On Passover, Parents and Children

joyful-children.jpgYesterday at our Shabbat morning minyan, I noticed a particularly large number of parents and children. Over here was an adult woman helping her elderly mother by pointing along to the transliteration in the siddur. Over there was a man with his four year old in his lap, his tallit falling down across her shoulders. There was also one family with three generations present: a member celebrating his sixtieth birthday, his parents who attended for the occasion, and his son who chanted Torah in his honor.

As it was Shabbat Hagadol (“The Great Shabbat,” the Shabbat which falls before Pesach) I thought of the special Haftarah we read for this occasion, Malachi 3, which ends with the classic passage:

“Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome fearful day of the Lord. He shall reconcile parents with children and children with parents…”

The image of reconciliation in these verses are meant to evoke a sense of the messianic era ushered in by the prophet Elijah. I couldn’t help but think yesterday, as I looked around our sanctuary, that we were all getting a little taste of messianic days right there in our modest little minyan.

Children, of course, are central to the Pesach story. The Torah commands us to teach this story to our children, and the seder includes numerous pedagogical exercises that help us instill its sacred meaning and relevance: the youngest child asks the Four Questions; we read about the four different kinds of children who respond differently to the seder experience; we add songs at the end of the seder in order to keep our children (hopefully!) interested and engaged. On a somewhat darker level, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the seder story also includes notable examples of children in peril. In particular, Pharoah’s decree to kill all newborn male children drives home the tragically familiar truth that it is inevitably children – the most vulnerable members of society – who are the first to bear the brunt of communal persecution.

This is for me one central but too often ignored lesson of the Pesach story: the sacred imperative to protect the rights of all our children. It is an imperative that goes to the very survival of society – for the very future of communities and nations are directly related to the extent to which they safeguard the well-being of their youngest members. (In this regard, I am intrigued by the full text of Malachi 3: “He shall reconcile parents with children and children with parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction.”)

Alas, in the 21st century, our global community is failing their children miserably. According to Human Rights Watch:

The global scandal of violence against children is a horror story too often untold. With malice and clear intent, violence is used against the members of society least able to protect themselves – children in school, in orphanages on the street, in refugee camps and war zones, in detention, and in fields and factories. In its investigations of human rights abuses against children, Human Rights Watch has found that in every region of the world, in almost every aspect of their lives, children are subject to unconscionable violence, most often perpetrated by the very individuals charged with their safety and well-being.

Here at home, the National Center for Children in Poverty estimates that

Twelve million children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level—which is about $16,000 for a family of three and $19,000 for a family of four. Perhaps more stunning is that 5 million children live in families with incomes of less than half the poverty level—and the numbers are rising.

The Children’s Defense Fund offers the following sobering data:

– A baby is born without health care every 52 seconds;

– A child is abused or neglected every 35 seconds – 906,000 a year.

– Over 3/4 of youths in detention have untreated mental health disorders.

– A child drops out of school every nine seconds of the school day.

– One out of every three Black baby boys born in 2001 will spend time in prison during their lifetimes.

If we do believe that Pesach compels us not only to teach our children but to keep them safe, then facts such as these should awaken us to resolve and inspire us to action. Please click the links above and find how how you can help make a difference this Passover.

May we find the means to reconcile ourselves to all our children; may we ourselves bring the Messiah, speedily in our own day.

5 thoughts on “On Passover, Parents and Children

  1. frecklescassie

    My mom is a drug addict and is in jail. The Jewish community wanted nothing to do with me and my brother after she got arrested. It was like her problems were contagious. He was 18 when he became my guardian and we were both abused for our whole life. Now we have been to a lot of counseling and we are both doing a lot better, but I am sorry that none of that happened in the Jewish community. When my mom was using drugs and being abuseive she pushed a lot of people away, but the Jewish adults in our town should not have pushed us away when we were just learning to survive on our own.

    Now I am dating a Jewish boy and starting to get back involved, but at a different temple. I still see some of the adults my mom knew but I don’t really talk to them.

    1. Lori L.

      Dear Cassie,
      Thank you for reaching out with your personal experience. In my experience, a community as a whole rarely is equipped to reach out to individuals in need, as is your own sad experience. Individuals within the community do reach out, and they become the angels who help those whose cries for help sometimes are not heard or understood. Maybe someday, with your experience, sensitivity and knowledge, you will be such an angel to a young person.

  2. Shirley Gould

    This is to express my appreciation for your thoughtful writings. With some extra time I decided just to check and see whether there was anything new, and there certainly was, with a lot of food for thought. Thanks.

  3. vickie korey

    On Passover, Irv and I usually make a donation to Mazon in honor of all our Seder guests. Now, with your thoughtful and thought provoking comments on this weeks parsha, I find more Tzedakah opportunities that relate to Pesach. Thanks so much for enriching my Pesach once again.

  4. Ruth Rosen

    Thanks for your comments on the horrific Virginia Tech massacre. The latest of many in the USA.

    The misrepresentation of the 2nd Amendment which alluded to muskets and a well regulated militia in 1776 bears no resemblance to the massive firepower available today. Until we have uniform federal gun control, there will be more massacres. Bill Clinton was the only president with the guts to say the gun issue is a “no brainer”.

    So we are stuck with GW bush. His home state of Texas is considering legalizing guns for the blind, so they can experience the outdoors and the thrill of the kill. Good Grief!


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