From the inception of Moshe’s mission to extract the Children of Israel from the clutches of Pharaoh the king of Egypt, it seems that all he ever requested was a three-day reprieve.
When Moshe and the Elders first confront Pharaoh they merely report how The G-d of the Hebrews happened upon us. Let us now go for a three day journey in the Wilderness and we shall bring offerings to Hashem...(שמות ה ג)
Never once does Moshe assert the desire to remove them completely from the land of Egypt.
Throughout the entire story of the plagues the negotiations between Pharaoh and Moshe revolve around the issue of their leaving merely to serve offerings to Hashem in the desert.
Although initially refusing outright any notion of their taking a ‘break’, after the plague of frogs Pharaoh relents and promises to “send out the people that they may bring offerings to Hashem”, (שם ח ד), immediately changing his mind.
After the plague of swarming beasts, he once again promises to permit them to leave to the desert to bring their offerings asking of them not to go too far off, quickly retracting.
After the plague of hail and the forewarning of the next plague of locusts his people beseech him to give in, and he begins to negotiate. He offers the adults to travel to their retreat in the desert but demands the children remain behind. The negotiations fail, and the plagues of locust and darkness ensue. In desperation Pharaoh once again attempts his hand at the art of negotiation by permitting them all to go out to the desert but refusing to allow them to take their livestock as offerings.
Moshe declines his offer declaring that not only will the entire nation eventually leave, with all their livestock, but Pharaoh too will contribute to the pool of animals to be offered.
When the smiting of the firstborn begins with its fury, Pharaoh indeed finally calls out, “Rise up, go out from among my people, even you, even the Children of israel; go and serve Hashem as you have spoken! Take even your sheep and even your cattle, as you have spoken, and go - and bless me as well!” (שם יב לב) Rashi explains the expression “as you have spoken” to refer to Pharaoh contributing animals as well as indeed Moshe asserted he would.
Was this all simply a ploy to dupe Pharaoh into believing it wasa only to be a three-day reprieve with their return to Egypt, with the true intention of escaping Egypt forever?
Was the Jewish nation privy to this subterfuge, or did they innocently think they were only going for a three-day vacation?
Did Pharaoh suspect that this was possibly a trick and therefore kept retracting his permission or did he fear something else?
Among the various commentaries there are those who maintain that it was a well-deserved and justified deception that was being implemented against the conniving and cruel Pharaoh, who was treated in kind for his evil ways. (אבן עזרא, הר"ן ועוד)
Others however contend that Moshe was honestly suggesting this short hiatus and their return to Egypt, with the hope that Pharaoh would ‘get it’ and be agreeable upon their homecoming to release them to their rightful and full freedom. (אברבנאל ועקידת יצחק)
Considering this second theory, it is remarkable how the Jewish nation were willing to accept their returning to Egypt with renewed rights despite still remaining denizens of Egypt.
But what would this three-day convocation then accomplish? Was it meant to be simply a well-deserved vacation?
In Moshe describing the objective of this three-day retreat Moshe mentions two goals.
The primary goal of G-d as reported in the Torah as expressed by Moshe when he quotes to Pharaoh G-d’s words: ויחוגו לי במדבר (שם ה א), “That they may celebrate for Me in the Wilderness.”
The second intention was as the Elders state in the next verse was so that, ונזבחה לד' אלקינו, We shall bring offerings to Hashem, our G-d.
The Ramban maintains that the ‘three-day journey’ refers to the destination of Mount Sinai which the Torah reports was a three-day distance from Egypt.
To develop a healthy relationship with G-d, it requires two vital ingredients to survive: joy and commitment; יחוגו ונזבחה - celebration and sacrifice.
Pharaoh understood if the Jewish nation connects with their G-d, in happiness and allegiance, his realm that was founded on the platforms of power and control, would fritter and their refreshing attitude would infect his entire populace with the hope it promoted.
In his negotiations he alternated between accepting commitment but quashing their joy; prohibiting the participation of the children, or joy absent of devotion; allowing the attendance of their families but without any offerings. He understood that allowing them to celebrate fully with all their loved ones, but absent of the ability to properly devote offerings in inspired service, the joy would be fleeting. Similarly, service without pleasure has a short life span.
The Jewish nation has never survived without the two. Joy coupled with commitment is the key to connecting with the Eternal.
We each struggle with that Pharaohian battle between control of our lives and true happiness. We often refuse to relinquish the reigns of control in exchange for bliss.
The moment we take a break and focus in the fortune of our relationship with Hashem and recommit to His will, is the instant when we achieve true freedom and happiness in life.
צבי יהודה טייכמאן