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Children And Elders Together #612

01/31/2020 05:00:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Children and Elders Together

About 25 years ago, while attending a public meeting in Fort Chipewyan — a First Nations community in northern Canada — I experienced what it truly means to “honor your elders.”

Seven or eight seniors, each holding the hand of a teenage grandchild, were led to the first two rows of the community hall and were seated.

The section was clearly marked — “for the elders” — and at the beginning of the meeting, a prayer was offered by two of the seniors, thanking God for protecting the community.

And then, one of the teenagers stood up, and thanked the elders, “for getting us here.”

As I stood on the sidelines, I couldn’t help but be awestruck, and perhaps even a little envious, as I watched this tribute to the elders.

As Jewish communities, we invest so much in our future, but I often wonder if we’re we paying enough attention — and allocating enough resources — to the caretakers of our past?

Reading this week’s Torah portion — Bo (Go to Pharaoh) — I began thinking about the topic of generations.

As this reading opens, God has already smitten the Egyptians with seven plagues, and Moses has asked Pharaoh to “let my people go” to celebrate a Jewish festival in the desert. So far, the answer has been “no.”

But in a surprise move, Pharaoh softens his position. He agrees to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt temporarily on one condition:

Only the “menfolk” can go; women, children and the elderly must remain.

Moses refuses and is expelled from Pharaoh’s court, and God begins to tee up the final three plagues — locusts, darkness and the death of the firstborn.

What are we to make of all of this? Should Moses have seized upon the opportunity to leave?

The answer to this question lays within Moses’s response to Pharaoh, which stresses that the Jewish community will not — nor can ever be — divided.

Says Moses, “We will all go, young and old, we will go with our sons and our daughters...” And with those words, Moses and his brother Aaron are bounced from Pharaoh’s court.

This vignette is incredible, speaking volumes about the Jewish people. As Moses teaches us this week: “We stand as one.”

Indeed, where would we be around the Passover table, without children, fidgeting, joining in the Dayenu or searching for the Afikoman?

And where would we be without our elders to bridge the gap—through stories and song—with past generations?

The commentators take note of this. Noted one Sage, “A festival without children is not a festival.” Noted another, “A child without parents is an orphan, but a nation without children is an orphan people.”

When we think of Passovers past, what do we really remember? If you are like me, you remember the smells, the laughter, the political discussions, and the joy of Bubbie releasing plate after plate from the kitchen.

Thousands of years ago, our Sages noted, that when families worship together, not only do we elevate our children, but we also bring renewed life to our elders. According to one Sage, “Our old people feel rejuvenated.”

Perhaps this is why so grandparents take such great pride in attending concerts, recitals and ball games. They see the blessing of new generations in the eyes of their grandchildren.

Significantly, Moses insists that both “sons and daughters” be part of this sacred journey. It is one of the many verses within the Torah that emphasize the importance of men and women praying and learning together.

While this week’s Torah reading reminds us that the Jewish people can never be divided, it also inspires us to consider — “Are we including our parents and grandparents enough in the lives of our children?

Elders may move a little slower. Their ability to multi-task may have diminished. It sometimes takes a bit more time for them to move from one place to another.

But when we combine the strong hands and legs of our youth, with the wisdom and experience of our elders, we possess an unbeatable formula that has helped our people survive for thousands of years.

Indeed, as I was reminded that evening in Fort Chipewyan many years ago, while children are our future, elders are the caretakers of our values.

As Moses notes in the week’s Torah portion, neither can do it alone. The mouth of Moses reminds us that the God of Israel wishes to reinforce unity among our people — never to be separated by age, gender or orientation.

Indeed, as we learn this week, a people divided, is not a people at all.

Or, as Moses walks out the door lecturing Pharaoh: We are all in this together.

Shabbat Shalom, v’kol tuv (with all goodness)

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Tue, June 2 2020 10 Sivan 5780