Four Expressions of Liberation

When G‑d told Moses to speak to Pharaoh to liberate the Jewish people, He used four expressions of liberation.

The Midrash (Lekach Tov) explains that these four expressions parallel four merits of the Jewish people that were responsible for their ultimate freedom:

1) They did not abandon their language. (Included in this is the fact that they did not change their names).

2) They did not alter their mode of dress.

3) They did not divulge their secrets [to the Egyptians].

4) They did not abolish circumcision.

When we analyze these four merits we can see how they relate to four aspects of our personalities that identify us. Each of these merits reveal and describe various layers of our personality, ranging from the external and peripheral to the internal and essential.



The first layer of our personality, looked at from the outside in, is the way we communicate through language.  The primary function of speech is to reveal our thoughts to the outside. We don’t need speech to communicate with ourselves but we do need it to communicate with others. Speech thus can act as a metaphor for our ability to go outside of ourselves.

The first model of speech is G‑d’s “speech”, which He used to create the world. G‑d, of course, does not have physical properties. What, then, is meant by His speech?

Chassidus explains that speech essentially means the power to project out of yourself. In Creation, G‑d projected His energy “outward” to create a world, one that appears to have an independent existence.

Similarly, human speech, which derives from Divine speech, is entirely about projecting outside of one’s inner being.

However, while speech is external it reveals something about the person’s inner workings.

One of the best-known sections of the Haggadah refers to the Four Sons. The Chochom-Wise Son is introduced with the words: “The Chochom, what does he say?” The Previous Rebbe translated this introductory phrase in a novel way: “A Chochom, what he is, he says.”

In other words, one can tell that a person is either a chochom or its opposite by the way he or she speaks. Speech is a powerful instrument that reveals our intellect as well as our emotions; what and who we are.

Speech is also capable of misrepresenting or concealing our true ideas. When used by a person to lie or exaggerate, speech becomes a force of concealment and can be said to be in exile in that moment.

While the Jewish slaves were subjected to tortures that made it hard for them to speak, they nevertheless did not adopt the language of their overlords and begin to speak in a foreign tongue. They did not allow their revealing force of speech to become sullied by values alien to their ethos as children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

To be sure, their speech was affected by exile. The Arizal states that the word Pesach is a composite of two words: peh sach, the mouth speaks. Among its other elevating aspects, Passover was the liberation of their power of communication.

However, when the Jewish slaves did converse they resisted the forces of exile and they did not allow their language to change.

This is what the Midrash means when it says that in the merit of not changing their language they merited to be liberated. The first level of liberation is the most external; the liberation of speech. This form of freedom allows us to communicate in ways that are consistent with the ideals of Judaism.


Jewish Clothing

The second layer of personality left untainted by exile was their clothing. The clothing a person wears tells us something about the social status and the values of the person. Uniforms are perhaps the best illustration of this point.  When we see a person dressed as a police officer we know what his function is.  The Talmudic Sage Rabbi Yochanan referred to his clothing as “his honor.”

However, while clothing may reveal something about our tastes and social status, it can also cover them up and even misrepresent us.

There are several words for clothing in Hebrew.  One such word is k’sus, which means cover.  Another word is beged, which also has the connotation of betrayal.  A third word is simlah, which is related to the word semel, meaning a symbol.

Our garments are a symbol of our station in life, but they can also cover and belie our true personality. In extreme instances they can totally misrepresent who we are.

When we dress in an immodest fashion, for example, it distorts our true holy nature.

The Torah commands men not to wear the garments of a woman and for women not to dress like men. The Talmud explains that this gender-bending practice made it easier for men and women to mix for illicit purposes. The Torah forbids using a garment to misrepresent our identity as a holy and moral people.

Clothing, although peripheral, can cause a person to degenerate morally and spiritually. Egypt was known in those days to be the most morally depraved nation on earth.

However, despite their subservience to the Egyptians the Jews did not allow their outer persona, as reflected by their garments, to betray them. The Jewish people remained utterly chaste and moral. Their clothing was a symbol of their heightened moral stature.

By refusing to change their garments to conform to the Egyptian style, they proclaimed that their external nature did not conceal who they were and  betray their inner identities.

The Jews merited their liberation from exile because they never allowed themselves to lose their dignity or betray their morality.

Exile is the ultimate period of concealment and betrayal of who we are. We are empowered to resist exile, and ultimately get out of it, when we do not misrepresent our spiritual nature by the garments we wear. Fidelity to Jewish dress codes was a way to defy the forces of exile and ultimately led to the Exodus. 

This merit of not changing their garments was, therefore, generated a force to liberate the Jews from bondage.

Did Not Divulge their Secrets

The Midrash refers to a third virtue that merited their redemption: They did not divulge their secrets to the Egyptians. While proper speech and clothing may point to a sophisticated level of external modesty, not revealing secrets pointed to their inner modesty. The internal layer of their personality was left unsullied.

Just as it is important to preserve the integrity of the external aspects of our personalities, such as speech and garments, so too we must maintain the integrity of our inner persona.

There are aspects of our private lives that must remain with us. Modesty requires that we not share our secrets or private lives with everyone. Just as there is modesty in speech and dress, there is also modesty in not flaunting our physical and spiritual assets. In addition, this aspect of modesty demands that information given to us in confidence must not be shared with others.

This trait of humility and respect is a powerful force of liberation. G‑d selected Moses to be the liberator of the Jewish people precisely because he was humble. Similarly, the Midrash states that Moshiach will be the final liberator because of his humility.

To be sure, there are times when we must divulge our hidden talents to help others. However, we must not do it in a way that gives succor to the “Egyptians;” the forces of exile. We must not seek notoriety in applying our talents to helping others.



There is yet a fourth and deeper layer of our personality.  It is represented by the act of male circumcision. The Torah states that circumcision is a sign of our covenant with G‑d. While it is superficially inscribed on the surface of our son’s bodies, circumcision reveals our deep-rooted connection with G‑d. Indeed, the Alter Rebbe writes in his Code of Jewish Law that the Divine soul enters the Jewish male at the time of circumcision.

Circumcision is thus a window into a far deeper part of our personality than our clothing or speech. It lies beyond our deepest secrets; it points to our Divine soul and essence.

Circumcision performed at eight days, when the child has no understanding of the ritual, expresses a bond with G‑d that transcends reason. It is a glimpse of the part of the soul that transcends the conventional faculties of intellect and emotion.

When that aspect of our being remains unsuppressed, nothing can stand in the way of our liberation. When we are in touch with our deep-rooted connection to G‑d, symbolized by circumcision, we are in touch with the most powerful liberation force of all.

Redemption from this Exile

Those traits, those merits that were instrumental in getting us out of Egyptian bondage will also redeem us from the current exile.

These four forces of Redemption are:

The integrity of speech demands that we refrain from negative speech and use the gift of speech primarily for the study of Torah; specifically the teachings concerning Moshiach and Redemption.

The integrity of our garments; external modesty.

The integrity of our private life; internal modesty.

The integrity of our spiritual bond with G‑d.