Exodus and Intergenerational Connectivity

Parashat Bo, Exodus 10:1–13:16

Rabbi Russ Resnik

In the protracted struggle between God and Pharaoh, it’s clear that the Lord is taking this thing personally: “Let my son go that he may serve me. If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son” (Ex. 4:23). These aren’t the words of some distant Supreme Being; they’re the words of our Father, who might be in heaven, but who can tangle with the bad guys on earth.

Moses and Aaron convey this same personal demand to Pharaoh six times: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” Finally, when they get to number seven, Pharaoh blinks: “Go, worship the Lord your God!  . . . But which ones are to go?”

The Lord says, “Let my people go,” and Pharaoh says, “Okay! Okay! Go already! . . .  But what exactly do you mean by ‘my people’?”

We thought Pharaoh was finally broken, but he’s just negotiating. Moses, however, is in no mood to negotiate: “We will go with our young and our old; we will go with our sons and daughters, and with our flocks and herds . . .” (10:8–9). Just as the Lord’s motivation in Exodus isn’t abstract, but personal and familial, so God’s people in Exodus isn’t abstract, but a complex, young-old, male-female, critters-included, extended family—and so it is today.

I came of age when the phrase “Generation Gap” was cutting-edge, but today it’s become the Generation Grand Canyon. It’s not just the gap between tie and tattoo—our whole culture has become age-segregated. Parents go off to work somewhere, baby goes into childcare, teens and young adults have their own scenes, older folk cruise for a few years in the RV before checking into a retirement home or senior center, and everyone’s eyes are focused on the screen right in front of their noses.

The religious world has followed suit. We’ve age-defined our churches and synagogues, programs, and websites. There’s a place for such specialization, of course, but if it starts to usurp the extended family of community, the complex, young-old, male-female “people” that the Lord claimed as his own, it starts looking too much like the dysfunctional dominant culture. But, since the story of redemption is told in the language of family, it can help redeem us from today’s loss of family. Let’s consider some of its lessons.

  1. God’s people is intergenerational. As we focus on leadership transition in the Messianic Jewish community, we also need to focus on intergenerational connectivity. Since we see congregation as an alternative to the dominant culture, we need to see it as a place where generational isolation and alienation are overcome, not increased. I’m writing this right after our UMJC Winter Leadership Conference, which demonstrated this connectivity, with younger leaders well represented, including on our Executive team, and older leaders contributing on all levels. Our God is One—whole, universal, non-fragmented—and our community is to reflect that wholeness. This is the community he calls “my people.”
  1. Intergenerational connectivity thrives on dialogue. Instead of the isolation that’s so typical today, Exodus pictures the generations actually talking to each other. When we observe Passover year after year, the children will ask, “What do you mean by this observance?” (Ex. 12:26). And the parents get to explain: “I eat unleavened bread for seven days because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt” (Ex. 13:8). Today the generations need to break out of our isolation to interact, talk, and learn from each other. Do our congregational and family practices foster cross-fertilization or alienation?
  1. Interconnected generations remain distinct. We’ve all read about the differences between Baby-Boomers and Millennials, and all those in between. Real community doesn’t obliterate the differences. I’m not trading in my cool designer tie for a tattoo. We’re not trying to get the generations to conform to each other, but to interact, as a source of strength and encouragement to each other. Furthermore, we’re not talking about two generations, but several, which I’ll call the established and the emerging generations. The emerging generations need the hard-earned wisdom of the established generations, and established generations need the “why” of the emerging generations.
  1. Established generations need to not only possess the faith, but to compellingly practice the faith. They need to be able to explain it, or even better to demonstrate it, to those who are newer, who in turn need to stick around and engage with the older. This requires that our practice has substance, stands out, and is compelling. We in the Messianic Jewish world might ask: Have we created a religious practice worth sticking around for, one that stands out—in the right way—from the surrounding culture?

Our parasha opens with the Lord telling Moses:

Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you [all] may know that I am the Lord.” (Ex. 10:1-2)

It’s as if God designed this whole Exodus story with the family-community in mind, so that it has intergenerational traction. There’s only one story as compelling—the life, death, and resurrection of Messiah. We retell this story not only in words but in practice, following the example of the resurrected Messiah not just in our religious life, but openly, visibly, in all that we do.

When Hashem declares that “my people” means young and old, sons and daughters, he sets the stage for the work of Messiah Yeshua, who redeems young and old, male, and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free. Like any good parent (or really, as the source of all good parenting), the God of Exodus longs for wholeness of his family. Messiah comes to accomplish that wholeness. Let’s cooperate by building our Messianic Jewish community as an answer to the fragmented, generationally-gapped, isolated culture that surrounds us.

Stephanie Escalnate