The Bible Says What? ‘Worship must include everyone’

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The Bible Says What? ‘Worship must include everyone’

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner takes a controversial topic from the Torah and looks at a Reform Jewish response

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

Recently, we read the weekly Torah portion of Bo, which describes the final three plagues in Egypt.

Right at the beginning of the reading, Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh. It’s fascinating that they do not ask for the children of Israel to be released from slavery, but instead say they need to celebrate a festival and praise the Divine – if Pharaoh doesn’t let them, the next plague of locusts will come.

Pharaoh is suspicious, perhaps naturally, about this. So he asks them who will be going to take part in this act of worship.

Within Egyptian culture, only some of the men would participate in such an act of worship. Moses responds very differently.

All of the people would go, whether young or old, sons or daughters, everyone was needed. Pharaoh rejects this, saying that Moses’ desire for all the people to be involved is suspicious. It must mean he is up to something. The men can go if they want, but that is all.

It may be that Moses was being ingenious and trying to free the people, but he also delivered a message of radical inclusivity that we can hold up today as a beacon.

To go and celebrate the Eternal’s festival, he had to take everyone. No matter their age, no matter their gender – they had to all come together. Even the flocks and herds needed to be there. To serve God correctly, all the children of Israel had to be included.

Moses is teaching that in our service of the Creator of the Universe, we must be united as a community.

We must not discriminate based on age, gender or any other characteristic. Only by having everyone and everything we have pointed in one direction can our holy gatherings be true and complete.

  • Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner is the Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism
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