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Vayeilech for Tots

  • Vayeilech for Tots

    Vayeilech, Deuteronomy 31:1–30
Ellen and Peter Allard

Be strong and resolute, be not in fear or in dread of them; for it is indeed the Eternal your God who marches with you, will not fail you or forsake you.

-Deuteronomy 31:6

When Moses was 120 years old, he spoke these words to the Israelites as they were preparing to cross over the River Jordan on their final journey to the Promised Land. Moses told them that God would be with them and that Joshua would be their new leader. Although the Israelites didn't really know what lay before them, Moses told them to put their lives and the lives of future generations in God's hands. Moses had taken them as far as he could go and could no longer be with them.

Were they ready? Had their prior trials and tribulations prepared them? How did they know that everything would work out, that the slavery they had left behind in Egypt and that the ensuing experiences they had while wandering in the desert would lead to better lives for them and their children?

Whatever the answers to these questions were, it was time. Moses knew that he had to pass on the baton of leadership and to let his people go. As part of this process, Moses spoke to the Israelites with clarity and confidence. He reminded them to "be strong and resolute" (Deuteronomy 31:6) and that God would be with them on their way. Essentially, he did all he could over the years. Now it was up to the Israelites to go on without him; there was nothing more he could do.

This moment in the Torah has some similarity to the "dance" of parenting. We do all that we can for our children; then slowly, moment by moment; we send them on their way. When our children are very young, it is difficult to imagine this type of independence, but each day and each year, there are experiences where we bow out of the picture and let them take steps on their own. Some of these moments occur when we send them through early childhood programs. Even over only a few years, this transition can be vastly different each time they begin a new school year.

As we enter the month of October, the fall season is truly upon us, and school is underway. We've bought new shoes, lunch boxes and toys to bring for circle time sharing; summer tans are already beginning to fade. In the northeast United States, we have begun to see red-tipped leaves on the trees that only six weeks ago were full of summer's lush greenery. We have moved beyond summer, our calendars reflecting the new schedule that autumn brings with it.

As our children begin a new school year, we can't help but notice that they've grown just a little bit taller since school let out in June. Perhaps they graduated from the 3-year-old Keshet (Rainbow) class to the 4-year-old Shemesh (Sunshine) class. Just one year ago, they insisted we hold their hands when we walked them into their new classrooms. This year, instead, they let go of our hands and run eagerly, ready to greet their friends and begin the new school year. My, how they have grown!

Sometimes in small ways, sometimes in not-so-small ways, our children will continue to grow and move beyond us. Our job, as parents of these young children, is to help give them a firm foundation from which they can rise up and make their marks in the world. Like the Chinese proverb says: "The best gift parents can give their children are roots and wings." By doing so, we will provide them with the tools that will help them make their way in the world.

How do we move from holding our children close to sending them on their way with encouragement and enthusiasm? First, the roots: We give them all the opportunities we can imagine to experience life as safely and as confidently as possible. We let them try, we let them fail and we help them as needed. Until they can help themselves, we give them gentle and loving examples of life so that as they mature, they can be increasingly ready for what comes their way. Because of the nurturing and trusting launching pad we provide, they will know that they are capable, talented, safe, experienced and loved. This is how they get their wings, the confidence to fly forth and take all their experience, all their wisdom, all their confidence and all the knowledge that no matter how things turn out, gain or loss, they are loved and are perfect in their parents' eyes. This is how Moses did it, and this is how we parents can do it.

The experiences that the Israelites had while they wandered in the desert gave them all the opportunities they needed, individually and collectively, to prepare for what would lay ahead of them in the Promised Land. All of it was preparation, just as all of childhood, under our watchful gaze and guiding hands, is preparation for adulthood, the "Promised Land" of our children.

Although there are many paths to this end, our challenge is the same, and the text of the Torah can help us to see that it has been done since the beginning of history; this dance of holding close and slowly letting go. We can strive to be like Moses, knowing that generation after generation will survive and thrive because we were strong enough, wise enough, loving enough and selfless enough to do the best for the future.

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. Can you remember something of which you were afraid as a child? Can you remember how and if you overcame your fear?
  2. Do you have a support system for when you have parenting questions? With whom do you speak?
  3. What is an example of a way in which you provide roots for your children, so that later they will have wings?

Questions for Children:

  1. When you're afraid of something, what do you do? Who do you ask for help?
  2. When other children are afraid of something, is there something you can to do help?
  3. How did you feel on your first day of school this year? How do you feel about school now?
Reference Materials: 

Pages 1386-1390 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.

When do we read Vayeilech

2021, September 11
5 Tishri, 5782
2022, October 1
6 Tishri, 5783
2025, September 27
5 Tishri, 5786
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