Defining Service Of God

As the Israelites transition from being servants of Pharaoh to servants of God, they acknowledge that God will instruct them in how to best serve God.

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Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.

Pharaoh's Conditions

After the plague of darkness immobilizes Egypt, Pharaoh is prepared to discuss releasing the slaves so they can worship God. However, he dictates conditions:

And Pharaoh called for Moses and he said, "Go, worship Ha; however, your sheep and your cattle will stay; even your children will go with you." And Moses said, "You will even give sacrifices and burnt-offerings into our hands, and we will offer them to Hashem our God. Also, our own livestock will go with us, not a hoof will remain, for from it shall we take (nikach) to worship Hashem our God, and we will not know how (mah) we will serve Hashem until our arrival there."

And God strengthened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not want to let them go. And Pharaoh said to him, "Leave me! Watch yourself, do not continue to see my face, because on the day you see my face you will die!" And Moses said, "You have spoken well; I will not continue to see your face again" (Sh' mot / Exodus 10:24-29).

Animals as Collateral

According to Chizkuni (R. Chizkiya ben Manoach, mid 13th century commentator), Pharaoh demands that the animals remain behind to serve as security that the slaves will return. Ibn Ezra (12th century Spanish commentator), on the other hand, says that this isn't a sincere offer. Rather, Pharaoh is testing Moses: his response to Pharaoh's terms will demonstrate whether he intends the slaves to escape and not return.

Since this exchange between Moses and Pharaoh is part of their bargaining, how are we to understand Moses' prediction that, not only will Pharaoh eventually allow the Hebrews to take their own animals, but the Egyptians will send animals for sacrifice? Is Moses' suggestion realistic, or is it made only for the purpose of negotiations?

The Meaning of Moses' Negotiations

Ramban (Nachmanides) maintains that any offering of the wicked Pharaoh would never be accepted; rather, Moses is using hyperbole, as if to say, "When the time comes to release us, you will be ready to do whatever we ask." Other commentaries, however, argue that there is an essential truth in Moses' statement, and we will not know how (mah) we will serve God until our arrival there.

To Rashi, mah suggests, "We do not know how much we will be asked to offer. Perhaps God will demand more animals than we now own, and we will have to accept additional animals from you to be prepared."

Ohr HaChaim (R. Chaim ben Moshe ibn-Attar, 18th century commentator) says that mah has two meanings in this context:

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.