Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Telling the Truth about Vayeshev

I, like so many others, love parashat Vayeshev. Joseph's striped coat is great for countless projects (You can read about our project and sibling rivalry from last year here) , and the storyline is exciting enough to be on Broadway.  My girls all wore stripes to show that Abba loves them equally and are listening to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on the way to school. But none of that gets to the crux of the parasha or enhances their understanding of the world. 
A look at the scope of this entire parasha reveals a surprising theme: Liars!

Yosef's brothers plan to kill him, leave him in a pit, decide to sell him, and then find he is missing. The brothers cover their tracks of Yosef's disappearance by dipping his tunic in blood and asking Yaakov if he recognizes it. Yaakov is heartbroken by their horrible lie and the brothers watch their father mourn indefinitely.

The tale of Tamar and Yehuda immediately follows. (If you are unfamiliar with this subplot, you can read a lot more about it here.) Two of Yehuda's sons die while married to Tamar. Yehuda tells her to go home and promises to bring her Selah, the third son, when he was older. According to Rashi this was a lie. He feared his last son would die while married to Tamar. She eventually realizes that Yehuda is not going to make good on his commitment and takes matters into her own hands. Yehuda is forced into being honest and confesses his crime. Tamar gives birth to Yehuda's twins.

Next the Torah recounts that Yosef is working in Potifar's house when his wife tries to seduce him. Yosef rebuffs her advances advances. Potifar's wife lies and accuses Yosef of rape. Her lie puts Yosef in jail for twelve years.

What good comes from a lie? Nothing! Yehuda's confession of his guilt and lie are extremely praiseworthy. His offspring, Perez, the older twin, is an ancestor of King David, thus of the messianic line. Mashiach, the ultimate redemption, comes from telling the truth after a transgression.

What about Potifar's wife? I have no commentary to back me up, but I think she confessed. I think she finally worked up the courage to say, "I lied. Husband, I am sorry. Please forgive me." Her honesty does not magically free Yosef from jail, but she is rewarded for doing the right thing. In next week's parasha, Miketz, her daughter marries Yosef! Her honesty merited her daughter to marry extremely well, a happily ever after worthy of a Disney princess. [Again all of this idea is midrash Sharona].

Now let's return to the brothers and the bloody tunic. We know they did not willingly confess their heinous crime, as Yosef spends the next two parshiot making them sweat it out. But what if they had? What would have happened if the brothers went home and said, "Abba, we made a big mistake!"?

With 21st century technology, tracking down a missing person is probably easier than in ancient times, but Yaakov would have been able to find Yosef before he went to prison. When Yosef was searching for his brothers before they put him in the pit, a man appeared (the angel Gavriel, according to Targum Yonatan) and directing him to them. Something similar could have happened to locate Yosef. But the brothers stick to their lie, in spite of Yaakov's great suffering.

What if? What if they did teshuva, confessed, and found Yosef? Would we have been slaves in Egypt? Or could the whole family be together in Israel? Did the lie of these ten men severely postpone redemption? In parashat Shelach there is an uncanny parallel; ten men (the spies) speak badly about Israel, changing the course of Jewish history and causing 40 years of wandering in the desert.

I cannot be sure that Potifar's wife decided to admit she lied. I cannot be certain that slavery in Egypt and enormous suffering would have been avoided if yosef's brothers confessed. But the Torah recounts Yehuda's confession as the seeds to the Mashaich. The truth makes all the difference in the world.

Now, how did I make this message of confessing to a lie relevant to my girls? I did not share the aforementioned ideas because I am not ready to teach them about Potifar's wife, and even if I tell it in broad strokes, there is no way to do that with the story of Tamar. But obviously, the lesson must be taught. My girls are good, but they sometmes lie needlessly (Just say, "Oh, I forgot to brush my teeth." Not "Yes" when the answer is 'no').

Both girls are learning about sequencing. Cohava is summarizing her reading with 'first, next, after that, then, and finally'. Gabi's class is reading the wonderful sequential book, 'If You Give a Mouse a Cookie'.

Therefore the girls are sequencing Yosef in the parasha. They reviewed the story together and took turns writing events on note cards. They like to shuffle the cards and then place them back in order. When they have the story further, I will ask them 'what happens if the brothers were to tell the truth now?'. I am curious how they will recreate the story.

Explaining it to the girls was exciting. They were able to work out that although putting Yosef in the pit was horrible, lying made everything much worse and the truth could have made it better.

"What should we tell the truth?" I asked.
"Cuz, its the right the to do."
"Yes, but why?"
"I dunno." 

So I pitched my story about how things could have been different if the brothers ran home and confessed to Yaakov. 

"If the brothers told the truth, then Yaakov would have found Yosef, right?" Cohava asked.
"Yah, because the angel Gavriel is definitely better than Tomtom  at finding things," Gabi explained.

"And if Yaakov didn't stay in Egypt what would have been different?" I asked.
"The Jewish people would never have ended up there as slaves," Cohava said.
"Being slaves in Egypt was really bad. Like way worse than 'two thumbs down'. Like really really bad," Gabi elucidated.
"And we could have gone straight to Israel!" Cohava added.
"And Moshiach would have come. But ummm, who exactly is Moshiach?" Gabi asked. We explored that topic for a while and then returned to the topic of not lying.

