In the 2006 movie, “Children of Men,” the world is infertile. At a certain point, women stopped becoming pregnant. The youngest person in the world is eighteen. There are no children on the playgrounds. There are no school buses to tie up traffic. The sound of laughter and innocence is gone.
What effect would you imagine this has on the world? The writers correctly picture this as a world without hope. People have given up. There is no future. The government allows the selling of suicide pills on television. Posters on the street says, “Will the last person to die please turn out the lights?”
The Sabbath is a time for blessing children. It is a custom adapted from the patriarchs, who laid hands on their sons and blessed them. So we lay hands on our sons and our daughters every Sabbath and pronounce God’s blessing.
We live in a world that does not properly value children. Children are a burden to a family with two careers and no time to teach a little person to color inside the lines or to read a Dr. Seuss book. First there was kindergarten, a way to get kids out of the home earlier. Then there was pre-K. Now some are pushing for a 3-year-old pre-K. Parents want the school year to be year-round so there is not the problem of providing childcare in the summers. We are a society that hands children over to be raised by strangers and we expect strong family ties.
You do not realize what a blessing children are until you picture the world without them. As I am typing, my one year old is walking around in an oversized t-shirt and diaper playing with her older brother’s toy car. Her tiny legs and feet, her toddlerish enthusiasm, and the future hope that she represents cannot be replaced by any joy imaginable. A world without children is a world without hope.
In the Torah, the word generations is prevalent. The ancients understood better than us that goodness must be passed on generation to generation. This is why the Torah, the Shema itself, emphasizes instructing children about God and his commands. This is not a minor task to be added to a thousand others. It is in the top three imperatives of life.
If you are childless, this meditation on children should not depress you. The joy of children affects you even if you do not have children yourself. God has given you hope and joy in the children of others even if you don’t realize it. If, as the movie suggested, all people were to cease having children, you would not be immune to the despondency of the world without hope.
Psalm 127 says:
Behold, children are a heritage from HaShem,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
This Sabbath, even if you are not Jewish, gather your children. Separate them into boys and girls. Lay your hand on their head, the father should do this if possible. For the girls, say:
Yismekh Elohim k’Sarah, Rivkah, Rakhel, v’Leah. May God bless you as he blessed Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
For the boys, say:
Y’simkha Elohim k’Ephraim v’ki’M’nashe. May God bless you as he blessed Ephraim and Manasseh.
Then read over them the blessing from the end of Numbers 6.
And never forget what a blessing children are. If God were to take all children from this world, who would be the one to turn out the lights when it was all over?