By Daniel Brosgol
Congratulations, friends, you have journeyed through another Passover, and hopefully feel a greater sense of liberation as the holiday draws to a close on Saturday night.
In truth, the last few days of Pesach are a poor man’s parallel to the final hours of Yom Kippur — but you’ve made it this far, so why not go all the way! In fact, consider going to synagogue to listen to one of the more remarkable texts from the ancient prophet Isaiah.
The text focuses on the prophet’s vision of Assyria’s defeat and the return of the Jewish exiles to the Land of Israel, which will usher in an era of peace and harmony. Perhaps the most famous verses from this messianic reading come from chapter 11, verses 6-9:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid/
The calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together, with a little boy to herd them/
The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together/
And the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw/
A babe shall play Over a viper’s hole/
And an infant pass his hand over an adder’s den/
In all of My sacred mount Nothing evil or vile shall be done/
For the land shall be filled with devotion to the LORD/
As water covers the sea.
Embedded in Isaiah’s inspiring language, is a significant intergenerational message. Hang in there for a moment while I set the table for you.
One of my favorite things to do with my students is to review with them all of the sacrificial animals mentioned in the Torah. What is a lamb? A ram? A fatling? A ewe? An ox? A milk-cow? A bull? A kid? That process usually involves a 45-minute dive deep down the rabbit hole of West Semitic animal biology. If the Torah goes out of its way to name specific animals, then it is well worth our time to understand the differences between them.
Walk with me a little further down this path.
One way to understand this text and its usage of children and young animals is that the age of redemption will be led by the next generation. That makes sense and helps us tie a thread back to the Exodus story of 40 years of wandering in the Sinai wilderness, which required that the generation that experienced slavery in Egypt pass away before the next generation could enter the Promised Land.
But another way to read it is that the young people can only lead with the permission of the old—the lamb can only survive if the wolf decides to let it live; the kid may only grow at the discretion of the leopard, and so on. The older generation must make way for the next one. The teacher must give way for the student.
There have been more than a few occasions in recent years when I have been reminded that I crossed the threshold into an “older” generation. Perhaps it was when I hit 40, or when I had my fifth child, or when I just decided on my own that I wasn’t young enough to be cool anymore. This was reinforced recently when I worked with a charismatic 23-year old on a program for American and Israeli teens and it was clear that he was the star of the show and I was just the supporting actor. That was at once amazing and a little humbling.
So, in reflection, it’s my job, and our job, not just to prepare our young people to lead, but it’s actually our job to get out of the way and let them take the mantle at opportune moments. When exactly that should take place is entirely subjective, so why not view this eighth day of Passover as a mo’ed, a fixed time, for all of us old(er) folks to begin to make more room for the next generation of leaders.
Dan Brosgol is the Director of Prozdor at Hebrew College.