I’ve been thinking a lot about the cycle of life lately.
First, the joy of new human beings coming into the world. In the last two months, the Moment family has been blessed in this department. In addition to articles, books, newsletters, public programs and more, we are delighted to announce that two of our longtime editors have produced beautiful babies and have given them meaningful Jewish names. These names include the Hebrew words for “heart” and “soul,” and these children are indeed the heart and soul of our Moment universe. That the two were born within weeks of each other is not a surprise. For months, I’ve been noticing the growing numbers of young parents carrying babies or pushing strollers. At first I thought this might be my imagination, but it turns out to be an honest-to-goodness “baby bump” that began in 2021. One side effect of the pandemic is that first-time births are up, especially among women with a college education who had the opportunity to work at home.
Creating new human beings, and the art of raising them, is undoubtedly one of the most important human endeavors, if not the most central—not just for women, but for all genders and communities. For me, this raises a question: How do civilizations and religions such as Judaism view children? I mean this in a broader sense than the question we asked a few years back: Is there a Jewish Way to Parent? The question of how we perceive children is more philosophical, and one we don’t think about enough. Although Judaism is family centered, I don’t think of the Torah and other parts of our tradition as particularly child focused. In the Bible, struggles for faith and survival are paramount. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac for God, whatever lesson we are supposed to draw from it, is not a behavior we model today.
In traditional Judaism, children are expected to be obedient. The Ten Commandments make this clear with the directive to “Honor Thy Father and Mother.” When I was a kid, this attitude was embedded in Jewish culture. Respect was a one-way street: Adults were right even when they weren’t, and the views, and sometimes the needs, of children were often ignored. Although it may have gone too far (I am not advocating helicopter parenting!), a mighty cultural shift has occurred over the past half century or so. This change in perspective has led to much that is good but also to generational dissonance and, in some cases, to painful estrangement of grown children and their parents, according to Joshua Coleman, a clinical psychologist who wrote a sage letter to the editor in response to a recent “Ask the Rabbis”: How Would You Counsel a Parent and Child Who Are Estranged?
And if children are central to the human endeavor, are we doing enough for them—including those who are less fortunate? The need to better construct society around children brings me back to the Ten Commandments. Years ago, we asked a wide range of thinkers whether the Ten Commandments had become obsolete and what they would like to see in a Ten Commandments 2.0. This was a fascinating exploration, but no one thought at the time to suggest incorporating an additional commandment: “Honor Thy Children.” I think it would be a worthwhile experiment. And it could have a macro-level benefit as well: If we are commanded to honor our children, might that not make us more conscious stewards of our planet?
The more honoring we do of people of all ages, the better for everyone. But then we come to those closer to the other end of the life cycle. I think a lot about them, too. They possess a kind of wisdom I am hungry for, yet too often retirement, physical aging, or even feelings of vulnerability or obsolescence can cause them to recede into smaller and smaller worlds. How can we share the wisdom of elders in our midst more? Last year Moment launched an incredible series called The Wisdom Project for which we ask wise people who have been fortunate to live long lives to share the lessons they have learned and conclusions they have drawn about our shared human experience. It is an honor to publish their voices. Please send us suggestions of people to interview as well as the big questions that are on your mind to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear them!