by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
During negotiations between Moshe and Pharaoh, the plague of locusts, the least uncommon of the plagues, seems to have been the one that began to turn the tide. Pharaoh offers a concession. If the Children of Israel really want to go and worship their God they can indeed go for three days. But he asks who exactly they want to take with. Moshe replies “We will go with our young and our old, our sons and our daughters and our flocks.” Pharaoh replies “No! men only.” And the negotiations break down. This has been typical of the negotiations. Pharaoh seems to give in but then once the crisis is over he reneges.
But there is an interesting point here about the nature of religion. Pharaoh clearly understood religion, religious worship to be something related to a hierarchy, to a priesthood performing on behalf of the King and Country. The ordinary people and the peasants were excluded. For him religion was not a matter of a person’s interaction with God, but just part of the fabric of the hierarchy of State, a power play. You might even say the equivalent of the way State religions function today.
Moshe’s response shows how he is re-fashioning religion into something that involves everyone from the youngest to the oldest, men and women. Without the involvement of everyone no movement or religion of can survive. It may be true that one needs structures and authorities. But when they ignore or ride roughshod over the needs of the individuals, they lose their spiritual meaning.