Yesterday 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.”)
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.