All Shall Go: The Radical Democratization of Worship

This sheet on Exodus 10 was written by Marc Gitler for 929 and can also be found here

Pharaoh finally relents “Go and worship the Lord your God, who are the ones to go?” Moses’ responds, “with our young and our old we will go, with our sons and our daughters we will go.” Pharaoh quickly takes back the offer. He simply doesn’t believe them. Everyone must go for your three days festival? He, correctly, believes the Israelites will not return, that they are clearly “bent on mischief.”

Yet, Moses’ words were not words of mischief, they were just novel and revolutionary. The worship of the Lord is not limited to a segment of the population. It is not a group of priests or prophets alone that perform the service. Each and every person is obliged and obligated to be present and participate. The democratization of worship is a theme that will be repeated in numerous other instances in the Torah: all (men, women, the young and old…) are present at Sinai, in the aftermath of Sinai “Any place where my name is mentioned I will come and bless you.” Towards the end of Deuteronomy, we are introduced to the monumental “Hakhel” gathering that would occur every seven years. “The men, the women, the children and the stranger gather to hear, to learn, to revere the Lord, and to faithfully observe every word of this teaching.”

Sadly, the idea didn’t fully take hold. Whether it be the childless Hannah in the book of Samuel, an outsider viewed as a drunkard by the Prophet Eli, a woman who aspires to lead a major Jewish organization, a deaf person who has nowhere that he feels comfortable praying, or a convert who wants to sit as a judge on a conversion court, it is not only Pharaoh who refuses the democratization of Jewish worship and leadership.

Interestingly there are a series of lovely Hasidic ideas that add a layer of meaning to the words in an individual’s spiritual journeys to God. When you approach God bring your youth, that is to say, your sense of wonder curiosity and excitement. Bring your old, meaning, your wisdom and experience…The desire to bring your full range of emotions in the worship of God is commendable, but as Moses said the need to include all in the service of God is required.

(ט) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה בִּנְעָרֵ֥ינוּ וּבִזְקֵנֵ֖ינוּ נֵלֵ֑ךְ בְּבָנֵ֨ינוּ וּבִבְנוֹתֵ֜נוּ בְּצֹאנֵ֤נוּ וּבִבְקָרֵ֙נוּ֙ נֵלֵ֔ךְ כִּ֥י חַג־יְהוָ֖ה לָֽנוּ׃
(9) Moses replied, “We will all go, young and old: we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds; for we must observe the LORD’s festival.”

Rabbi Marc Gitler works for 929 North America

929 is the number of chapters in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, the formative text of the Jewish heritage. It is also the name of a cutting-edge project dedicated to creating a global Jewish conversation anchored in the Hebrew Bible. 929 English invites Jews everywhere to read and study Tanakh, one chapter a day, Sunday through Thursday together with a website with creative readings and pluralistic interpretations, including audio and video, by a wide range of writers, artists, rabbis, educators, scholars, students and more. As an outgrowth of the web-based platform, 929 English also offers classes, pop-up lectures, events and across North America. We invite you to learn along with us and be part of our dynamic community.

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