As I pushed the stroller into the house of prayer this morning, the words of Moshe to Pharaoh reassured me. Who needs to go on this religious holiday to worship God? Pharaoh asks. Moshe responds “With our children and with our elders we will go, with our sons and with our daughters” (10:9). To Pharaoh, the response makes no sense. “Let the men go, that is what you’re asking for.” What business does a child have worshipping God? That’s men’s work! Well, Pharaoh, apparently we think otherwise. Hence the stroller.
When my son’s participation became a little too rowdy, and we rolled on home, I reminded myself that children are not only meant to be supporting players in the religious act. They are the stars of the show. This is a message which takes on increasing prominence beginning in chapter 10, where God explains to Moshe that the point of the plagues is not only freedom, and not only to teach the Egyptians, but also to teach the children a lesson.
This lesson is first formulated using a rare, troubling word. The Jews are to tell their children how God ‘hit’alel’ with Egypt. Rashi explains- how God played with them, which fits well with plague puppets, but poorly with moral intuitions.
But I would suggest the following understanding. An ‘olel’ is a child, and thus the hitpa’el form ‘hit’alel’ might be translated as ‘I turned them into children.’ How so? God’s criticism of Pharaoh in the next verse is “How long have you refused to submit yourself (le’anot) before me?” Egyptian religious worship, is one of hierarchy, domination, power. Therefore, it is not the children, nor the elderly, nor the women, nor the slaves, but only the men who worship. It’s a religious worship which takes itself very seriously; it’s the service of a heavy (kaved) heart, and the service of kavod. Fundamentally, it is religion in the service of man.
The best teachers in the world of the Jewish alternative, a religion of humility, are those to whom society gives the least power, our children.
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il