D’var Torah by Rabbi Dave Levy: Director, Ramah Sports Academy
During the Presidential Inauguration, I heard a sound that stopped me in my tracks. There was a lot to take in, pageantry, ceremony, history, but it was one little sound that got my attention. In the middle of everything, the microphones picked up a small child crying. My first thought was, “oh no,” I have been that parent. My wife is a congregational rabbi, and I have been the one holding our sons at many services when they called out in a solemn moment. And then, just as quickly as I shuddered, I remembered what kind people told me all those times my children called out. The sound of children in the synagogue or even the inauguration is a beautiful thing. Our Torah reading this week highlights why this is the case.
We begin this week’s Torah portion Bo, right in the middle of the action. God has sent the first seven plagues, and now Moses confronts Pharaoh again with the 8th plague of locusts. It’s a familiar scene, the story we read every Passover. The portion continues to reveal the final most terrible plagues and introduces the Passover sacrifice, and then finally, the Israelites begin the journey to freedom.
And amidst all this action, there are repeated references to the Israelite children. Moses confronts Pharaoh about the Israelites request to go into the wilderness to worship God. In Exodus 10:8, Pharaoh asks Moses, who will go with you? Moses responds, “We will go, with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters…” Pharaoh says there is no way he will let them go with their children. He insists that they must be up to mischief. However, the idea that children have no place in worship is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Jewish approach. Children are integral to our celebrations; it could not be a true festival if children weren’t present.
As our Torah portion continues, we find the celebrations of the Israelite’s future. We see the Passover sacrifice, the commandment to eat matzot, and the dedication of firstlings of the flocks and children. In each instance, we read that our children will ask, “Why are you doing this?” We will explain it is because of what God did for us in Egypt. You see, in every case, the assumption is that children will be present at our celebrations. We learn that Jewish holidays focus on engaging children in understanding our history and traditions. Jewish tradition knows that the presence of our children is the key to transmission.
This is an essential lesson for all of us; for the Jewish community to thrive, we need as parents to bring our children (virtually, and I pray soon in real life) with us into Jewish life; we can’t be afraid of a little noise. Trust me, I know from camp that they can be loud, but there is no more joyous sound than the clapping and singing we hear in every corner of camp; it’s the sound of our future.
Rabbi Dave Levy
Director, Ramah Sports Academy