Teen Talk: If Not Now, When?

5 years ago csegal 0

I first learned about the reality of world religions when I was in sixth grade. My history teacher asked my class of twenty five kids what the number one religion in the world is, and the whole class immediately responded with Christianity. When she asked for the second, I eagerly raised my hand and, with pride and confidence, proclaimed, “Judaism.” I was wrong—the correct answer is Islam. Atheism, which is not even a religion, is third, with Hinduism and Buddhism falling shortly behind. As the teacher began going further down the list, I was beginning to become more and more convinced that she had no idea what she was talking about and that her information was incorrect—I mean, Judaism had to be near the top, right? Finally, my teacher said that there was one more left on her list and asked me to repeat what I had said earlier: Judaism, which, we were told, makes for .2% of the world’s population. .2%—that’s less than half of one percent. I did the math—I’m Jewish, the girl next to me was Jewish, and the guy in the row in front of me was Jewish. I looked around—we made up about a third of the class! My community in Bucks County is full of Jewish families—I couldn’t comprehend where she was getting such a small percent from. After school ended that day, I Googled the percentage of Jews in the world and was stunned to learn that my teacher had indeed been correct. I had always thought Jews to be loud, filled with pride, and, well, everywhere! Turns out, we were a lot smaller than I had thought.


In Hebrew School, I learned a lot of stories about my Jewish heritage. Two that stood out in my mind were of Avraham discovering Hashem at the age of three years old and the Jews leaving Egypt. Their common thread was the Jewish people’s courage to stand up for themselves. Avraham proclaimed that there was one god and was thrown in a fire for saying so, meanwhile Moshe and Aharon kept bugging Pharoah to let their people go. They all made a name for themselves by speaking up, so I guess their influencing history made an impact on the world and told everyone, “Hi, I’m a Jew!” and now the whole world knows who we are.


That makes me wonder, what if they hadn’t spoken up for themselves? What if they had just assumed and hoped that someone else would? What if Avraham had hoped that his father would defend him? His father, the very person who encouraged throwing his son into a fire for saying that there is one god! What if Moshe had refused to demand that Pharaoh let his people go, even with his brother, Aharon, by his side? We might still be slaves in Egypt!


There’s more to this—Moshe, unlike Avraham, wasn’t standing up just for himself. He was talking for the entire Jewish people! You see, Moshe and Aharon could have easily been selfish and spared themselves going to Pharaoh over and over and over again—they could have just asked that only the two of them be let go, and had a brother-bonding session for forty years on the way to Eretz Yisrael. Maybe bring their families, and that’s it. Easy, simple—no plagues involved. But, they didn’t. Why? Why not spare themselves the huge pain in the neck of the whole Pharoah situation and just go? Plus, Moshe and Aharon were levis! The tribe of Levi was the only one that wasn’t enslaved! Moshe and Aharon could have easily snuck out of Egypt, and no one would have known.


But no—they didn’t escape—they didn’t even try! They stayed put, until they marched out of Egypt proudly with the Jewish nation alongside them. Jewish thought considers each Jew to be another’s brother or sister. When we view it this way, maybe that’s why Moshe didn’t just sneak his family out, but stayed until all Jews would be allowed to leave—because they were all his family. That makes sense. Moshe talked on behalf of all of his family, because they couldn’t—they were enslaved, remember? So Moshe stood up not only for himself, but for his people as well.


There’s one more thing we can learn from this whole situation—also from Moshe. When Hashem, by the burning bush, finally convinced Moshe to go to Pharaoh, he didn’t delay. He gathered his family, saddled his donkey, and went on his way to the palace. You would think that after the whole argument that he and Hashem had about Moshe being or not being worthy to free the Jewish people that Moshe would drag out the whole thing, right? But yet again, Moshe decided to push through his insecurities and do what Hashem told him to—or, he just wanted to get the deal over with. Either way, he went as soon as he could.


Okay, I think we can agree on one thing here: this is kind of insane. Standing up for yourself I can understand, speaking on behalf of others makes sense, and doing it all now is the only part that seems a little bizarre but so logical. I mean, as Hillel tells us in Pirkei Avot, or the Ethics of our Fathers,


“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”