“With our youngsters and our elders shall we go; with our sons and our daughters … because it is a festival of Hashem for us” (Shemot 10:9).
The debate between Moshe and Pharaoh began when Moshe returned to Egypt at the age of 80 and demanded the release of our people from bondage. Each confrontation contains a new level of stubbornness demonstrated by the Egyptian monarch in the face of the power of Hashem. Our Sages teach that the surface simplicity of Moshe’s demands and Pharaoh’s refusals conceal deep philosophical divides between the adversaries.
Pharaoh’s latest “concession” is an offer to allow the men to go serve. His contention was that if the Jews were really going for the purpose of “serving” their G-d in the desert, then only adult males would need to attend. As he said, “Let the men go now. Serve Hashem, for that is what you seek” (ibid., 11). He had already asked for a list of who would go serve. Moshe’s response was we all must go because it is “a festival to our L-rd” (ibid. 8, 9). In this one point of contention, Moshe confronted the king with a basic difference between a Jew’s service and that of any other religion.
Pharaoh refers to a human’s relationship with his Creator as avodah — work, while Moshe calls the same service a “festival.” The King’s view is akin to that of the wicked son, who cried, “What is this work to you?” A wayward son may complain to his parent about the difficulty of compliance with Hashem’s commandments. “We work all week — why can’t I sleep late on Shabbat rather than be forced to rise early and attend services in the synagogue?” he may complain. “Holiday preparations are full of difficult tasks that are suitable for male adults but not for children!” is his cry. A similar approach was offered by the ruler of Egypt as reason enough for his refusal to free our people for a three-day trip to serve Hashem.
On the contrary, Moshe replied, “With our youngsters and our elders shall we go; with our sons and our daughters … because it is a festival of Hashem for us” (Shemot 10:9). “What you see as toil is a festival in our eyes,” Moshe countered. “Therefore we must take our women and children along with us! It is such a happy activity we can’t think of leaving them behind.”
Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, lived on the lower East side of Manhattan. Two observant families also lived there, who kept our holy Shabbat with self-sacrifice. Each week they worked under the threat of losing their respective jobs if they were absent from work on the Sabbath. Although one family was blessed with admirable offspring who continued in the ways of the Torah, the other’s children cast off the yoke of Torah and grew to be non-observant Jews.
The father of the wayward family approached Rav Feinstein and cried, “How is it that my neighbor was so fortunate while the reward for all my years of sacrifice could be the loss of my children to assimilation among the gentiles?”
“Your neighbor,” Rav Moshe replied, “came home each week and told his children how lucky he was that Hashem accepted another korban — sacrifice — from him on behalf of the Shabbat. He recited his Kiddush happily! You, on the other hand, complained of the difficult life you were forced to live in order to remain an observant Jew. His children saw the Shabbat as a festival and yours viewed it as toil!”
Each of us has the same obligations under the Torah. What makes the service easy is the happy approach one must develop in fulfillment of Hashem’s demands. If one considers the honor of serving, the task becomes easy. One can turn work into a festival. The way a parent serves will determine whether or not the children will serve at all. It is all a matter of attitude!