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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1. How much (as in Rashi);

2. In what way.

Accordingly, says Ohr HaChaim, Moses is expressing two ideas simultaneously:

1. We may be asked to bring more sacrifices than we are able to prepare for. So, we will bring all our animals--not only those that are conventionally sacrificed, but even our donkeys, horses and camels--because they can be sold or exchanged to acquire suitable animals (see Tractate Avodah Zarah 24b). This is indicated by the words not a hoof will remain, for from it shall we take to worship Hashem our God. 

By emphasizing we take (nikach, which also connotes "we will purchase"), Moshe is focusing on the value, the "purchase power" of the animals. 

2. We must bring everything with us, for in addition to sacrifices (as was delineated in 5:3) we might be commanded to build altars and a sanctuary, to fashion utensils, etc. Therefore, "we will not know how (mah) we will serve Hashem" means, "We must be open to whatever demands Hashem will place upon us." God defines avodat Hashem, as how He is to be served.

The Meaning of Avad

The Hebrew root for "serve" is a-v-d. It may be said that a-v-d serves as a leitmotif of our parshah, as this word appears, in various forms, 21 times (an average of once for every three verses!), spanning the entire portion from the beginning (10:1) to the end (13:14).

At times, it is found in the word eved, meaning "slave," for example:

And it shall be, when your son asks you someday, saying "What is this?" then you will say to him, "With a mighty hand did God take us out of Egypt, from the house of slaves" (13:14).

At other times, the root refers to Pharaoh's servants and advisers, as in:

And God said to Moses, "Come to Pharaoh, because I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants . . ." (10:1).

Another connotation of a-v-d is "serving, or worshipping God," as seen in 10:24-26. This usage, too, pervades the parashah:

". . . let my people go, that they may serve Me" (10:3).

And Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh, and he said to them, "Go serve Hashem your God . . ."(10:8).

And [Pharaoh] called for Moses and for Aaron at night, and he said, "Arise, leave from the midst of my people, both you and the Children of Israel, and go serve God as you have spoken" (12:31).

In a similar vein, we learn of the Pesach sacrifice, which is called avodah, "service:"

And it shall be, when you come to the land which God will give you, as He spoke, then you shall observe this service. And it will be, when your sons will say to you, "What is this service to you?" (12:25-26).

A Transformation of Meaning

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.