" when a mistake is made and because of the various feelings that accompany their error. It's natural for parents to want their children to see them as the "big people" who know all the answers, who don't make mistakes. But reality is not that black and white. The truth is that we all have imperfections; sometimes we say or do things that we realize, in retrospect, could have been said or done differently. When we admit that what we did could have been done better, we are given the opportunity to model for our children, to help them learn how to have humility and deal gracefully with their own mistakes.

The way in which you deal with your children's mistakes will go a long way towards helping them understand and accept the fact that mistakes are a big part of life. By asking questions such as "How could you have done that differently?" you help them learn to be less critical of themselves. You enable them to review their behavior and make their own determinations about how to do it better the next time. You empower and give them the self-skills that will go a long way towards building their self-esteem and ability to cope. You teach them, through the process of self-assessment and honesty, to view their mistakes as lessons learned on the path to learning and growing into a mature and confident human being.

We often talk about making mistakes during the High Holy Day season, particularly around Yom Kippur. The reality is that we make mistakes all year long, and certainly young children are served better by dealing with things as they come up, rather than at times determined by the calendar. One way to open this conversation is to read a story about a character that makes mistakes or to listen to music that addresses this subject. It can be helpful for young children to talk about an example of someone else making a mistake, to practice the concept, at a time when the attention isn't on them. The following quote can be a nice way to open this topic of conversation with your child.

A mistake is a chance to try again, to do something in a different way.
It's a chance to learn, a chance to grow, something that we all should know.
A mistake can be made by the best of us, anytime night or day.
A mistake is a chance to try again and do things in a different way.

From the song "Try, Try Again" ©2008 Rita Gold
From the CD "Songs for A Jewish Head Start"

When we emulate Aaron in his admission of mistakes and demonstration of humility, we help our children and ourselves move forward in spiritual growth, and we continue to nurture our relationships with each other and with God.

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. Do you think you deal with mistakes, your own and your children's, in the same way your parents did?
  2. What mistakes have you made that have contributed positively to your growth?
  3. How can you help your children deal with societal expectations and pressures?
  4. Make a list of as many positive things about yourself of which you can think. Then, make a list of your negative traits. Have you ever shared these with your children?

Questions for Children:

  1. How do you feel when you make a mistake?
  2. Do you think that your teachers sometimes make mistakes? How about your parents?
  3. Has anyone ever made a mistake that hurt you? What happened?
  4. Have you ever made a mistake that hurt someone else? What happened?
Reference Materials

Pages 705-727 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.

Originally published: