V'zot Hab'rachah for Tots

V'zot Hab'rachah, Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

…The period of wailing and mourning for Moses came to an end. Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands upon him; and the Israelites heeded him, doing as the Eternal had commanded Moses.

Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses-whom the Eternal singled out, face to face, for the various signs and portents that the Eternal sent him to display in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and his whole country, and for all the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel.

-Deuteronomy 34:8-12

V'zot Hab'rachah is the concluding parashah of the Torah; the quote above includes the final phrases in the final chapter and verse. Immediately after this parashah is read on Simchat Torah, we read a second, B'reishit, which is the first parashah of the first book of the Torah. Thus our joyous celebration of Simchat Torah gives us the opportunity to transition from reading the end of the five books of Moses to beginning again with the first book.

The content of this parashah is also rife with transitions. V'zot Hab'rachah recounts Moses giving his final blessings to the tribes of Israel; the announcement of Moses's death and burial; and the transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Although this is the "ending" of the Torah, it addresses both the history of the Israelites and what is coming next. Decades of wandering in the desert are coming to an end and the people are saying goodbye to their beloved leader, a source of great strength and stability.

These two examples of transitions are a reminder of the importance of transitions in the lives of young children. Whether they transition from the breakfast table to brushing their teeth or from one activity to another during the school day, what seem like minor transitions to adults can be monumental for young children. Sometimes children are able to deal with transitions with grace, and other times with great difficulty. We can't change the fact that things must change, but we can help support our kids as they navigate these changes.

One thing that is extremely helpful for many kids is to have a warning that a transition is coming. Since young children don't usually tell time, they structure their world on the order of a routine. Therefore, telling them what is coming next lets them know where they are in that routine. For example, "in five minutes, I'll ask you to stop what you are doing so you can wash up and come to the table to eat." Giving children this kind of information also helps them know that you respect them. Giving the child some time to deal with the information, perhaps a series of warnings (five minutes, two minutes) gives them a chance to digest the information and be prepared for the activity change.

Your transitions will be smoother if they aren't rushed. Children need time to process the idea that they need to end what they're doing and move to a new activity. But sometimes kids are so engrossed in what they are doing that they haven't heard the warnings that have been given. So while you are giving five- and two-minute warnings, it is also helpful to check in with the child to make sure that s/he hears the warnings as they are being given; eye contact and/or a request for verbal acknowledgment are appropriate here.

Be prepared for children to protest. The truth is that sometimes, no matter what we do, they are still hugely disappointed with the need to move from one activity to another and, in fact, have a lot of difficulty doing so. The best thing you can do is listen and acknowledge their disappointment, anger or frustration, even if your expectation is such that the transition is still taking place. This will demonstrate your respect for and understanding of children's feelings. In addition, by being a good listener during difficult transitions, you will be modeling empathetic behavior.

At the end of the day (or throughout, as is often the case), children do need to transition so it's helpful to know that children will learn to move from one activity or situation to another if they are given ample time to make changes, advance warning that change is about to happen, a loving, kind and gentle approach and a willingness to listen to their reactions. As individuals and as a people, transitions can be difficult but with support and intentionality, we can, as the traditional Jewish greeting says, move from "strength to strength."

Questions for Parents:

  1. How do you deal with transition and change in your day to day life? Do you prefer spontaneity or routine?
  2. Do you notice your child having difficulty with transitions? If so, what are your strategies for supporting him/her?
  3. Do you have any memories, recent or long-ago of celebrating Simchat Torah or any thoughts on celebrating this year with your family? If so, talk to your children about your memories and/or your plans.

Questions for Children:

  1. This Torah story tells us about the end of Moses's life. Do you know who Moses was? If you do, tell a friend about him. If you don't, ask your teacher or your parents to tell you about him.
  2. How do you feel when someone asks you to stop what you are doing because you have to go do something else?
  3. How can you help a friend who is having a hard time when they have to stop playing and go do something else?
Reference Materials

Pages 1420-1428 in The Torah A Modern Commentary, Revised Edition by W. Gunther Plaut

Originally published: