Parenting By Parsha: Dvarim

My kid is a risk-taker. While there may have been some question about this (Does he understand what he’s doing? Did I make the boundaries clear?) it’s now undoubtedly true — this kiddo enjoys pushing the envelope. 

I shouldn’t be that surprised to discover this, I suppose. I wasn’t exactly a shy-and-blushing wallflower myself. I was the kid with the scraped knees, halfway up a tree or spending hours on the monkey bars. I knocked both of my front teeth out before they were ready — one playing basketball and one falling off a wall. 

Our toddler, who will be two by the time this is published, is a curious little climber as well. Which is great! Except when he’s climbing somewhere that is potentially very dangerous. It’s summertime, which means that we’re venturing out into the world more and more. That means more opportunity for exploration, but it also means more boundaries. 

For example, no running into the street. No running away at the playground if your grown-up says stop. No jumping off that super-high jungle gym.

The other day he climbed into the bottom section of his stroller while I was doing the dishes, only to get stuck and start crying. It scared the living daylights out of me. 

Because I’m 35 and my kiddo is two (almost!) we have different perceptions of the world. As adults go, I’m pretty open to adventures and exploration. My wife would happily tell you that my optimism often boggles her mind. Still, I see the dangers in the world that he doesn’t. To him, everywhere is a playground. Everything is an adventure. Everyone is a friend. 

This week, I’ve been asking myself how I can help him to grow up and learn to be cautious, but without tamping down his beautiful, multicolored, inquisitive spirit. Can it be done? Are we all doomed to become overly cautious and to distrust our instincts? 

Which makes this week’s parsha kind of perfect. 

This week, we made it to the last book — Deuteronomy, or Devarim. Welcome to the endgame, folks. The High Holidays are in sight. 

There’s been a lot of studying done around Devarim, specifically regarding whether this book is actually a part of the original Pentateuch or if it is a later text. There’s significant discussion of the linguistic patterns of the book, and some of that evidence does suggest that Deuteronomy was, indeed, written about 500 years after all the other books. Plus, of course, the most obvious fact that this whole book is kind of a recap of the material we’ve already covered. 

Basically, this is Moses reminding the Israelites of what they promised to God, and what God promised to them, before everyone heads into Canaan and leaves him behind in the desert. “The Lord your God has multiplied you until you are today as numerous as the stars in the sky,” Moses reminds the Israelites in Devarim 1:10, setting the stage before going on to describe the trials of the journey. Specifically, the whole Twelve Spies debacle that got a whole generation cursed to die in the desert back in Sh’lach L’cha. 

“You sulked in your tents and said, ‘It is because the Lord hates us that He brought us out of the land of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to wipe us out,’ Moses says, in Devarim 1:27, “I said to you, “Have no dread or fear of them […] in the wilderness, where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you traveled until you came to this place, Yet for all that, you have no faith in the Lord your God.” (Devarim 1:28-32)

I really resonate with Moses in this passage, and I worry that my kiddo will grow up to be one of those Israelites who was afraid to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. A land that was sworn to be flowing with milk and honey was right there waiting, and still, these worrywarts stayed in their tents. 

Their concerns, to be fair, were valid. War is scary. New people who don’t want you coming into their turf are scary. Uprooting everything you know again to start anew is scary. I think of these Israelites, who had only known persecution all their lives under the hands of the Egyptians, and I think that it makes a whole lot of sense that they see danger at every turn. A healthy sense of fear is good for self-preservation. That being said, it can come at a cost. Sometimes, that cost is very steep. 

For the Israelites, it meant 40 years in the desert, near the Promised Land but never stepping foot on its soil. For us, it may mean a life wandering right near what we want, never achieving our dreams for fear we may fall on our faces. 

I don’t know how to encourage my kid to be inquisitive but cautious. I learned by falling and getting up, bumping into things and getting an ice pack, failing and trying again. In other words, the hard way. Maybe that’s the only way. All I can hope for is that when he sees that river, someday in the future, he assesses the danger but doesn’t let it hold him back. I hope he learns to swim across and plant his feet firmly in the Promised Land, whatever that turns out to mean to him.