Beit Midrash

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Four Stages of Liberation


Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

In our parasha, the promise of Israel’s liberation from Egypt is presented in a manner that Chazal call four languages of liberation: "I will take you out from the burden of Egypt, and I will save you from their service, and I will liberate you with an outstretched arm and with great blows, and I will take you for Me as a nation and will be for you a G-d" (Shemot 6:6-7). In this way, the Torah wants us to appreciate the special nature of Israel’s freedom. It must be a liberation of the spirit no less than of the body. It must not be only a freedom from any connection to Egypt but the opening of a new page in human history by introducing an independent Jewish way of thinking.
The first stage was extricating the people from the burden the Egyptians placed upon them. We would have thought that this was sufficient, as this is what caused them to call out in anguish to Hashem. However, although when the ten plagues had just begun, that element of the bondage had already ceased (Rosh Hashana 11a), there was still a need for further stages.
The Egyptians had stamped their imprint on Israel. They not only were afraid of their Egyptian masters but they had begun to respect and to imitate them, including in regard to idol worship. Their inability to "listen to Moshe" (Shemot 6:9) was a result of the "shortness of spirit" (ibid.) related to a lack of complete faith, which that generation was missing (see Midrash Aggada 6:9) and from "difficult work" (ibid.), which was a difficulty to stop idol worship (see Shemot Rabba 6:6). The plagues, the first of which affected the Nile, the main god of Egypt and its major source of success, proved that the perceived invincibility of Pharaoh and his Nile were only an illusion. This was the fulfillment of "save you from their service" – their service of false gods.
However, the liberation was not supposed to be only in being extricated from negative elements but was to be positive as well. Hashem showed them that there is a true source of power in the world. The world is not run as a blind game of chance but runs based on divine control. This was "I will liberate you with an outstretched arm and with great blows."
The final idea was that Hashem and Bnei Yisrael would begin a relationship of a G-d and His nation. Bnei Yisrael were singled out, and by accepting the Torah and mitzvot and doing charity and justice, they were to earn this distinction.
The confluence of these four languages of liberation created a very special nation. Throughout our history, the nation and its Torah go hand-in-hand. No tribe was without this connection, even if at times it was not as strong as it should have been. There were problems in the times of the Judges and later on at the time of the Karites. However these were always the exceptions, which did not stop the nation as an "organism" to continue.
In recent history as well, there have been shake-ups to the nation and attempts to take it off its historical path. However, as the beginning of the eventual redemption starts to shine forth, we will continue to experience not only the first two redemptions of escaping the tragedies but also the last two of developing our relationship with Hashem.
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