Today, a couple of days before Passover, a friend told me something that pained me.
When he was a kid, his father, who was a lawyer, would inform him of how much in billable hours his time was worth, and remind his son that spending time with him was eating up precisely so much in terms of money that might otherwise be earned and spent. That was when my friend was young. But when the father was old and the son was mature, the father had much more time available, and the son, of course, somewhat less.
I don’t believe I’m giving away any confidences. This is an extraordinarily common scenario, so much so that Harry Chapin made a song out of it, “Cat’s In the Cradle,” that always makes me choke up when I hear it on the radio, and I don’t choke up easily. We have five kids, of whom the oldest, Ezra, is seven. Much too often I find myself short of time for my own children.
Isn’t it amazing how when you study the Bible and other holy texts, subjects just seem to “pop up” that are of amazing, direct relevance to what’s going on in your life at that moment? So this morning I was reading a new commentary on the Passover Haggadah, the liturgy of the two seder night meals of the festival, and I came across a beautiful reflection by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik.
He is explaining the passage in the Haggadah about the sages who stayed up all night discussing the Exodus from Egypt, and he asks about the word “sage.” The Talmud describes Moses as a sage, and so, in Jewish mysticism, is God regarded as a sage, so to speak. Speaking is exactly the point. Moses wrote or projected God’s words on the souls of the Jewish people, and God wrapped His own words in the work of creation — our world that was created through speech: “And God said.”
Soloveitchik urges that parents see ourselves as sages or authors. We should regard our children as a kind of book in which we inscribe whatever knowledge of God we have managed to acquire. The night of Passover, with its emphasis on gearing the event to children, “is a symbol for this intergenerational transmission process….Jews are called the Am ha’Sefer, the people of the book, not because they are avid readers, but because each and every Jew is a living book that has been authored by the preceding generations.”
May God help us keep that in mind as we inscribe the book of each of our children’s relationship with eternity.