Tol’dot for Tots: Recognizing Your Child’s Strengths

Tol'dot, Genesis 25:19−28:9

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

When the time came for her to give birth, lo-she had twins in her belly! The first came out reddish all over, as though covered with a hairy mantle, so they named him Esau; his brother, following, came out holding Esau's heel, so they named him Jacob. Isaac was 60 years old when they were born. When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a homespun man, keeping to the tents. Isaac favored Esau because he [Esau] put game in his mouth, but Rebekah favored Jacob.

-Genesis 25:24-28

As a professional musician, I spend my time performing concerts for children and working with teachers on integrating music into the Early Childhood classroom. I have my parents to thank for recognizing and nurturing my musical interests and talent. Had they not paid close attention and encouraged me, I might not have become the professional musician I am today. I will always be eternally grateful that they had the wherewithal and foresight to give me piano lessons through high school and to send me to a private university as a piano student. Granted, when I was young and forced to stay indoors to practice while my sisters and friends played outdoors, I wasn't so thankful. But with adult perspective, I can now appreciate their perseverance and support, as it has allowed me to pursue a very fulfilling and rewarding career as a musician.

Parashah Toldot includes the story of Isaac and Rebekah's children, Esau and Jacob. After Isaac and Rebekah were married, Isaac pleaded with God that Rebekah would conceive. Up to that point, she had been barren and after Isaac's pleas, she conceived twins. The parashah tells of the struggle between the twins in the womb and the fate that they would grow to be "two nations" (Genesis 25:23). As a parent to be, Rebekah struggled to understand what was happening. Although our struggles as parents and as teachers may be very different from Rebekah's, this parashah reminds us that children come into this world with innate qualities that we can begin to recognize from the moment they are born.

It reminds us to think about what we can do as parents and teachers to nurture and encourage each of our children and students to be the best that they can be, to shine based on their own unique talents and skills.

Teachers and parents often experience the conundrum of whether we treat siblings or classmates equally. That is a tough issue to tackle in the modern world and as we can see from this parashah, one that is age-old. However, the idea we are focusing on here is how to nurture each child's unique gifts. What can we do, as stewards of our children's growth and development, to support and nurture them as they grow into their own?

For starters, we can:

• See each of them as individuals, recognizing the distinct approaches that they take to situations and tailoring our guidance accordingly

• Present multiple, diverse opportunities for learning and exploring

• Observe and document interests and activities

• Create routines that allow us to spend one-on-one time with our students and children

• Help them see the unique qualities that their classmates or siblings bring to the group or the family.

As adults, it can be difficult to determine exactly how the events and people in our lives influenced us on our path to becoming the individuals we will be; but we know that we are products of nature and nurture. In turn, we can't predict who our children will become; but we can recognize and nurture who they are now, and as such, strengthen their ability to be the people they were born to be.

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

1. Are there distinct qualities that you recognize in your child(ren) that you feel they were "born with"? What are some of these traits?

2. Do you feel that your individuality was nurtured when you were growing up? Why or why not?

Questions for Children:

1. Do you know any twins? If you do, how are they the same and how are they different?

2. What are some of your favorite things to do?

3. Ask your friends or siblings about what they like to do. Are these things the same or different?

Reference Materials

Pages 173–182 in The Torah A Modern Commentary, Revised Edition by W. Gunther Plaut

Originally published: