וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ מֹשֶׁ֖ה וְאַהֲרֹ֑ן וַיַּ֣אַסְפ֔וּ אֶת־כָּל־זִקְנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the Israelites.
A few pesukim later, Shemot 5:1
וְאַחַ֗ר בָּ֚אוּ מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְאַהֲרֹ֔ן וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה כֹּֽה־אָמַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל שַׁלַּח֙ אֶת־עַמִּ֔י וְיָחֹ֥גּוּ לִ֖י בַּמִּדְבָּֽר׃
Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Let My people go that they may celebrate a festival for Me in the wilderness.”
The obvious question is, if Moshe and Aaron gathered all the elders of Israel, showed them the signs, and convinced the people. why is it that only Moshe and Aaron are standing before Pharaoh?
Rashi on Shemot 5:1
ואחר באו משה ואהרן וגו'. אֲבָל הַזְּקֵנִים נִשְׁמְטוּ אֶחָד אֶחָד מֵאַחַר מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן, עַד שֶׁנִּשְׁמְטוּ כֻלָּם קֹדֶם שֶׁהִגִּיעוּ לַפָּלָטִין, לְפִי שֶׁיָּרְאוּ לָלֶכֶת; וּבְסִינַי נִפְרַע לָהֶם, "וְנִגַּשׁ מֹשֶׁה לְבַדּוֹ אֶל ה' וְהֵם לֹא יִגָּשׁוּ" (שמות כ"ד) – הֶחֱזִירָם לַאֲחוֹרֵיהֶם (שמות רבה):
ואחר באו משה ואהרן AND AFTERWARDS MOSES AND AARON CAME — But the elders slipped away one by one from behind Moses and Aaron until every-one of them had slipped away before they arrived at the palace, because they were afraid to go there. At Sinai they were punished for this, for it is stated (Exodus 24:2) “And Moses alone shall draw near unto the Lord, but they, (the elders; cf. Exodus 24:1) shall not draw near” — He bid them stay behind. (Exodus Rabbah 5:14)
I taught this to my son this year. I am thinking about how every time one has to face the authority and the consequences, there will be redeemers, and there will be elders, the ones who will stay on the sidelines with perfectly good excuses and see how it all plays out. The elders get punished because staying out of conflict is still making a choice, and that choice carries its own consequences.