This week’s parashah Bo contains the last three plagues afflicted upon Egypt. Before the eighth plague, Pharoah temporarily agrees to let the Israelites go, and he asks Moses whom he wants to take along into the wilderness to serve God. He phrases the question using the word “Who” twice: “Who and who is going?” Moses replies: “With our young and old we will go, with our sons and our daughters”. Pharoah, however, retorts by saying: “Not so, let the men go and serve God because that is what you are requesting”. (Exodus 10:8-11)
There is a midrash which explains on a deeper level why Pharoah used the word “Who” twice. Each “Who” figuratively refers to a verse in Psalm 24 which we recite Sunday mornings as well as when returning the Torah to the ark—“WHO may ascend the mountain of the Lord, and WHO can stand in His holy place? (Psalms 24:3) This is not to say that Pharoah knew those two passages from Psalms, which had not even been composed yet. The midrash quotes those passages because their theme depicts what was on Pharoah’s mind. Pharoah erroneously assumed that only adult men would go because he thought that the service of God is only for those few people completely dedicated to serving God with every fibre. He could not conceive of the possibility that men, women, and children would all have a part in the service. Moses had never requested that only the men go, but that was Pharoah’s understanding of Moses’ request.
In the traditional Jewish experience, everyone participates. No one is exempt and no one is insignificant. Moses even placed the young before the old in his response to show the importance of the youth being present. Our relationship with God is a shared relationship. As such, Moses teaches us that we are all in it together—young and old, sons and daughters.