SALT - Rosh Chodesh - Monday, 1 Shevat 5780 - January 27, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Bo of Pharaoh’s servants’ petition to Pharaoh that he heed Moshe’s warning of the impending plague of locusts, and agree to release Benei Yisrael in order to avoid the catastrophe.  Pharaoh responded by summoning Moshe and Aharon back to the palace, and expressed his willingness to let Benei Yisrael leave, asking which members of the nation needed to go.  Moshe responded, “We will go with our young and with our old; with our sons and with our daughters…for we have a festival for the Lord” (10:9) – emphasizing that the entire nation would be leaving.  Pharaoh scornfully dismissed Moshe’s response, insisting that he would allow only the adult males to leave.
            Rav Baruch Hager of Seret, in Mekor Barukh, finds symbolic significance in Moshe’s emphatic pronouncement, “Bi-n’areinu u-vi-zkeineinu neileikh” – “We will go with our young and with our old.”  One of the most basic and important differences between youth and adulthood is the contrast between youthful impulsivity and the patience and prudence of mature adults.  Youngsters, generally, are bursting with energy and enthusiasm, and are eager to act on impulse, without taking the time to carefully weigh and measure their options to determine the best course of action.  Adults, meanwhile, are usually far more cautious and deliberate.  But while there is certainly value in exercising caution and patience, this oftentimes comes at the expense of zeal, passion and ambition.  Appropriate caution can easily evolve into excessive caution, which results in stagnancy and complacency.  If we think too much before acting, we might never act, and we will then never achieve.  Our wariness and discretion must not erode our idealism and ambition; although we must think patiently to avoid doing something we shouldn’t do, we must avoid overthinking that could prevent us from doing something which we should do.
            Moshe’s pronouncement, “Bi-n’areinu u-vi-zkeineinu neileikh” thus perhaps may be seen as representing the need for this balance between the impatience of youth and the cautiousness of adulthood.  Benei Yisrael could not leave Egypt and embark on their historical mission with only one or the other, because the service of God requires both passionate zeal and excitement, on the one hand, and careful, patient consideration and planning, on the other.  If we allow our passion to overtake our reason, we are bound to make grave mistakes and fail; but if we exercise patience and caution without ambition, fervor and enthusiasm, we will likely fall into complacency and passivity.  Moshe therefore insisted, “Bi-n’areinu u-vi-zkeineinu neileikh,” that we proceed with a delicate balance between the vigor of youth and the wariness of adulthood, to ensure that we accomplish all that we are capable of accomplishing, while avoiding irresponsible impulsivity.  (Interestingly, the Mekor Barukh adds that Moshe specifically mentioned “bi-n’areinu” in this verse before “vi-zkeineinu” because at the time of the Exodus, youthful passion and zeal were more critical than patience and cautiousness, and so precedence needed to be given to “bi-n’areinu.”)