Torah for the Times

Friday,January11- 29 Tevet , 5773

Torah Reading: Va'eira (Exodus 1:1 -6:1)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:23 PM

Shabbat ends: 5:28 PM

The Five Expressions Of Redemption

Four Expressions; Four Cups of Wine

In this week’s parsha G‑d tells Moses to tell the children of Israel, “I am G‑d, I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will save you from their labor, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you as a people for Myself, and I will be a G‑d to you, and you will know that I am G‑d, your G‑d, who is taking you from under the burdens of Egypt.” In this quote the Torah employs four expression of liberation: “I will take you out”; “I will save you”; “I will redeem you”; “I will take you”

The Talmud tells us that these four expressions of liberation are the basis for the requirement to drink four cups of wine at the Passover Seder.

The question one could raise here is: why should the fact that the Exodus is described with four expressions necessitate drinking four cups? There was only one Exodus, so shouldn’t there be an obligation to drink only one cup of wine to celebrate it?

Four Stages

The simple explanation is that there were actually four separate stages of their liberation. And—in the spirit of the song Dayeinu—one might suggest that we would have good reason to celebrate even if we would have remained slaves, but spared the intolerable conditions to which we were brutally subjected.

Hence, the first cup is our way of expressing gratitude and joy for not being tortured by the Egyptian taskmasters and for the end of the back-breaking slave labor.

But G‑d did more than just release us from torture and the brutality to which we were subjected before the Exodus. G‑d also liberated us from every form—even the most benign form—of slavery.

However, G‑d did not stop at freeing us from servitude. He also released us from Egypt. Previously, no Jew could escape from the prison that was the Land of Egypt. Now, for the first time, Jews were free to leave. Similarly, we have witnessed this form of liberation of Jews from the former Soviet Union, which kept Jews as hostages refusing to let them leave.

G‑d was still not content. Not only did He liberate us from the Egyptian prison, He also granted us nationhood and made us His nation, by giving us a constitution—the Torah—that created an eternal bond between G‑d and the Jewish people.

Thus, there are actually four different aspects and stages of the Exodus; each of the four levels of liberation deserves its own cup of wine to enhance the joy.

The Egyptian Burden

There is still an additional question that we must address to fully appreciate the four expressions of Redemption.

Why is it that in the opening description of how we were freed from slavery, the Torah mentions that it was specifically an Egyptian burden? Did it make a difference whether the Egyptians enslaved and burdened the Jews or some other nation did it? The main point is that we were freed from that form of slavery. It makes little difference, apparently, who was enslaving the Israelites.

We can answer this question in light of the explanation that was discussed in last week’s thought. It was suggested that the four expressions of Redemption—and the corresponding four cups of wine at the Seder—parallel the four virtues of the Jewish people in Egypt, in which merit they were liberated. And it was also suggested that these four expressions relate to the four areas that must be cultivated by us in preparation for the final Redemption.

These four virtues, described by the Midrash, are: a) They did not change their names; b) They did not change their language; c) They did not slander one another; d) They were modest.

To translate these four virtues into contemporary terms, we must: know who we are; b) speak and think in Jewish terms; c) recognize our inherent Jewish unity; and, d) gain mastery over our desires.

For the Jews in Egypt, not changing their names represented the fact that they never lost their identity as Jews. Corresponding to this virtue, the Torah states that G‑d took them out of the burden of Egypt, with the emphasis on Egypt. One of the greatest burdens in the battle to keep one’s Jewish identity is guaranteeing that our identity doesn’t become subsumed within the identity of our enemy. Thus we celebrate that the Jews in Egypt did not become Egyptians. This is hinted in an alternate translation of the word “sivlos” which means burdens but has also been translated as “tolerance.” Thus it reads, “I will take them out of tolerating Egypt.” They did not tolerate the evil of Egypt. It was not part of their identity.

No Contribution to Egyptian Life

The second virtue of not changing their language was explained in last week’s message as a sign that the Jews did not lose their distinctive Jewish way of thinking. A Jew could recognize that he or she is a Jew even while adopting non-Jewish ways of thinking and communicating. But the Jews in Egypt didn’t sacrifice their Jewish perspective or view of life.

Corresponding to this aspect of liberation, the Torah states, “I will save you from their labor.” Here the term labor can mean the Egyptian way of doing things. Because the Jews exhibited resistance to serving in an Egyptian fashion, G‑d saved them from working for the Egyptians.

A Major Production

The third virtue of not slandering one another, which expressed their inherent unity, precipitated the third stage of the Exodus; G‑d liberated them with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. Had the Jewish people lacked unity, their liberation would have been a private affair. It would have lacked the fanfare that accompanied the Exodus. Now that they were a united people, G‑d made the Exodus a spectacular display of miracles to reflect the magnitude of the event that encompassed an entire unified nation.

The fourth virtue was the fact that the Jews were able to gain mastery over themselves. They did not succumb to the immoral and depraved ways of the Egyptians. In the merit of this inner strength that the Jewish people maintained in Egypt, they were taken by G‑d to be His nation. The reward for inner strength is to be given the means to preserve that inner strength. This G‑d did by making them His nation and by becoming their G‑d at Mount Sinai, where G‑d said “ I am the L-rd Your G‑d.” The Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad Chassidic movement, whose 200th anniversary of his passing we observed last Sunday on the 24th of Teves) provides a novel translation to this opening line of the ten Commandments. He translates it thus: “I have made My essential name your strength.” This means that from Sinai onward, G‑d’s transcendent being has become the inner strength of each and every Jew. Every Jew possesses the inner fortitude and moral courage to resist all the pressures that threaten our purity and holiness.

The Fifth Cup

In truth, if we look carefully, there are actually five expressions of liberation in this week’s parsha. After the four that were enumerated above, the Torah continues: “I will bring you to the land, regarding which I raised My hand to give it to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, and I will give it to you as a heritage; I am G‑d.”

Some say that this fifth expression is the reason for pouring a cup for Elijah, the prophet. It is about the future Redemption that will be ushered in and announced by Elijah. And since we have yet to experience the future Redemption, we do not drink the fifth cup.

In light of the foregoing association of the four expressions and cups of wine with the four virtues that distinguished the Jewish people, to which virtue does the fifth expression correspond?

It may be suggested that the fifth expression, that predicts the future Redemption, relates to the virtue of faith in the promise of Redemption and the desire to be liberated. It does not suffice to maintain our identity, attitude, unity and self-mastery in exile. One must clamor for the Redemption no matter how good things are spiritually and materially in exile.

Indeed, the Talmud states that it was in the merit of Emunah-faith that the Jewish people were liberated from Egypt. More specifically, the Talmud states that it was in the merit of the Jewish women that they were liberated. Actually, these two statements are complementary. The women possessed a greater measure of faith than the men.

So when we pour the fifth cup for Elijah, it is appropriate to reflect on the role of maintaining our faith in, and our anticipation of the Redemption. It is a time to reinforce our faith that, despite all of the delays, Moshiach’s coming is imminent. As we say in the Ani Ma’amin declaration: “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of Moshiach. And even though he tarries, I await his coming every day.”

Moshiach Matters

If the Jewish people begin now to rejoice already in the Redemption, out of absolute trust that G‑d will speedily send us Moshiach, this joy in itself will (as it were) compel our Father in heaven to redeem them from exile. (Likutei Sichos, vol. 20 p. 384)