For Pesach 2006, our family flew to England to spend Yom- Tov with my parents. Soon2 after our arrival, my mother presented her two-year-old granddaughter with a gift for Pesach – a new pair of shoes. We were grateful to put the kids to bed after our tiring trip. Once the children were soundly asleep, the adults took the opportunity to reacquaint and socialize. My daughter awoke in a dark unfamiliar house. Carefully, she buckled her new white dress shoes. Kitted in her Yom-tov shoes and pajamas, she was ready. Cautiously, she trekked down two flights of stairs to the bottom floor and burst into to kitchen screaming and howling – supposedly from fear at being left alone upstairs. None of the adults were fooled. If you were so scared, why wait to don your pretty shoes?
I am reminded of transitioning my son to his first pair of shoes. This was a nightmare. He was unhappy to have his feet clad, preferring to go barefoot – Tarzan style. Taking matters into his own hands, literally and figuratively, he constantly tugged at the offending appendages. Often, his efforts met with success. Many a bleary eyed morning found us franticly hunting his missing footwear; a blood-hound would have helped. Time marched on and he was ripe for his second pair of shoes. By now, he had made peace with the reality of wearing shoes. Pleased as punch, he would not go to sleep without wearing his new shoes.
The Jews, too, expressed the same sentiment when they left Egypt.
In recounting the Exodus, we are told that the people carried last night’s leftover meal on their shoulders (Exodus 12, 34). Tradition tells us, that every single Jew who left Mitzrayim owned several donkeys laden with treasures (Esther Rabbah 7). Yet the people chose to burden themselves with their leftover food, not their newly acquired gold, silver and valuables. With all this energy at their disposal why carry anything? Why did they lug the leftover meal in their backpacks?
My son elected to sleep in his shoes because he loved his new shoes and could bear to be parted from them. The Mechilta explains, the Jews who left Egypt clutched their leftover Matzos out of love. Last night, they fondly recalled, these same Matzos were utilized for a Mitzvah – a Divine instruction. This is not for packing on a donkey’s back. Let the animals carry the gold and silver – I want to shoulder these special items myself.
Yirmiyahu, (2:2) recounts the temperament of the Nation on leaving Egypt. The people followed Hashem, he prophesied, with the feeling a bride has towards her groom. This emotion found poignant expression in cherishing the leftover Mitzvah food.
Mitzvahs are not dry acts, formalities or duties. They are actions to be charged with positive emotion. The early 1900’s saw a significant drop in Shabbos observance amongst new immigrants. Back then, keeping Shabbos was challenging, most jobs required work on Saturday, and many were fired on a weekly basis. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein famously said: The decline in Shabbos observance was not because keeping Shabbos was difficult. The people withstood the test. Rather, because Jews krechtzed in response to the sacrifices, the next generation rejected the krechtz that accompanies Shmiras Shabbos. Performance without positive feeling has no future.