Finally Am Yisrael are on their way. It’s been a long 210 years in exile and they are headed towards receiving the Torah and on to the promised land of Israel.
Yet the commentators are puzzled. How come when G-d revealed His plan for the Jewish people, He immediately told Moshe of their destiny in Israel, but at the same time instructed Moshe to ask Pharaoh only for permission to leave for three days?
Interestingly at no stage does Moshe say explicitly that he is proposing that the people should be allowed to leave permanently, never to return. He talks of a three day journey. There is an argument between him and Pharaoh as to who is to go. Only the adult males? Only the people? Not the cattle? Moshe consistently asks for permission to worship G-d at some place that is not Egypt, but he does not speak about freedom or the Promised Land.
Was G-d deceiving Pharaoh? Surely if we are not allowed to lie, how come in this instance it seems that a lie was told to Pharaoh?
Many answers have been proposed to this question.
The Ktav Vehakabala (R. Yaakov Mecklenburg) says that technically Moshe did not tell a lie. He did indeed mean that he wanted the people to be free to make a journey to worship G-d, and he never said explicitly that they would return.
The Abrabanel says that G-d told Moshe deliberately to make a small request, to demonstrate Pharaoh’s cruelty and indifference to his slaves. All they were asking was for a brief respite from their labours to offer sacrifices to G-d. If he refused this, he was indeed a tyrant.
We shall offer yet another answer based on one of the unique aspects of matzah.
Matzah, the bread of slavery, is at once the symbol of our slavery and the symbol of freedom.
In the Pesach Haggadah it is both poor bread” and the symbol of how G-d redeemed us in an instant. Have you ever thought why a richer, tastier cake was not chosen as a symbol of our redemption from the bitter slavery of Egypt?
The answer is that we did not cease to be slaves with our redemption. As the Gemara (Megillah 14a) says, commenting on the verse in Tehilim, “Praise G-d, give praise, you servants of G-d”
“Originally we were slaves to Pharaoh; now we are slaves to G-d.”
We did not emerge from slavery to freedom; we remained slaves with a new master.
The Jew is the model slave, accepting the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven, and unequivocally yielding to his master, the Master of the Universe, Who we serves with unswerving dedication.
The Gemara in Berachot (9b) says that we must link the blessing of Geula (redemption) to the blessings of the Shemoneh Esrei (service of the heart).
The Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah explain the reason for this juxtaposition is that the Jew should have no free moment between redemption and acceptance of G-d’s yoke.
After our redemption, we continued to dine on the bread of slavery to emphasize that our status as slaves had not changed. Even the good Land that we were given is a land suited to slaves, whether they be slaves to human masters or slaves to the King of kings. It was first given to Canaan, who himself bears the curse of eternal servitude.
Our freedom is the freedom to be G-d’s slaves. And it is this servitude which is the ultimate freedom. On the Tablets was engraved our freedom “Do not read ‘engraved on the Tablets’ but ‘freedom on the Tablets.’ ” Freedom is total immersion in Torah, total dedication and obedience to G-d Himself. Only when the Jew is able to express his deepest inner will, the thirst to do G-d’s Will, is he truly free.
The time had come and the Jewish people needed to show that they were worthy of freedom by displaying an understanding of the implications of freedom from outside forces, a desire for the opportunity to subject ourselves to G-d.
The Ruler of the World did not need permission from Pharaoh to take us out of Egypt. Therefore Moshe did not approach Pharaoh with a request to leave Egypt to settle in Israel. But, the Jewish people, then under Pharaoh’s rule, had to show that they deserved redemption. That is why they petitioned Pharaoh for three days in the desert to sacrifice to G-d. The nature of these sacrifices was not clearly defined even to Moshe. As he told Pharaoh, “For we do not know how we are to serve Him until we get there” (Shemot 10 26).
Three days after leaving Egypt, G-d told the newly freed Bnei Yisrael to return towards Egypt. The implication was great, it meant giving up the newly acquired freedom, cease running towards safety and putting themselves in the clutches of their oppressors.
Why should they do this?
Because G-d willed it.
That was the “sacrifice” after three days in the desert – not animal sacrifices, but rather the giving up of the thing most cherished to them, their new freedom. That was the test of their worthiness for redemption.
The internet age is upon us, and society busies itself serving various gadgets in the pursuit of freedom, happiness and fame. Technology should improve our life, not become our life.
We stand today on the brink of redemption and are being tested to see if we merit G-d’s redemption. We can safely leave bringing Mashiach to G-d, but we must merit his coming.
Only by intensifying our commitment to Torah and mitzvot, dedicating ourselves to serving G-d in all areas of life, will we successfully discharge our three days in the desert.