"Do you know the word for truth in Hebrew?" I asked. They didn't, so I taught them the word אֶמֶת. Emet. I explained how the first letter,  א is the first letter of the alef bet, the מ  is the middle of the word and the alphabet, and ת ends both. The light bulb over Cohava's head was suddenly even brighter.
"I get it!" she exclaimed. "אֶמֶת is everything. All of it is inside! Without it, it doesn't work!" 

"And if you lie, you don't know what bad might happen. Like giving a mouse a cookie..." Gabi added.

Shabbat Shalom! 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Unique Prints Vayishlach

Last year I wrote about how much of parashat Vayishlach's content is challenging to teach to children. It wasn't any easier this year.

We spoke about Yaakov preparing to meet Esav. I asked the girls what three things they would do if Esav were coming for them. After some deliberation they decided on 1) Run away 2) Hide behind a tree 3)Say 'I'm sorry'. When they compared it to the actual three actions they were disappointed they left out prayer.

We reviewed Dina's "kidnapping" and discussed ways to stay safe. We reviewed 'stranger danger', practiced  the idea of calling 911, and memorized our address and phone numbers.

The project focused on Hashem giving Yaakov a new name, 'Yisrael'. Our names are one of the unique things about us, like our body, hair, and eye color. But all of these unique things can be changed as we change. I told the girls that only one part of us cannot change and that it is not like anyone else's.
"Our neshama?" Cohava asked.
"Umm, yes, but I meant fingerprints."

We had a mini science lesson about the shapes on fingerprints and their incredible uniqueness.

Then we took our unique, unchanging fingerprints and wrote our names.
I wrote their names in pencil so they had a line to trace. With colored ink pads, they went to work.
It was messy, but the girls were very excited about their fingerprint shape and their art.
They also used fingerprints to make pictures of the meanings of their names.

Have wipes on hand for easy clean-up.

I might sit with Ruti (and Tova?) to guide their fingers.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Sooner or Ladder- Vayetzei

There have been numerous requests for me to post the week's activity before I do it, so that parents and educators can do it as well. Here is the plan, and later in the week I will add photos of our experience.

Parashat Vayetzei begins with Yaakov on the run from Essav. He stops for a rest and has the most glorious dream, of a ladder to the heavens, with angels moving up and down in. I love this moment!I find everything relating to Jacob's ladder enthralling.

[Side note: Jacob's ladder is like Noah's ark, an object intrinsically tied to a Torah figure. Does everyone have one? Is it universal? 
The next time the girls and I are walking I plan to play 'Torah Word Association'. 
"I'll name a person. You name the first object you think of." 
I wonder if Moshe will be in a basket, have a stick, be holding the tablets, etc.  Answers reveal a lot about the child, or where the education has been focused. If we are going for a long walk round two could be a middah (trait) of the person, or color, or anything.]
My first plan of the week was to make the classic wooden toy, Jacob's ladder. But I decided it was too time consuming for the results. If you want to try here are some instructions. Or if you are super cool you can make one out of chocolate bars like this. I would love to do both, but this is not a good week for children with chocolate or hammers.

Therefore I went to buy a ready-made Jacob's ladder for decoupaging with pictures of angels. After wasting a huge amount of time, energy, and brain cells, it was concluded that Toysrus does not sell them (and most of the staff did not know what they are). Next year I will be prepared and buy them from Oriental Trading. I got one off Amazon, which should arrive Thursday. Not much time to get it done, so I might save it for next year.
That leads us to string Jacob's Ladders. I will use silver ribbon (sort of dream-like) and try this. The girls have never learned string games and this should be an interesting motor skill/coordination activity. I'm not sure what we will use for the angels.

A few years ago the supermarket had ladders for birdcages for 5 cents each. I bought one for each of my students and they made a clothespin angel to move up and down the ladder.

Have fun!

We started today with a mini puppet show of Yaakov going to sleep. 
We talked about the rock pillow. 
Using white silly putty I formed rocks. Gabi counted how many were made and Cohava had to calculate how many more were needed.
Then the rocks magically fused into one large rock/pillow for Yaakov (Guy Smiley).
"And then he started to dream about..."
"A ladder!" Cohava yelled.
"We are making angels for our project," Gabi yelled louder.
They were underwhelmed when I pulled out a silver string but once I showed them how to make Jacob's ladder they were pretty excited.

It is good I have started early this week because it is harder for them than I thought. They are currently up to step two. Hopefully by Shabbat they can show off their new skill.

As I continued teaching the narrative, the girls were eager to share their memories of Yaakov's movement of the huge well cover, unintentional marriage to Leah, and the births of the boys who would become the tribes. 

The part which was new and most intriguing for them, was Yaakov's manipulation of the Lavan's cattle  to get the spotted and speckled of the flock.  Gabi decided everyone must dress as one of these so they could be part of Yaakov's herd and not get stuck at Lavan's house. 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Toldot Performance

Last year I was very busy for parashat Toldot. This year I was out of town for most of the week. On Thursday when I got back, I started to tell the girls the stories from this weeks parasha. They quickly interrupted and were able to tell me the stories in great detail.
"Did you already learn the parasha this week?" I asked.
"No, we don't get parasha until Fridays," Cohava explained.
"We remember from last year," Gabi clarified. 

We decided that instead of a project, the girls would perform a play of the parasha. The choice of props, words, and actions was entirely their own. I found it very amusing.

Part I: Introducing Yaakov and Essav

Part II: The Soup

Then the girls decided they were too hungry to perform part three, "Getting the Bracha".

Instead they wanted to eat red lentil soup.

Shabbat Shalom!