In this week’s portion, Moses demonstrates that he is a leader for the entire community. After the plague of locusts, Pharaoh gave in and says “Go and worship your G-d in the desert; who will be the ones to go?” Moses replied, “Our young and our old will go.” This angered Pharaoh who would only allow the men to go. Pharaoh knew that if everyone left they would not return, so he wanted to hold some of the people back. Moses, however, said that either all the Israelites would go or none of them would.
Why did Moses argue for the children to come? The medieval commentator Chizkuni states that “the way of children is to celebrate.” Rabbi Harold Kushner brings two alternative interpretations in The Etz Hayim Humash: that “no celebration is complete without children” and that “a child without parents is an orphan but a nation without children is an orphan people.” The last point is especially poignant, without the children there is no future.
The commentaries are great at emphasizing the children but I believe it is equally important that Moses said the elderly must go as well. Elders bring wisdom to the community through their past lived experiences. They also provide a sense of historical precedent as to why things are as they are. Moses knew that just as the children are necessary so too are the older individuals. As we must look towards the future, so must we also remember the past and what brought us to this present day.
Moses felt it was important that everyone be able to leave Egypt, regardless of their age. This has a lot to say for how the Jewish community works: that everyone is a valued member of our community. The way of a successful synagogue is to leave no one behind, showing each person that he or she has a valued, integral place in our community.
At Bet Shira Congregation, we have brought together people from multiple congregations, whether Temple Zion, Samuel Or Olam, Bet Breirah or others. As your rabbi, I value each and every one of you exactly as you are. Our identity is not determined by where we came from but by who we are. As we move forward towards a future yet unknown but with exciting possibilities, let us remember that we are stronger together. Like Moses who went forth with the young and the old, we too must go forth united in our goal to perpetuate Conservative Judaism in South Dade. When we are together, what is not possible to achieve?
When we feel torn in life, may we us remember the excitement we shared as children, curious, with wonder and open towards the possibilities of the unknown. If we do that, we will transcend the experience of מצרים, those narrow places which constrict us and harden our hearts. Many of us, myself included, struggle with uncertainty, yet as I learned from the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, nothing is permanent and everything is ever changing. Let us keep mind of this lesson today and every day.