There is an oft-given homily from this week’s Torah reading that goes as follows: Pharaoh is about to relent and let the Israelites leave Egypt to serve God in the wilderness. He calls for Moses and Aaron and asks: “Who, exactly, would be going to serve your God in the wilderness?” Moses answers, “All of us! Our elders and our youth, men and women, sons and daughters.” Pharaoh believes he sees the farce: “You don’t really need all those people to do your worship! Let just the men go! Those are the only people who are needed in order to perform this worship!”
This conversation is often presented as a juxtaposition between the Egyptian form of worship as the domain of just the men, or maybe the priestly class, and the Israelite form of God-service as a family affair, requiring young and old, priests and laymen, etc. And. But.
This is not untrue: Judaism, practiced properly, is a family affair. Even within those denominations whose public rituals are entirely led by men, public rituals are not nearly the entirety of God-service. There is so much more: there are meals with questions and answers, there are rituals to be performed at home that everyone can participate in, Sukkahs to build, Purim costumes to coordinate, mishloach manot to deliver, etc. etc.
Yes. And. Is it possible that Judaism, as it is practiced among many, is too focused on children, at the expense of the adults’ experience? And is it possible that the adults are all too happy to focus their families’ religious practice on Tot Shabbats and Purim Carnivals and the like because they never learned/don’t know/forgot how to make religious practice meaningful and fully engaging for themselves? Is it possible that Judaism itself has become childish for so many people because Jewish adults don’t know how to access the tools needed to update their religious orientation (and this is quite an update for some people - kinda like going from DOS to High Sierra)?
It may well be that I am particularly sensitive at this time of year with 40 days to go until Purim, an adult holiday if there ever was one. Yes, Purim features costumes and schpiels and all sorts of functions and activities that may well appeal to the child in all of us. But really it is a vision quest in disguise, and vision quests are hard, and gut-wrenching (often literally), and require courage and vision and leaving, and friends and fire and trust and truth and faith, and maybe it would just be easier to drive the kids to the Purim Carnival, no?