Last week on-line and in shul, I talked about the hinge in time between the age of the great Fathers and Mothers of Genesis, and the time after. "May God make you as Ephraim and Menashe" is the blessing we give our sons on Shabbat evenings. Like who? But the message is that even Ephraim and Menashe had the potential to make as much difference as their famous ancestors.
The hand of their grandfather on their heads is important. How else will our Ephraims and our Menashes know what their spiritual legacy is?
At the beginning of Parashat Shmot, it's now several generations later and the Israelites are truly alone, seemingly leaderless, and enslaved. Before even God responded, it was the younger generation that stepped in and stepped up.
Specifically, Miryam and then Moshe. In the first chapter, two midwives named Shifra and Puah refused to carry out Pharaoh's order to kill all the male babies. According to the midrash, these were none other than Yocheved and Miryam. Mother and daughter. Just as when Moshe is born, the two work together to hide him, send him to safety, and arrange for him to be nursed by his mother.
Then in the second chapter, we are told that "Moshe grew and went out to his brothers." This is clearly Moshe as a young man, a teenager, going out and seeing the world for the first time with eyes able to see. He takes actions, killing the Egyptian taskmaster beating the Hebrew slave, intervening in a fight between two Israelites. He reels from the consequences -- Pharaoh's anger, the Israelites' rejection of his help.
It's right after these acts that God judges that the time is ripe to get involved. So the first message is: Even at the most unlikely time, the new generation may be ready.
We could compare the two sets of actions, by Miryam and by Moshe. Moshe takes bold action out of a sense of justice. But he is alone, and in the end he flees to sort out who he is. He names the child born to him in Midian Gershom, "for I have (before and still) been a stranger (ger) in a strange land" -- in Egypt as well as Midian. Who am I, asks Moshe.
Miryam, by contrast, comes across a firm young woman who plans, acts, and succeeds. She has her mother, who I can imagine is the one who has taught her how to take a stand, and who works with her side by side.
I have incredible confidence in teenagers, particularly. I believe, because I've seen it, that teens are capable of responsibility, of taking on a cause and seeing it through. The necessary ingredient is what Miryam had and Moshe didn't: a guide from an older generation. A guide or mentor who knows how to strike the balance between coaching and guiding, and letting the younger person truly take responsibility.
There is a lot of talk about empowerment of young people. It means more than giving them the right to make certain decisions. It's also about equipping them, and initiating them. It's an intergenerational process. It works all the time on teams, in sports. It's the same thing with the rest of life. Give a young person a spiritual guide, someone to talk to and work with on matters of justice and kindness. Then I have no doubt that everywhere we look we'll see Miryam, and we'll see Moshe.