Parashat B'midbar

On Child Soldiering

We can transform the institution of Pidyon haBen to include all those who have had their childhood stolen.

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Once found, these young adults are provided with extensive psychological counseling as well as training so that they can help other children escape the stranglehold of warfare. Many more efforts such as these are necessary to address the epidemic of child soldiering. We all bear the responsibility to aid and support the struggle to end this inhumane practice.

"Redeeming" Our Children

In the latter half of Parashat B'midbar, Moses redeems 22,273 first-born male Israelites whom God had set aside as "personal property" when smiting the first-born Egyptians, declaring, "Every first-born in Israel shall be consecrated to Me." Moses fulfills the command by offering God a substitution in two parts: 22,000 Levites will stand in place of the Israelite first-born males, and the price of 273 will be paid with five shekels of silver per head.

This act of redeeming the first-born son, called Pidyon HaBen, informs our understanding of the imperative of adults to protect the rights of children. Today, some families symbolically practice Pidyon HaBen by offering a small donation to their synagogue. Though the original framework is no longer at play in some Jewish communities, its moral implications are universal: an elder must do that which is necessary to "redeem" the child in his or her care.

In today's world of interconnectedness, where our shared responsibility extends to the neediest of God's children, we can transform the institution of Pidyon HaBen to include all those who have had their childhood stolen.

It is not enough to redeem our own children by providing them with food, shelter, clothing, and the gift of education. We must use our resources--be they the five extra shekels jingling in our pockets or the quick ten-digit phone call to our elected officials--to help redeem child soldiers in the most war-torn countries on earth. All of us, old and young, male and  female, have the ability to arm ourselves with love and compassion, so that more than 200,000 lost souls might be restored and find their way home.

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Noam Katz

Noam Katz is a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. Noam recently participated in the AJWS Rabbinical Students' Delegation to El Salvador and previously served as an AJWS Volunteer Corps participant in Uganda.