We read in Parashat Bo that after Moshe warned Pharaoh of the eighth plague, the plague of locusts, Pharaoh’s servants implored the king to yield, and to allow Benei Yisrael to leave the country. Pharaoh summoned Moshe and Aharon back to the palace and informed them that he was prepared to let the people go, asking, “Who are those who are going?” (10:8). Moshe replied, “We shall go with our youth and with our elderly; with our sons and with our daughters, with our sheep and with our cattle we shall go, for we have a festival for the Lord” (10:9). Pharaoh refused, demanding that only the adult males leave, and he drove Moshe and Aharon from the palace.
Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch comments that Moshe’s demand expresses the notion that there are no agents in the service of God. Each and every individual bears personal religious responsibility, and one cannot discharge his duty through an agent acting on his behalf. Rav Hirsch writes:
We have no intermediary, no priests, no representative before our God. If we are to go, we must all go; the tiniest baby in the cradle, the last sheep of our possessions. Each and all are integral parts of our community. None and nothing may remain… God calls us together around Him, and when God calls us, He wants to see us with every member of our family and with all our possessions, about Him.
Rav Nachum Mordechai of Novominsk, in his Pe’er Nachum, adds further insight into Moshe’s demand that the transition from the service of Pharaoh to the service of God must include both young and old. Youthfulness has the advantage of excitement and enthusiasm, the energetic, passionate and idealistic pursuit of one’s goals. In our older years, we generally lose this excitement, at least to some extent, but on the other hand, our experience gives us greater wisdom and understanding, enabling us to do what we do at a higher standard. When it comes to religious observance, the Rebbe of Novominsk remarks, we must endeavor to combine youthful energy and enthusiasm with the patience and wisdom of adulthood. We are to strive to serve God “with our youth and with our elderly” – combining youthful idealism with maturity and sophistication. We should see these two qualities not as conflicting with one another, but rather as complementing one another, merging together and enabling us to serve the Almighty in the most complete manner possible, with both passion and wisdom.