Bo – Empowerment of Meaning
“And they went and they did, the children of Israel, just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.” (Exodus 12:28)
This verse follows the commandment for every family to take a lamb designated for the upcoming pascal offering. The Torah attests to their adherence, which is not too uncommon. We find from time to time an affirmation that the instructions were perfectly carried out. Here, however, the Torah affirms not only their ‘doing’ but also their ‘going.’“And they went and they did…” What additional meaning is there in the going of the children of Israel?
Many Mitzvot require preparation. Work needs to be done in order to fulfill a Mitzvah although the performance of the Mitzvah itself requires little work. The classic example we often refer to for this concept is the building of a Sukkah. There is no commandment in the Torah to build a Sukkah, but we need to have a Sukkah in order to fulfill the Mitzvah. Building such a structure is the preparation for the Mitzvah without which we cannot fulfill it. Almost every Mitzvah entails some effort to prepare for it, some more and some less. The Torah here is informing us that effort the children of Israel expended in order to obtain a lamb, the going, was equally precious in God’s eyes as the fulfillment of the Mitzvah itself.
There is more, however, than merely the Mitzvah-value of an action. Until now the Israelites had been slaving to build cities for Egypt. According to one of the Midrashic accounts the site of these cities was on soft, silty ground, similar to quicksand. As they built upward the heavy bricks slowly sunk into the ground and they had to keep building and building with no end in sight. This crushed their spirit. To labor with no purpose is demoralizing.
Rabbi Twerski tells a story of a prisoner who was jailed for 25 years and chained to a post in a small room. He was forced to spend most of each day turning a large wheel affixed to the wall of the room. For 25 years, day in and day out, this prisoner sweated as he turned the wheel around and around. As he worked he wondered what the wheel was activating. He imagined all sorts of scenarios. Maybe the wheel was attached to a mill. Every day many bushels of grain were being milled into flour though his efforts. Or maybe the wheel was generating electricity, providing light to nearby homes. After 25 years his sentence was finally over and he was released from his cell. His curiosity was piqued and he immediately set off to find what was on the other side of the wall of his cell. What had all his efforts accomplished. When he saw that there was nothing on the other side of the wall, when he realized that his efforts had been entirely in vain all of these years he was utterly devastated and fell into a deep depression.
Humans have a need for meaning. We need to see a purpose in our work and our efforts. For many decades generations of Israelites had slaved without any meaning to their labor. It accomplished nothing as their construction was futile. Now, for the first time, they were bidden with a mission which they could actually accomplish; their efforts had a purpose. Secure a lamb for each family. Imagine their great sense of joy at being able to expend an effort for a purpose! “They went and they did…” Their efforts leading up to their performance of the Mitzvah were energizing and joyous and they therefore went out enthusiastically to perform it.