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Parashat Bo: All of us ... why not take all of us ...

(Shout out to Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons)

Ex. 10:9 
We will all go, young and old: we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds; for we must observe the Lord’s festival.  

As we begin our parashah, the Egyptians have experienced the first 7 plagues. Pharaoh’s courtiers understand that they have encountered the most powerful deity ever. Pharaoh still clings to the illusion of his power; he has no idea that he has gone beyond the point of redemption and still thinks he holds some cosmic bargaining chip.

And God’s agent, Moses, who once might have been willing to bargain, is now no longer willing to discuss terms. When Pharaoh asks who Moses will take out of Egypt to worship the Israelite god, Moses says this:

Ex. 10:9
We will all go, young and old: we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds; for we must observe the Lord’s festival.  

And of course Pharaoh retorts that he wants the old people to go while the young people stay in Egypt – and abruptly dismisses Moses.

What a curious answer from Moses. Listen again:
“We will all go …
Young and old:
We will go with our sons and daughters …
For we must observe the Lord’s festival.”

Why didn’t Moses simply say, “We will all go …” and leave it at that? Why does he name “young and old?” And then why continue with “we will go with our sons and daughters…; for we must observe the Lord’s festival?”

In Torah, verbal repetition is not just for emphasis.

Moses may be slow of speech, but he is no fool. And his deliberate speech pattern lets him think before he speaks. By now Moses knows Pharaoh’s mind and his evil intent, suspecting in this case the possibility of Egypt holding the young people hostage hoping that the adults would be too horrified to stay away.

I don’t think that’s what’s going on, though.

Taking hostages may make for good movie plots, but Moses’ answer is much more profound and significant. It’s not just all of us, it’s not just the young and the old, it’s not just our sons and our daughters; it’s all of the above, making the sum greater than the parts.

In a few weeks we will all be delivered from Egyptian bondage and eventually stand at Sinai to receive Torah; it will be all of us, young and old, sons and daughters. And Torah will be given to us in 70 languages so no one can ever say they didn’t understand or they were left out. All of us have inherited this gift of being a Jew, from someone born into the religion to those who have converted. No one is going to be left behind in Egypt.

Judaism is – must be – multigenerational. While that was a buzzword from a few years back, the reality is that if generations of a community are divided, if our older generation decides that they aren’t interested in the youths, if our youth decide that elders have nothing to teach them, we lose. If our youths don’t mature, if our elders don’t maintain their inner youth, we lose.

We can’t focus too much on the next generation, either by making them the point of maintaining a Jewish community, as in “it’s all about the children,” or by suggesting to them that Jewish tradition and practice is something only old people do. Both approaches allow our youth to divorce themselves from their spiritual foundation; they will soon be back in Egypt, the narrow place of spiritual slavery.

Nor can we grownups abandon Judaism; our kids from the infant to the millennial generation need to know that grownup Judaism is joyful in its mature practice. We must join in the public celebrations of Purim, Passover, and Chanukah, not abandoning them to a pediatric audience.

If I were queen, I would focus my Jewish community on, yes, kids and young people because that’s how we grow and maintain numbers … but also on those who walked out after their kids’ b’nei mitzvah because Judaism can be something vibrant and wonderful for them but they just don’t know it because it’s never been about them – it’s been about the children. I would focus on our older Jews who assume there’s nothing here for them; they’re so wrong, and it’s so sad.

When we all leave Egypt as one community, we don’t need to worry about who will turn out the light and close the door behind us; our community will thrive and be nourished.


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