Parashat Bo- Our Top Priority
After being warned of the impending plague of Arbeh (locusts), Pharaoh enters into a dialogue with Moshe, expressing a willingness to allow Beneh Yisrael to leave Egypt. He asks Moshe, "Mi Va’mi Ha’holechim" – "Who are the ones going?" – and Moshe responds that he intends to bring with him the entire nation: "With our youth and our elders we will go…for we have a festival to G-d." Pharaoh flatly denies this demand. He tells Moshe that he is prepared to allow the older members of the nation to leave, but not the youth. At that point, the negotiations break down, and G-d unleashes the deadly plague of locusts against Egypt.
Pharaoh understood one of the basic truisms of Jewish survival – it’s all about the youth, the younger generation. He was ready to allow the adults to leave and worship their G-d. He was not worried about them. What he insisted upon was that the youngsters remain in Egypt, exposed to the lures of Egyptian culture and society. The youth are impressionable, and Pharaoh did want them to come under the influence of the religious observance that Beneh Yisrael had planned to conduct upon leaving Egypt. He wanted the Israelite youth to remain in Egypt, under the strong influence of Egyptian culture, so they would harbor no feelings of loyalty to their religious traditions.
Moshe therefore firmly declared, "With our youth and our elders we will go." Significantly, he first mentioned the youth before the elderly, because the young generation was his priority. For the precise same reason that Pharaoh refused to allow the youth to go worship G-d, Moshe demanded that the youth go – and even made them the priority. From Moshe’s perspective, if there would be room on the bus out of Egypt for either the youngsters or the older folks, the youngsters would be given the seats – because they, more than the others, needed to be removed outside the influence of Egyptian society, and brought into the service of the Almighty.
This is a critical lesson for us, especially in contemporary society, where the influence and lure of anti-Torah culture, beliefs and behaviors is so strong and so pervasive. Now, perhaps more than ever before, we must prioritize our children’s education. Certainly, we must take care of the adults and elderly, too. But Moshe’s proclamation – "With our youth and our elders we will go" – must serve as our motto, as well. The youth’s education comes before all else. Impressionable minds in today’s society, when people walk around with the very worst that culture has to offer in their pockets, need protection. And we must make this protection our highest priority, just as it was for Moshe.
Tuition affordability is certainly a major challenge facing American Jewry. But let us ask ourselves: if, Heaven forbid, an observant couple had a child who was considering marrying a non-Jew, how much money would they be willing to spend to convince him or her to end the courtship? I imagine they would be prepared to pay whatever sum was needed, even if this meant mortgaging the house and pawning their valuables. When we look at it from this perspective, the price of tuition does not seem quite so daunting. This is the price we need to pay in today’s society to protect our children and guide them to a life of Torah observance.
Baruch Hashem, our community is successful because it makes and has always made Torah education its highest priority. This is the model and example we must continue to follow, so that our children can successfully withstand the pressures of contemporary society and grow to be loyal and worthy heirs of our sacred tradition.