Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Va'era
To dedicate this lesson

What Comes Before the Land?

A basic precondition for understanding both the situation in which the Israelites found themselves on the eve of the Exodus, and our situation today, is to remember the following words of the Sages: "Like the first redeemer (Moshe), so will be the last redeemer (Mashiach)" (Midrash Kohelet Rabba 1,28). That is, there are basic similarities between our situation in Egypt and ours today, during the final Geula.

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Rabbi Yechezkel Frenkel

Tevet 27 5782
translated by Hillel Fendel

G-d's message to Moshe at the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Va'era, requires our sensitive attention. G-d promises Moshe that He will extricate Israel from Egypt and will redeem them:

"Tell the Children of Israel, I am G-d, and I will take you out… and I will save you… and will redeem you… and will take you unto Me as a nation…" (Sh'mot 6,6-7).

These four verbs are called the "Four Languages of Redemption (Geula)," or the "Four Redemptions" – meaning that each one is a Redemption in and of itself.

A basic precondition for understanding both the situation in which the Israelites found themselves on the eve of the Exodus, and our situation today, is to remember the following words of the Sages: "Like the first redeemer (Moshe), so will be the last redeemer (Mashiach)" (Midrash Kohelet Rabba 1,28). That is, there are basic similarities between our situation in Egypt and ours today, during the final Geula.

If asked what is the complete Redemption, we would certainly answer that it is our arrival in the complete, Jewish-controlled Land of Israel. And in fact this is one of the things that G-d promises Moshe in the above speech: "I will bring you to the Land that I raised My hand to give to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov" (verse 8). This seems like it should be one of the Languages of Geula, no?

No! These words "I will bring you" are not among the specified Four Languages of Redemption. Why is this?

Not only that, but three of the four Redemption promises here deal only with improving the Jews' lot in Egypt: releasing them from bondage or removing them from Egypt. Only the last one, I will take you unto Me, refers to what will happen after they leave Egypt. Three phrases of Redemption happen while we are still in Egypt?!

The answer to both these questions is this: Redemption begins from the bottom.

To understand this, let us go back to the story of the Burning Bush, where G-d first unfolds His plan for Israel's disengagement from Egypt. There too, G-d made it clear to Moshe that the ultimate objective was the arrival in the Land of the Canaanites and Hittites, the land of milk and honey. But this was not the first thing; G-d shows that what occupies Him beforehand is the present situation of Israel, their suffering, their tribulations, and their pain: "I have surely seen the affliction of My people in Egypt, and I have heard their cries… I have known their pain" (3,7). G-d is teaching Moshe the first lesson in the Laws of Redemption: It starts from the bottom and only then goes upward!

Stopping Israel's suffering is the beginning, but is not the end-all goal of this process. Hashem continues to explain the program to Moshe: "I am coming… to raise them up from that land to a good and spacious land…" (3,8). But still, before everything, it must be understood that there can be no Geula without paying attention to the hurt, without hearing those who cry out, and without knowing the depths of the pain.

One who comes to redeem his nation with eyes peeled only towards the glorious future as he ignores the current pains of the present – very likely will not have the sensitivity required to redeem them. He must meet the standards of the First Redeemer mentioned above, the model for the Final Redeemer.

In this vein, the Midrash teaches:

"R. Yitzchak said: What does the Torah imply when it says that 'Moshe strayed to see the burning bush'? ['Strayed' in Hebrew is sar, which can also mean 'upset'] – G-d realized that Moshe was upset at seeing Israel's sorrow and suffering, and He decided that because of this great sensitivity, Moshe was worthy of being Israel's shepherd and leader. Whereupon G-d immediately called out to him: 'Moshe, Moshe!'"

Moshe knows the correct order of the Redemption: First the suffering must be tended to, and then the nation can be redeemed.

Furthermore: Our holy rabbi and teacher, Rav Binyamin Herling zt"l, may G-d avenge his blood, would often say that just like there is a Congregation of Yisrael of which we always speak, we must remember that there is also "Reb Yisroel," i.e., individuals. He said that when we deal with communal matters, we must not minimize or ignore the individual and his concerns and pains because we are too busy seeing holy vision of redemption and our exalted future.

God began "noticing" Moshe as a potential redeemer of Israel back in Egypt, when Moshe came to the defense of an Israelite man being attacked by an Egyptian; he did not turn a blind eye to his fellow's troubles. He did it again when he saw two Jews fighting with each other, and again when he came to the aid of the daughters of Yitro at the well, and yet again when he showed such sensitivity to a lost lamb. Each time he reinforced his worthiness of leading such a special nation, which was then in great need of leadership.

Not only Moshe, of course. Every leader of Israel must prove that he can share in the emotional burdens borne by them, for this will enable him to lead them. The Torah tells us that the Jewish foremen appointed by Pharaoh to oversee the Jewish slaves were flogged when the slaves did not produce the desired output (Sh'mot 5,14) – and the Midrash derives that these were righteous men who sacrificed themselves for their brethren and absorbed the Egyptian blows in place of the Jewish slaves. For this reason, they merited to receive Ruach HaKodesh, holy spirit, and be counted among the Seventy Elders of Israel (Sh'mot Rabba 5,20).

Another Lesson: The Command to Rise Up

G-d promised Yaakov Avinu, when he went to Egypt to reunite with his son Yosef, that He would be with him there and would also raise him up again to the Land of Israel (B'reshit 46,4). The idea of being with Israel in their subjugation does not mean that that is the goal; when we are sensitive to others and share their pain, it is not for the purpose of remaining with them on this sad level. Rather, both the "redeemer" and the "redeemed" have a mission: to leave the suffering behind and be redeemed!

At times, those who strive to solve social issues are inclined to forget that sharing one's pain is for the purpose of raising him up to the heights that he is able to reach. Sometimes the one being helped also becomes enamored with the fact of his suffering, and does not do enough to help himself out of it. He gets uses to small ambitions, to being left behind even though there are important missions crying out for help, and to not chipping in when the charge of the hour is to unite all Jews together for the purpose of tikkun olam, rectifying the world.

And therefore it is important to remember and internalize: On the one hand, we can help our students or anyone else only if we are "with them in their troubles," as is said about G-d and Israel: "I am with him in his trouble" (Psalms 91,15). We cannot stand coldly on the outside and rebuke them, "Why don't you get a life and solve your problems already?!" We must descend and be with them.

But on the other hand, we can't remain down there on their level. The continuation of the above verse is, "I will respect and honor him." We have to help them realize that even with their troubles, they are not exempt from striving for more, from seeking improvement – nor even from aspiring to world perfection.

We must also remember that even when the path to our final Geula appears long and windy, still and all, the Four Languages of Redemption are all Redemption! From the moment we begin to leave the suffering behind, from the minute our cry is heard and our tribulations are recognized – this is already Geula! Yes, the Exile is still underway, but as of that moment, the Redemption can be undertaken; he who needs rescuing - for instance, one who does not even know how to ask about great ideals (see Passover Haggadah) because he is mired in his personal individuality - can begin to be rescued. If we don't listen to him and understand his needs, we won't be able to rescue him, and he will be stuck there – far from the high level of Clal Yisrael to which his soul aspires and where he truly belongs.

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