On Friday nights, many Jewish parents place their hands on their children’s heads and utter a blessing. Meir Soloveichik offers a novel interpretation of this ritual:
The standard form of showing love to our children is through an embrace: the act is possessive in nature, drawing them close to us. To bless our children by extending our hands is the opposite; rather than draw them close, we set them apart, indicating that they belong to Someone other than ourselves. In the Bible, the one ritual comparable to [this] act of blessing is sacrificial in context. The worshipper in the Temple placed his hands on an animal’s head before the [sacrifice] occurred, thereby renouncing his own claim to the offering and dedicating it to God. In a similar sense, to place one’s hands on a child is to recall the Temple and consecrate the child to divine service.
The parallel between biblical blessing and sacrifice is rarely considered. Few scriptural stories are as shocking as the one known as the binding of Isaac, and known to Jews as the akeydah. The liturgy of Rosh Hashanah is dominated by the Bible’s most haunting words: “Take thy son, thy only son.” But the akeydah is, in a sense, recreated every Friday evening in many Jewish homes all over the world, where parents place their hands on their children’s heads, as their ancestors did over offerings in Jerusalem millennia ago. . . .
For many modern Jews, the story of the akeydah is an embarrassing anachronism, and the Torah’s descriptions of animal sacrifice are seen as utterly irrelevant to our lives. The haunting possibility, however, is that these passages are painfully relevant. . . . More than any other, ours is an age that has lavished love on children; they are coddled, cherished, and protected, denied nothing. Yet as Ben Sasse has noted, this has produced a generation of Americans locked in perpetual adolescence, a result of the “creature comforts to which our children are accustomed, our reluctance to expose young people to the demand of real work, and the hostage-taking hold that computers and mobile devices have on adolescent attention.”
It is possible that what we need is less embracing and more blessing; less parental possession and more parental consecration. We must consider, in other words, whether our children are merely extensions of ourselves, or whether they were given to us in sacred trust. Every parent might prefer to ignore the akeydah story. But especially today, and with Rosh Hashanah near, the akeydah continues to call out to us.
Read more on Commentary: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/bound-to-god/