by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"Moshe and Aharon were returned to Paro, and he said to them 'Go, serve
HaShem your G-d -- who exactly will be going?' And Moshe said, 'With our
children and our aged we will go, with our sons and daughters, our flocks
and our cattle we will go, for it is a holiday of HaShem for us.' And he
said to them, 'So it shall be, HaShem will be with you when I send you out
with your children; see that evil is against your faces.'" [10:8-10]
Moshe told Paro that they were all going. Paro responded that he was not
letting the children leave.
Why did Paro care? His advisors had already challenged him: "... do you
still not realize that Egypt is lost?" [10:7] If he was prepared to let the
adults go, his alleged enemies, those capable of work, then why not allow
the children to go as well?
We could speculate that Paro still somehow thought that he could lose the
battle, but win the war. Let the Jews go out to worship their G-d, to bring
the plagues to an end -- but keep the next generation, and hope that the
adults will return and not abandon them.
Even this answer, though, is insufficient. The Midrash tells us that the
Jewish people were blessed with large families in Egypt, and were growing
rapidly. Even if they had to abandon their children, they could still have
continued. Though we might understand why parents would never leave their
children, what did Paro think would happen if the adults left without them?
He would still lose all of his working slaves, and fail in his goal of
subjugating the entire Jewish people!
The Talmud says in Tractate Shabbos : "Jerusalem was not destroyed,
except because they stopped the learning of the little children." The
Parshas Derachim explains that the Divine Presence rests upon Israel
because of the children studying, and when the Divine presence rests upon
Israel, no nation can destroy them. The Yismach Moshe adds: this is why,
when Paro asked who was going, Moshe responded "with our children and with
our aged we will go." This is because "it is a holiday of HaShem for us" --
our holidays exist as a sign that HaShem is with us. And this, according to
the Parshas Derachim, can only be when our children are with us, bringing
the Divine Presence upon Israel.
This was a spiritual war -- and Paro knew this concept. He knew that the
strength of the Jewish people is in its children, in the next generation.
If the adults left, they would be not a nation but an empty shell, soon to
collapse upon itself.
We, for our part, must ensure that the voice of the little children is not
silenced. Many in our generation had religious parents, or parents who
perform several Jewish practices -- but who never transmitted those
practices to us. Now it is our job to ensure that our own children benefit
from a more complete education than the one we received.
Sending children to Jewish day school is not an easy decision for many
parents. It is a financial sacrifice, to spend thousands of extra dollars
to send children to what are often inferior structures. [Torah Institute of
Baltimore is 50 years old, and only this week finally moved into a
permanent home!] And many worry about the impact upon their children's
secular studies, or social participation in the "melting pot."
Nonetheless, we fool ourselves if we imagine that the majesty of Judaism
can be transmitted in a few late afternoon hours, especially when the kids
are all too well-aware of their friends already playing outside. Judaism
becomes a burden rather than a joy.
Day schools, by contrast, bring Judaism alive for children, who turn around
and give Judaism their vitality. It is a joy to see bright-eyed children
talking about the stories in the parsha, the holidays, and, as they grow,
ever deeper Torah thoughts.
It is our responsibility to remember what Paro knew -- that Judaism depends
upon the next generation!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken