Haggadah-What Is This Work-Shelah
The 11th of Nisan is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yeshayah Horowitz, author of Shnei Luchos Habris: Pharaoh said to Moses that he did not comprehend the meaning of the term Avodah, “service.” He did not know if Moses referred only to the offering of the sacrifice, and if that was the meaning of Avodah, or if Moses referred to some other activity which represented the carrying out of a Heavenly command but not including sacrifices.
If the meaning of Avodah, was the performance of other activities it makes sense that both adults and children would be required. This would be similar to the Torah requiring the presence of adults and children in Deuteronomy 31:12 for the public reading of the Torah once in seven years during the Hakhel, the general assembly at the end of Succot. On such an occasion however, there would be no need for the presence of their livestock.
If, on the other hand, the meaning of Avodah, was the sacrificial service of slaughtering animals, surely only the presence of men of all age groups was mandatory. What need was there for the presence of women and small children? This is why Pharaoh repeated the word Mi, “Who?” He referred to the two alternatives.
Moses understood quite well what Pharaoh meant, and he said, “We shall go with our young ones and our old ones,” concluding with the words “we shall go;” this was to put Pharaoh on notice that these people would go regardless of the definition of Avodah.
Moses later added that they would also go with all the children, male and female, and all the livestock, even though they might not fit either one of Pharaoh’s definitions of the word Avodah.
When Pharaoh heard this he became angry and withdrew his offer of leading either the one or the other category go. This is when he said sarcastically, “May God so be with you.” He implied that on no account would he permit the Children of Israel to go with both all their children and all their livestock. All he would permit was that the adult men and their livestock could go. He implied that the women and children would have to remain behind, since he had realized that the meaning of Moses’ request had been to have the best of both worlds; both possible definitions of Avodah. This is why Pharaoh added, “For it is what you are seeking.”
The reason that both the Egyptians cattle and sheep and the Children of Israel’s own had to go, said Moses, was because they did not know at this time which livestock God would require and find acceptable.
Since the offerings under discussion were all free will offerings, it was not certain that Israel’s natural generosity would be considered adequate by God. They had to have reserve livestock with them in order to provide for such a contingency. (Sh’nei Luchot Habrit-v’Torah Ohr; Bo)
The Wicked Child asks, as did Pharaoh as described above, “What is Avodah to you?