This week’s parsha contains the last three plagues which Egypt was smitten with. Before the 8th plague – locusts, Pharaoh temporarily agrees to send the Jews, and asks Moshe who he wants to take along on the trip to the wilderness to serve G-d. “Go and serve G-d, who and who is going?” “And Moshe said ‘with our young and old we will go, with our sons and our daughters…because we have a celebration of G-d'” (Exodus 10:8-9). Pharaoh then replies “not so, let the men go and serve G-d, because that is what you are requesting” (Exodus 10:11).
The problem is that nowhere do we find that Moshe requested that only the men should go while everyone else remains. This question is addressed by the author of the work “Kometz Mincha”. He quotes a midrash which explains on a deeper level why Pharaoh used the word “who” twice. Pharaoh asked “who and who is going?” This is figuratively referring to what is stated in Psalms (24:3), “_WHO_ may ascend the mountain of G-d, and _WHO_ can stand (remain) in His holy place?” The Psalm goes on to explain the strength of character of he who is great enough to ascend G-d’s mountain and remain there.
The midrash conveys to us that this is why Pharaoh erroneously assumed that only adult men would go. Not to say that Pharaoh knew those two passages from Psalms (which had not yet been composed). The passages are quoted in the midrash because their theme depicts what was on Pharaoh’s mind. He thought that service of G-d is really only for those few people completely dedicated to serving G-d with every fiber. Pharaoh felt that he was being generous to let _all_ of the men go. He could not conceive of the possibility that men, woman, and children would all have a part in the service. Moshe had never requested that only the men go, but that was Pharaoh’s understanding of Moshe’s request.
But Moshe’s resounding words still echoed: “…with our young and old we will go, with our sons and our daughters…because we have a celebration of G-d.”
In the traditional Jewish experience everyone participates. Everyone has a role to play; no one is exempt, and no one is insignificant. Everyone has an opportunity and an obligation to carry out their part in serving G-d. The young escort the old and they participate and learn from the experience. Moshe even placed the young before the old (“with our young and old we will go”) to show the importance of the youth being present. Our relationship with G-d is a shared relationship. So too, the experience is meant to be shared. Particularly where people would be participating enthusiastically in serving G-d, at the mountain where He appeared to Moshe, was it an ideal atmosphere for all to witness and share in.
The Talmud says “if there are no kids, where will the old goats come from?” The Talmud also describes how things were in the days of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Gamla. “If a boy had a father, then his father would teach him Torah. If he had no father, he wouldn’t learn. The Rabbis saw the danger in this, and they set up teachers in Jerusalem for those boys to come and learn from.” Eventually, teachers were arranged all over Israel to teach the boys who had no one else to teach them. Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Gamla was at the helm of this, and he virtually saved Torah observance.
Why did they originally institute the teachers only in Jerusalem? Shouldn’t education be an equal opportunity for all, in every locality? The reason is that Jerusalem was filled with people dedicated to serving G-d. It was the perfect atmosphere for a young man to grow and see examples of people he could emulate. It was better that the students should come to Jerusalem, than that teachers should go to them.
A large segment of the emigrating European generation sought a better life for their children on the shores of the “New World”. They made great sacrifices to expose their children to new experiences which they could use to better themselves financially. They succeeded. Were they, perhaps, too successful?
The lesson Moshe teaches us is that we’re all in it together. The Jewish people wherever they may be, comprise one body, as it were. So too, from the beginning of Jewish history to the end – all of the generations – make up one unified body. Our service of G-d through Torah observance is what makes us a cohesive unit. Torah observance remains where positive examples are set for the young, and where Jewish education is provided. This is the approach which Moshe initiated for us 3,300 years ago.
Pharaoh’s concept of how to serve G-d is pronounced dead on arrival. Moshe proclaims for all to hear “with our young and old we will go, with our sons and our daughters…” This is the only way to carry Jewish ideals over into the next generation.