Midreshet Amit


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Parshat Bo

By: Rabbi Daniel Goldstein

In Parshat Bo, as the standoff between Pharaoh and Moshe continues, we find the two locked into the following negotiating sticking point:
"Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, "Go! Worship the Lord, but your flocks and your cattle shall be left. Your young children may also go with you. But Moshe said, You too shall give sacrifices and burnt offerings into our hands, and we will make them for the Lord our God. And also our cattle will go with us; not a [single] hoof will remain, for we will take from it to worship the Lord our God, and we do not know how [much] we will worship the Lord until we arrive there. The Lord strengthened Pharaoh's heart, and he was unwilling to let them out (Shemot 10:24-27).

"What were Moshe and Pharaoh really haggling over? We understand Pharaoh's position. He wanted Bnei Yisrael to leave some sort of collateral to ensure that they would come back. But what was Moshe's response? Was he simply playing with Pharaoh? He could have simply said: No deal. Why did he give the seemingly disingenuous reply of "and we do not know how [much] we will worship the Lord until we arrive there."

Building on the Ohr HaChaim, we can understand that Pharaoh and Moshe were engaged in a much deeper debate. How does one serve God? Is the service of Hashem static or dynamic? Pharaoh's view was that relating to Hashem was a finite, stilted and set act. "Find out what it entails and take what you need." There is no reason, Pharaoh thought, that the experience of worshiping God should not require any more spontaneity than packing for a trip. That view of worship is something that makes sense to a practitioner of idolatry, whose deities are dead and don't respond to an ever changing world.

Moshe responded: What do we need to bring? This is not going to camp! This is avodas Hashem. Moshe, with his understanding of service and his understanding of Hashem, couldn't fathom the possibility of a list in advance, for service of a living dynamic God cannot be anticipated in advance. At any moment at any instance, Hashem may call upon us to perform an act of avodas Hashem which may require more than the toothbrush we thought to pack.

Serving a living God means living in the service of God. Life is dynamic and fluid. You cannot prepare in advance for all of life's situations. So too, a Jew must be in a state of preparedness, with all of our resources at the ready, to serve with what ever we have in a all situations—not only the predictable ones. That state of mind is what allows our avodas Hashem to be relevant, fresh and meaningful.