Exodus 10:1 – 13:16
What does Torah have to say about inclusiveness? The answer is found early in parashat Bo, when Pharaoh, struggling with the devastation of the plagues, begins to reconsider his obstinacy:
… And Moses and Aaron were brought again to Pharaoh: and he said to them, “Go, serve the Lord your God, but who are they that will go?” And Moses said, “We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast to the Lord … (Ex. 10:7-10)
The stated purpose of the Exodus (at least at this point in the narrative) is for our ancestors to “hold a feast to the Lord.” While we don’t have a detailed description of how this feast would have functioned, there would have been at least two components: offering sacrifices and sharing a meal at ‘God’s table’ (or perhaps inviting God’s presence to a shared meal at our own table). Sharing a meal is an intimate experience, and the Hebrew word for sacrifice, korbon, literally means “coming closer.” In contemporary terms, God is demanding that Pharaoh let us go so that we can become intimately closer with God.
What takes my breath away about this passage is Moses’ refusal to leave anyone behind. We cannot approach God while we leave others in bondage, oppression or pain. We cannot approach God through special privileges (as in some get to approach while others cannot). When it comes to connecting with God, we are all in this together, regardless of rank, gender or age. Over the last several decades, many of us have learned to expand our definition of inclusiveness beyond gender and age to embrace folks regardless of race, sexual orientation or developmental abilities. For this, I give thanks to God.
None of us will ever truly be free until we all are free. This is the Torah on inclusiveness. Now we must go forth and live it.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2015 Rabbi Gary Pokras