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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays Shiurim about Pesach

FOUR

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We are all aware that four is a significant number as far as the holiday of Pesach is concerned. There are the four words of redemption, the four sons, the four questions, the four cups of wine and the four matriarchs of Israel. In Judaism there are some numbers such as seven that appear more significant than do other numbers. As far as Pesach is concerned it seems that four is the winning number in terms of significance. I have always felt that the number four in Pesach lore derives its significance from the four mothers of Israel, Sarah, Rivka, Leah and Rochel. Each of these women exhibited a different character and a greatness all her own. Although each is aligned with her husband there is a definite strength in each one that stands apart from her role as wife and mother. And to a certain extent each represents one of the four stages of redemption as expressed in the four different words of the Torah as they appear relevant to the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. The redemption of the Jews in Egypt occurred in stages. First there was the relaxation of the terrible decrees of infanticide followed by the non-enforcement of the bricks without straw. The Jewish people are still slaves but their physical conditions of oppression have been lightened and relaxed. This improvement in the Jewish condition parallels Sarah’s role in history. She and her husband are alone in the world, subject to persecution and constant dangers. She escapes from the palaces of Pharaoh and Abimelech miraculously unharmed physically but certainly bruised emotionally. She has great difficulties in her life and dies from the shock of her son, also miraculously granted to her, being offered upon the altar as a sacrifice. She is never free of her traumas all of her life.

The second stage of redemption in Egypt lay in the realization amongst the Egyptians themselves that they would have no choice but to free the Jews from slavery. They said to Pharaoh: "Do you not realize that Egypt is lost? Send these people out already!" The time of Rivka was one of recognition by the world of the message of Yitzchak and Rivka. Abimelech journeys to make treaties with Yitzchak and begrudgingly accepts the fact that he and his family are beneficial to the Philistine country. However Rivka also is abducted into his palace where she also is miraculously saved from the king. Just as Pharaoh will not give in to the advice of his courtiers and free Israel from bondage so too Abimelech in spite of his peaceful protestations is not yet willing for Yitzchak and Rivka to live in peace and security in his country. Abimelech is not yet prepared to let go though overtly he does not pursue any hostile actions any longer against Yitzchak and Rivka. Pharaoh also is not yet prepared to let go though logic certainly dictates otherwise. He has not yet given up on the idea of slavery for the Jews in Egypt.

The third stage of redemption in Egypt was when the Jews were freed from any labor by the Egyptians. They were not free to leave the country but they no longer had any taskmasters over them. Leah represents this tension of being somewhat in limbo. The mother of six tribes of Israel, especially that of the priestly tribe and the royal house of Israel, she nevertheless is not considered the favorite wife though in death she alone will be joined to Yaakov in the Cave of Machpela. She is and she isn’t quite the heroine of the story, the mainstay of the house, the matriarch supreme. The final piece, the fourth stage of the redemption is finally the exodus from the country of Egypt itself. It is the self-confidence of being able to be free and feel free after so many centuries of exile and bondage. There is heartbreak involved nevertheless since not all of the Jews will leave Egypt and a substantial number of them will have died there. Rachel is the symbol of leaving exile, of escaping from Lavan and Eisav, of giving birth to Yosef who will save his family from death in the great famine and rise to great heights as the viceroy of Egypt, and the matriarch who stands guard on the road as her children Israel depart for exile and who welcomes them back home upon their eventual return. The four matriarchs predict the four stages of redemption of their descendants. We who are privileged to live in Israel have felt mother Rachel’s welcome first hand. May we also merit the final stage of our redemption as well.
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