Yom Rivii, 21 Tammuz 5779
Wednesday, 24 July 2019
Parashat Va'eira 5776

Rabbi Alexandra Wright
8th January 2016

‘It is the same Aaron and Moses to whom the Eternal One said, “Bring forth the Israelites from the land of Egypt….” Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three, when they spoke to Pharaoh’ (Exodus 6:26 & 7:7)

Parashat Va-era concludes the lengthy discourse between God and Moses after the appearance of the Burning Bush.· God reassures Moses that the Israelites’ slavery will come to an end; they will be delivered from the hard labour imposed upon them by the Egyptians.· Moses returns to Egypt, but so crushed are the spirits of the people that they cannot hear the message of freedom.· We are left in suspense about what will happen next, as the Torah rehearses a curiously-timed genealogy relating to the descendants of Jacob, culminating with the lineage of Moses and Aaron.· Yes, this is the same Moses and Aaron who stood before Pharaoh to plead with him to set the Israelites free, says the narrator – Moses at eighty years old and Aaron at eighty-three, ready to begin new and demanding careers of diplomacy and leadership.

The story is told of a young radical attending a Zionist Congress at the turn of the twentieth century who stood up and announced: “When redemption comes [meaning when the Zionist dream is fulfilled], there will be no room for the old.·This is the generation who will speak out.· Only the younger generation will stand up and take the lead, make decisions and develop new ideas.”· At that moment, the Lithuanian born, founder of the Mizrachi Religious Zionist movement, Rabbi Yitzchak Ya’akov Reines (1839-1915) stood up and said: “Who were those who were summoned to bring about redemption the first time round?· Was it not Moses and Aaron who led the Israelites out of slavery and helped them win their freedom?· And doesn’t Scripture tell us that Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they made their demand on Pharaoh?”· These ‘old’ men were even greater revolutionaries than the young!”

In my own community, we make much of celebrating the eightieth, ninetieth and even the one hundredth birthdays of our members.· Many senior members remain active in community life, some in positions of leadership, others visiting housebound and frail members, attending classes and contributing invaluably to the life of the synagogue.· They may or may not be revolutionaries, but their participation and dedicated support is vital to so many different aspects of synagogue life.

So too, the involvement of younger members – parents of children, single members who are looking for a place to belong that will help them to find companionship and a place where celebrations can be marked, sorrows shared.

Communities invest the greatest amount of their financial budgets in education for children – in our Religion Schools, teachers, weekly activities that draw younger families into the community.· And Liberal Judaism invests much in its youth movement, LJY-Netzer – weekends away, summer camps, Israel Tour after the GCSE year, Kayitz – a summer tour in Europe for students in the summer following Year 12, and then leadership training and involvement as madrichim(leaders) of younger participants.· I am always impressed that so many of our young people who have followed the pathway of involvement in LJY-Netzer are motivated to involve themselves in issues of social justice – here in the UK, abroad, in Israel – and, in many cases, find professional roles in human rights, anti-racism, refugee organisations and charities.· I applaud this younger generation of Liberal Jews who are leading the way on the greatest issues of our own day – climate change, asylum, poverty and welfare and personal integrity.·They bring idealism and hope into a world which, in some parts, remains bleak and hopeless.

But age is not so easily dismissed.· Years bring wisdom, gentleness, a perspective on the world, sometimes a little faith in something beyond the material.· Age commands respect.· It is not only touching that the Torah mentions the ages of Moses and Aaron, about to take their stand before Pharaoh, but a significant statement that, although our bodies may become tired, the value of our lives does not diminish as we grow older. Far from it. ·Age is not a measure of the years we have lived, rather it is what we do with our lives, what we give back to others and how we choose to respond to the events that shape our lives.