Dec 30, 2007

Shmot 2007/5768: "A World Without Children's Voices"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

The very beginning of Shmot/Exodus includes the following familiar narrative:

"A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him. (Ex. 2:1-4)"
The power of Moses' birth is largely lost when read in the context of his rescue by Pharaoh's daughter. Once we realize that his birth immediately follows Pharaoh's declaration that every male child born be thrown into the river (Exodus 1:22), the act of a certain man and woman of Levi gains in significance.

In fact, says the Midrash:

"... when Moses' father Amram learned of Pharaoh's order, he immediately divorced his wife Yocheved (their names, as well as Miriam's, are absent from our text). Miriam said to her father, "Father, your decree is worse than Pharaoh's! Pharaoh only issued a decree that the males should die, while your decree applies to both males and females. Pharaoh decreed that the children's lives be terminated only in this world, and you have decreed that they not live both in this world and the world to come. Pharaoh is wicked, and the likelihood is that his decrees will not be fulfilled. You are righteous, and your decree will certainly be fulfilled!" (Ginzberg, Legends of the Bible, p. 287)"

Miriam's prophetic chutzpah led to her parents' brave decision to bring a child into a threatened world.

During this Winter vacation week, I visited both a mall and the Boston Children's Museum and considered both their very different environments and the very similar people who frequent them. The noise of each was almost deafening, with voices ricocheting off walls and windows. Both places contained "hands-on" and protected areas. Both were protected from the elements beyond their defined boundaries. And both were with omnipresent children and caregivers.

It occurred to me, as I watched young face after young face pass by, that every child's face was also the emerging face of a potential parent. The training provided to these future parents' in each space was vastly different. The mall teaches that acquiring things is exciting. The museum teaches that interacting with the world is fun. The variety of colors and flavors at the mall is actually a barely-hidden mask of material uniformity. Every thing has a label. And a price. The inability to avoid looking at someone else in the museum
while experiencing newness is more deeply experienced as an explicit statement that learning alone is less than learning together.

Both the museum and the mall serve as gathering places. But the mall leads me to escape the noise. The museum encourages me to listen and learn from the sounds.

Having recently read Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road" and viewed Alfonso Cuarón's film version of P.D. James' novel "Children of Men", I feel renewed urgency when I hear children. Almost desperation. I am afraid of the observation one of the characters in the film shares: "As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children's voices." It's not my spiritual perspective as a father that prompts these thoughts. Nor is it my fear that either McCarthy's devastated landscape or James' youthless world will actually come to be.

I am simply concerned that we adults all too often miss our obligation and opportunity to see our children as emerging parents. When we program for Shabbat morning, do we nurture the caregiver aspect of our children's development? When we pass by a homeless person, do we remember that they too were one of those noise-making children? Do we acknowledge the bravery of today's parents, who struggle so often with infertility, and who have chosen to bring children into an uncertain world, answering every dark headline with the birth of new soul?

Just imagine for a moment what our world would be without our Miriam's. We'd forget how to be parents. This is not the world for which we work.

Our world, our precious fragile world of dreams and laughter will only be realized when we remember to learn from children and publicly celebrate our parennts. Childhood lasts such a short time today, with omnipresent media and commercialism. Let's not miss it by creating separate space for our children. Let's find ways of dancing together to the noise of their laughter.

Then Miriam's redemptive chutzpah will be fully present again.

Chag Sukkot Sameach, dear friends.