Vayak’heil for Tots: Engaging with your community

Vayak'heil, Exodus 35:1–38:20

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

...all the artisans who were engaged in the tasks of the sanctuary came, from the task upon which each one was engaged, and said to Moses, "The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the Eternal has commanded to be done."

-Exodus 36:4-5

Does it really take a whole village to raise a child?

Parashat Vayak'heil focuses on many of the details of the community coming together to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle which will be the "dwelling place" for the divine presence while the Israelites journey to the promised land. In particular, this parashah outlines the gifts that members of the community will bring to contribute to the building of the Mishkan.

In Parashat Vayak'heil, Moses tells the Israelites that God has commanded them to bring gold, silver and copper (among other gifts) for the construction of the Mishkan. God also singled out Bezalel and Oholiab, as well as other skilled artisans, to utilize their skills and talents to build the Mishkan using the gifts brought by the Israelites. In carrying out their job, Bezalel and Oholiab, as well as "every skilled person whom the Eternal had endowed with skill, everyone who excelled in ability" (Exodus 36:2), realized that the people were bringing more gifts than were needed to fulfill God's commandment. In fact, Moses had to command the Israelites to refrain from bringing any more gifts for the offering of the sanctuary, for "their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done." (Exodus 36:6)

Commentators have suggested that this overabundance of gifts served a valuable purpose, that it was actually important for there to be too much. Because there was such a quantity of offerings, there would be no opportunity for anyone to take credit for their contribution or say theirs was the most important. The building of the Mishkan (like many of the other experiences in the Book of Exodus), was a community responsibility and an exercise in community development. Although there were clear leaders in the process, everybody's input was helpful and necessary.

Parenting can sometimes feel like a lonely path. The awesome responsibility of raising a child (even with a parenting partner) can be overwhelming. When the buck stops with you, it is hard to remember that you can ask for help and rely on others in the community for support on this path. The African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," popularized by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, brings to light the idea that people outside of the family can and do have profound effects on the growth and development of children. If we look at child-rearing from a community perspective, we can see that there are other, non-parents who can contribute significantly to-and enhance-a child's life.

When our children were young, one of their (and our) favorite television shows was Sesame Street. One of the songs from this beloved show was called "Who are the people in your neighborhood?" The lyrics of the song named fire personnel, mail carriers, police, clergy, teachers, neighbors and carpenters-community members who might live or work in your neighborhood. As the song aptly suggests, even though your children might only meet these people on a very casual, once-in-a-while basis, they are an important part of the quilt that makes up your child's life. Everyone, in fact, who comes in contact with a child is significant, in some way, to that child. To a young child, a kindly neighbor could be just as important as a long-distance grandparent. Every person in a child's life can make a contribution, large or small. Grandparents, siblings, neighbors, teachers, clergy, doctors, nurses, coaches, babysitters, caretakers, relatives, family and friends all play a part.

Parashat Vayak'heil reminds us that important jobs are best done in cooperation with others. Although parenting is an intimate and personal experience, it does not necessitate isolation. When we remember that we are raising children to be members of a community, let us also remember to rely on that community for support along the way. There may be times, as in the building of the Mishkan, when everybody's input seems overwhelming. However, there will also be times when we just can't get the job done without soliciting and accepting the gifts that the community brings to the process.

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. Can you recall a significant (non-family) adult from your childhood? What was your relationship like with him or her?
  2. Who are the people in your community that have a significant impact on your child?
  3. Are there ways in which you can imagine asking for support from your community on your parenting journey?

Questions for Children:

  1. Are there important grownups in your life that are not your parents? Who are they and what do you like about them?
  2. What do you do when you can't finish a project by yourself? How do you feel when this happens?
Reference Materials

Pages 612-620 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.