We read in Parashat Bo that after Moshe warned Pharaoh of the plague of locusts, Pharaoh expressed willingness to yield and allow Benei Yisrael to leave – as long as this included only the adult males, and the women and children remained in Egypt (10:10-11). Moshe, however, insisted that the entire nation must be allowed to leave – including the men, women and children, and even the animals (10:9). Later, after the plague of darkness, Pharaoh summoned Moshe and announced that he was prepared to allow all the people to leave – but he demanded that the nation’s herds remain in Egypt (10:24). Moshe refused the offer, responding that Benei Yisrael needed to take all their animals with them, to the point where not a single “hoof” would remain in Egypt – and even the Egyptians would give them animals to bring with them. The reason, Moshe explained, was because they were going to serve God, “and we will not know with what we will serve God until we arrive there” (10:26). Pharaoh refused, and drove Moshe away from the palace, warning him to never return.
Rav Yaakov Yehuda of Nadarzyn, in Yashreish Yaakov, notes the deeper significance of this exchange, and of Moshe’s insistence that all members of the nation, and all their herds, join in leaving Egypt to become God’s special nation and serve Him. Pharaoh sought to impose limits on religious commitment, arguing that it is not all encompassing. He contended that Benei Yisrael did not need to include their families or their mundane lives (represented by their cattle) in their service of God, because, in his view, religious life can and should remain separate and apart from one’s personal and professional life. Moshe therefore forcefully emphasized that Benei Yisrael would be leaving with every single part of the nation – every person, and even every “hoof,” down to the very last piece of property. Devotion to God encompasses the totality of a person’s life, and therefore when we make a commitment to serve Him, we cannot leave anything behind. Every “hoof,” every aspect of our lives, is included as we embark on our journey to devote ourselves to God’s service.
Moshe also stresses that “we will not know with what we will serve God until we arrive there.” We must be prepared to serve and make sacrifices for God without any restriction. There are no aspects of our lives that we can declare “off limits” to religion. We never know what sacrifices we might be called upon to make for the sake of mitzvot, and what challenges we will be called upon to overcome. At no time do we know with certainty “with what we shall serve God,” what specific forms of service will be required. We must be unlimitedly and unconditionally prepared to sacrifice to and serve the Almighty, with the realization that the entirety of our lives must be devoted to Him, without any exception.