You can tell a lot by what people choose to use for a bluff. So far, in Exodus, Moses has been telling Pharaoh that he wanted to take the Israelites out of Egypt to worship God: “Let My People go that they may worship Me in the wilderness.” (7:16). After a few plagues, Pharoah says fine, “Go and sacrifice to your God within the land.” (8:21), but Moses says that wouldn’t work, “It would not be right to do this, for what we sacrifice to Adonai our God is untouchable to the Egyptians.” (8:22) And even more detail, “So we must go a distance of three days into the wilderness, and sacrifice to Adonai our God…” (8:23).
Moses and Aaron knew full well they were leaving and not coming back. This was a bluff. But it is in this week’s parasha, Bo, that Moses tips his hand. Pharaoh offers to let the men go, but Moses said, “We will all go, young and old; we will go with our sons and our daughters…” (10:9)
Some commentators suggest that this was Moses’ way of indicating that they weren’t coming back, so everyone had to be on that three –day trip. But I think Moses is also stating an important concept in the development of the people: everyone is included. Everyone is necessary. Everyone is to take part in praising God, no matter where that praise takes place. Everyone is present, no one is to be removed.
Recently, there have been incidents where women have literally been erased from the scene. After the Paris killings, world leaders came together to demonstrate against the horrific acts. A photo was taken, which included German leader Angela Merkel. When it was run in an ultra-Orthodox paper in Israel, editors removed Ms. Merkel and other women from the photo. In other well-documented incidents, women’s faces in Israel have been removed from ads on the street and their voices from over the air on radio. Those the attempts to do so have been thwarted by enforcement of law, in parts of our community, men feel entitled to leave women behind. Something Moses wasn’t going to do just then.
These very words, “we will all go, young and old, we will go with our sons and our daughters…” come at the very beginning of the formation of the people Israel – the new society, after liberation from slavery. This new society, from its beginning, included everyone. Moses forgot that a few chapters later, when in preparation for the Divine Moment, he changes God’s instructions to speak only to the men of the community, telling them to “stay away from a woman” for three days; God didn’t say that, it was Moses’ edit. We need to remember Moses’ inclusiveness at the beginning. We must remember and hold high the knowledge that when we first stepped away from slavery, into the new relationship with God and God’s Torah, we were all together. Every member of the community was important and required to be there and no one was left behind, forgotten, or silenced.