Bo – Character Traits Effecting Proper Manners

There is an apropos saying for a Ralbag in this week’s Torah portion of Bo: “What came first the chicken or the egg?”

When the Jewish people had their first Pesach seder right before they left Egypt, Hashem told them exactly how to eat at the seder, “And this is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste it is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord” (Shemos 12:11).

The lesson the Ralbag learns from here is that it’s not right for travelers to prolong their meal and sit comfortably at it. Rather they should eat like travelers so that they can finish their journey with speed and alacrity (zrizus). This is learned from the way Hashem commanded that the Passover sacrifice shall be eaten; meaning, with their loins girded, shoes on their feet, staff in their hand, and that they should eat with haste so that they will appear like travelers. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

One would think that at this moment in time when the Jewish people were ready to place their complete trust and faith in Hashem for taking them out of Egypt, they would have their last meal, which was dedicated to their freedom and redemption in a manner which would show tranquility, liberty, and calm. They anyway weren’t leaving for a few hours until the morning. Besides that, at any meal, how is it proper manners to eat “half out of your seat,” with your traveling shoes on your feet and backpack on your back, eating in a rush? Isn’t it better at any meal, at any time, to sit in your chair with both hands and feet in front of you, eating over the table calmly and attentively? Also, what does zrizus, speed and alacrity, have to do with eating a meal? If you eat too fast you might choke!

It would seem that there are two standards of proper manners when it comes to eating a meal. One is at home or at a location where the meal is conducted with an aura of calm and collection. It would be inappropriate to eat in haste, half out of your seat. There are manners which dictate how to properly eat at a table.

However, when you are in transit, the proper manners are to eat quickly and to keep on going in order to reach your destination as swiftly as possible. Now, zrizus isn’t just speed, it is also alacrity, doing something in an efficient manner but not dawdling. It would seem that eating in the normal calm manner as one would do at his house, or any other normal meal would be a sign of laziness and serenity which one should not have when traveling since there is a destination to reach. Therefore, proper etiquette of how to eat a meal is different.

So, on the contrary by following the way Hashem told them to eat which was teaching them a lesson and preparing them for their journey which they would start in a few hours, that in fact showed the ultimate belief and trust in Hashem.