The last Mishna in Pirkei Avos writes, “Ben Hei Hei says: The reward is in proportion to the exertion” (Avos 5:26). The reward for observing Hashem’s mitzvos is increased in direct proportion to the effort and discomfort one experiences in its enactment.
Besides the double portion of Vayakhel-Pekudai which concludes the Book of Shemos, this week is also Parshas HaChodesh, and we read from the first 20 pesukim of perek 12 in parshas Bo which discusses the “First Passover” in Egypt. There is an illustration of this last Mishna in Pirkei Avos within these pesukim. The Torah states: “You shall have a perfect male lamb in its [first] year; you may take it either from the sheep or from the goats. And you shall keep it for inspection until the fourteenth day of this month, and the entire congregation of the community of Israel shall slaughter it in the afternoon. And they shall take [some] of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel, on the houses in which they will eat it. And they shall take [some] of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel, on the houses in which they will eat it. And on this night, they shall eat the flesh, roasted over the fire, and unleavened cakes; with bitter herbs they shall eat it. You shall not eat it rare or boiled in water, except roasted over the fire its head with its legs and with its innards. And you shall not leave over any of it until morning, and whatever is left over of it until morning, you shall burn in fire. 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: 5-11).
The Chizkuni paints a vivid picture about exactly what these pesukim are telling us, with the theme being disgracing the Egyptian god. The Jewish people took a lamb on the tenth of Nissan and tied it to their bed post until the 14th of Nissan so that the Egyptians would see their gods tied up and denigrated in a disgraceful manner inside the houses of the Jews. They heard the cries of the lambs and could not save them. The Jews then were commanded to slaughter their lamb in mid-day for all the Egyptians to see.They then took the blood and painted it on their doorposts, for perhaps not all the Egyptians were able to make it to see the slaughtering of the lambs, so they could instead see the blood of their god placed on the doorposts in disgrace. They ate the meat at night when everyone is usually home. It was roasted on the fire so that the scent would travel and be a thick smell in the noses of the Egyptians, and they would know that the Jews were eating their god. It was eaten in a disgraceful manner since the meat was eaten with something bad and bitter, the bitter herb, not with something of significance, or sweet. They were told not to eat it raw, meaning if an Egyptian came to their house while roasting, they should not remove it from the fire and say it has roasted well enough, though it is still raw (medium rare). The Jew might have said this out of fear, therefore the pasuk was saying not to be afraid of them. It was roasted completely and as one full body so that the Egyptians could recognize their idol being roasted. Any leftovers should have been burnt to ashes which is a disgrace. Lastly they ate it with their backpacks and boots on, and with their staffs in their hands, which is a mundane and disgraceful manner in which to eat, as opposed to other sacrifices which would normally be eaten in an honorable fashion. (Please click here for Hebrew text.)
It’s very clear that the theme of this charge was to disgrace the Egyptian’s god and to make sure every Egyptian knew what was going on. It was an utterly thorough disgrace without holding anything back, leaving no possible angle of disgrace unturned. But why did it have to come to the point of making the Jewish people so uncomfortable by eating bitter herbs, and in a very awkward manner with their backpacks on their backs, boots on, and staff in hand? Wasn’t all they did besides that enough of a disgrace and a show of not fearing the Egyptians and their false god? Why did Hashem place His children under this type of suffering and discomfort at a time that He was about to let them go free and accept them as His nation, leaving the many years of torture and slavery?
We must say that adding these two bits of disgrace added and completed the utter degradation of the Egyptian god, which was the purpose of this exercise. Fulfilling every detail was a test of true dedication, which one must have under any and all circumstances when performing Hashem’s mitzvos.
This in fact seems to be the first test of the Jewish people, as a nation, to show their dedication towards fulfilling Hashem’s command.