Pharaoh’s almost ready to relent and allow the Israelites to fulfill Moshe’s demand that they go out of Egypt for three days to celebrate and worship God. But he wants Moshe to provide a VIP list of those who will be granted exit visas. “Mi vami haholkhim–Who’s who that is going?” he asks (Exodus 10:8).
This is yet another indicator of the great disparity between Egyptian and Israelite societies. Rabbi Pinchas Peli, in one of the essays collected in his volume Torah Today (p. 64), frames it this way: “Since going to worship God is a major event, Pharaoh expressed his view, that only the important people should participate in it. Moses should draw up a list of all the ‘Who’s Who’ among the Israelites and make sure that the event would be attended ‘by invitation only,’ as was the style in Egypt on similar occasions.”
Moshe, of course, makes it clear that the service of God is not restricted to a small select group, but is a cradle-to-grave experience for the People of Israel: “We will go with our young and old, with our sons and daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because (the worship of God) is for us a celebration” (Exodus 10:9). It’s one of the strongest statements in our tradition about the egalitarian nature of the Jewish experience. Come one, come all, ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, because we all have access to God. And, emphatically, we all deserve the freedom to achieve that access.
I’m excited that on this coming Shabbat, we’ll honor someone whose life and career have been dedicated to providing access to God to Jews of all ages. Rabbi Simckes is turning 80, and it’s the anniversary of his Bar-Mitzvah. So please join us on Shabbat morning and celebrate with a man whose stock answer to “mi vami haholkhim–Who’s who that is going”–has always been the most inclusive list imaginable. Mazal tov, Rabbi Simckes!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise