Our Nation’s Celebration

What is unique about a Jewish celebration? There is probably (and often kosher) food, some Jewish style dancing, and many rituals and customs associated with the day. From the beginning of this Parsha we learn that there is something more fundamental to be understood about a Jewish celebration.

Parshat Boh continues the narrative of the Ten Plagues. In last week’s Parshat, Vaera, we read about the first seven, and now in Boh we read about the final three. It is interesting to note that the word Boh in Hebrew is spelled Bet then Alef, בא, which numerically adds up to three, the number of plagues in this Parsha.

After the sixth plague, hail, Pharaoh’s advisors are dumbfounded and realize that this won’t end well for the Egyptians. Therefore, they counsel Pharaoh to let the Jews go out of Egypt for the day to serve G-d as Moshe requested, with the hopes that the plagues would stop.

Pharaoh actually summons Moshe and Aharon back to the palace and asks them, “Who specifically do you want to take with you for your day of service?”                                                                  

Exodus 10:9

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה בִּנְעָרֵ֥ינוּ וּבִזְקֵנֵ֖ינוּ נֵלֵ֑ךְ בְּבָנֵ֨ינוּ וּבִבְנוֹתֵ֜נוּ בְּצֹאנֵ֤נוּ וּבִבְקָרֵ֙נוּ֙ נֵלֵ֔ךְ כִּ֥י חַג־יְ לָֽנוּ׃

Moses replied, “We will all go—our youth and our elders —we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds; for we must observe Hashem’s festival.”


Pharaoh balked at his response and withdrew the offer to send them out to serve G-d.

Why? Why did Moshe state that all ages both male and female need to attend? Why did this upset Pharoah so that he cancelled the offer?

Several answers are offered here. Some say that Pharoah wanted to keep the children to guarantee the Israelites would return. Others say that it was not how Pharaoh understood the original ask, so he viewed it as disrespectful to ask for more.

However the Malbim, Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser (1809 –1879)  answers differently:

He explains that Pharaoh and the Egyptians saw the participation of the aged, the women and the children as a ruse because they would not be involved in the actual ritual service to G-d. In Egyptian life there was a god for this and a god for that, men served god A, women served god B, and children served god C; so if the Israelites wanted to serve their G-d, it could not be that all were necessary for this service. Yet, as we say in Shema, the G-d of Israel is One. It is the same G-d who maintains the Solar System as the oceans and all other parts of nature. It is same G-d who attends to men, women, children, seniors, and every other living creature in the world. That is why Moshe asked for full participation, and Pharaoh did not consent.

At the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, we attend to all people.  Whether it be seniors at our Jewish Senior Housing Facilities, children at the JCC’s Sari Isdaner Early Childhood Center, JCC Camps at Medford, adult programming across the system, and everyone in between. In effect Moshe was telling Pharaoh, no Jew can be left behind. The words of Moshe are as relevant today as they were in Ancient Egypt. Thank you to all of our friends and supporters who join us and support our efforts to engage the entirety of the Jewish nation.


Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence