(This blog was first posted on January 17, 2010.)
And also mikanu will go with us—not a hoof will remain—because we will take from them to serve Y*h, our god; and we ourselves will not know with what we will serve Y*h until we come there. (Exodus/Shemot 10:26)
miknanu=our possessions, our property—usually livestock
Moses does not ask Pharaoh to let the children of Israel go free. He only asks Pharaoh to let them go out into the wilderness for a three-day holiday to serve their god. The implication is that then the slaves will all return to their jobs in Egypt.
Yet God has told Moshe that in the end, after the tenth and final plague, Pharaoh will drive the Israelites out of Egypt altogether. Then God will lead them to the promised land.
In this week’s Torah portion, Bo (Come), Pharoah reacts to plague number nine, darkness, by telling Moshe that all the Israelites can go to serve God in the wilderness, even the children—but they must leave their livestock behind. Moshe refuses with the explanation—or rationalization—that “from them we will take to serve Y*h, our god, and we ourselves will not know with what we will serve Y*h until we come there”.
The Israelite slaves do not possess much except for the descendants of the cows, sheep, and goats their ancestors brought down from Canaan. But Moshe insists they must take all their possessions with them for the three-day holiday. Pharaoh rightly suspects his slaves are planning to escape, instead of return. He also seems to suspect that worshiping their god with sacrifices is merely a pretext for leaving.
In that, I believe, he is mistaken. Moshe makes sure that the exodus focuses on religious service, not for three days but for forty years. And the Israelites do worship God with sacrifices. As well as sacrificing livestock, they sacrifice their security. Even a bad situation seems secure if it goes unchanged long enough. Now the Israelites exchange their familiar Egyptian masters for a new and unpredictable master, a god who can create terrifying plagues, a god who might ask anything of them.
Today, many of us serve God by following ethical rules, praying at the right times, and observing other rituals. This kind of service can be a conscious effort, even a sacrifice. Or it can be lip service, not service of the heart. What do we do when our inner world changes and we need to hear and follow the call of the divine, but we don’t know how anymore?
We can look over our possessions, and ask God what needs to be sacrificed. Are we too attached to our “livestock”, our material goods? Are we clinging to our present status—high or low? To the security of our present life? To something else that keeps us enslaved in a narrow place?
What do we need to sacrifice in order to free ourselves to leave our Egypts and enter a new world?