Go, worship the Lord your God! Who are the ones to go? Moses replied, “We will all go, young and old. We will go with our sons and our daughters, our flocks and our herds; for we must observe the Lord’s festival.” (Exod. 10:8-9)
Jewish tradition declares that “God, Israel and the Torah are One.” That is to say that one cannot understand his or her relationship to others without coming to grips with the teachings of Judaism (Torah) and the people (Israel) who are covenanted with God by means of Torah. That does not mean that non-Jews have no avenue to God. What it implies is the deep-seated conviction held by believing Jews that the standards for ideal human behavior established by Torah in its fullest sense will ultimately be the criteria by which all people come to know God. (The Talmud states, “The righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come.”)
Moreover, just as Torah is the divine teaching intended for humanity, so one cannot truly understand Judaism in its depths without encompassing the unique entity that is the Jewish people. This is the meaning of the Torah text cited above. There is no transcendent significance to the Exodus from Egyptian bondage unless the spiritual tradition that Moses inherited from the Patriarchs can be transmitted to future generations—to the young as well as the old.
That is our perennial challenge for we too can only go forward “with our young and with our old” together. Thus, even the most liberated must take pause when we find many of our “best and brightest” embroiled in the corruption of the marketplace in pursuit of “making it”—contemporary society’s idiom for the idolatrous worship of Mammon—or when we find so many frantically chasing after “spirituality” in some offbeat New Age religious phenomenon.
Both conditions attest to the failure to connect our children effectively with the mainsprings of the Jewish heritage, which have sufficient nourishment for the hungering Jewish soul.
Only by going forward with our young and our old, engaging in Torah, talking about it, and living it can we hope to build bridges to the future.