Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • From Slavery to Redemption
קטגוריה משנית
To dedicate this lesson
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Translated by Hillel Fendel

When we recite the Passover Haggadah, we say this dramatic sentence: "In every generation a person must view himself as if he had left Egypt." (See also Mishna Pesachim 10,5.) That is, we must relive anew our redemption from subjugation, every single year. This is what our "time of freedom" – Passover and the month of Nissan – is meant for.

It is the job and responsibility of a nation, and of a person, to be free, and not to be subjugated to others in any way. The main aspect of our telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt is our emphasis on the negation of slavery, on the one hand, and on the vitality of freedom, on the other hand. As the Mishna teaches (10,4): "We begin with g'nut, condemnation, and end with shevach, praise." That is, when we sit down at the Seder table to fulfill the Torah commandment to recite the story of the Exodus, we must begin with negative aspects of our story, and only afterwards do we sing our own praises.

What exactly are these negatives aspects (g'nut) and these praises (shevach)? The Gemara has two opinions: "Rav said that the g'nut is when we say, 'At first, our forefathers were idol-worshipers,' and the shevach is when we continue and say, 'And now, the Holy One has brought us close to His service."

The second opinion is that of Shmuel, who says, "The g'nut is when we say, 'We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt,' and the shevach is when we say, 'And Hashem our G-d took us out of there." (See P'sachim 116a, and Rambam, Law of Chametz and Matzah 7,4.)

In actuality, these are not two contrasting opinions, but rather supplement each other. They are the two sides of g'nut and shevach. Rav emphasizes the spiritual aspects of subjugation and redemption, while Shmuel highlights the physical aspects. Only when both of these are part of our redemption process is this process complete.

"In every generation a person must view himself as if he had left Egypt."

In every generation, Jews sat down at the Seder table, recounted the exodus from enslavement to freedom, and sought to relive it themselves. However, of all generations, for us it is really genuine – for we are living through a real departure from subjugation to redemption. We have merited to be part of the Beginning of the Sprouting of our Redemption – the establishment of our State once again, for the first time in 19 centuries, and the end of foreign rule over our Holy Land. We have truly gone from enslavement to redemption. However, our recounting of the story of the Exodus from Egypt reminds us that the redemption is complete only when the physical-political redemption is combined with a spiritual redemption, and the liberation of the body is supplemented and completed by the emancipation of the soul.

The Four Cups

On the Seder night of our time of freedom, we drink four cups of wine in thanksgiving to G-d, corresponding to the four expressions of Redemption in G-d's promise to Moshe Rabbeinu to extricate the Israelites from Egypt:

"I will take you out from beneath the suffering of Egypt, and I will save you from their servitude, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great wonders. And I will take you unto Me for a nation and I will be unto your G-d" (Sh'mot 6,6-7).

This is the Divine program for our Exodus from Egypt, and it is the prototype from which we learn that this is a process of Redemption and it has several steps; the goal is not reached all at once. First "I will take you out from under the suffering of Egypt" – from the difficult suffering, starting with the beginning of the Ten Plagues; "I will save you from their servitude" – salvation from the slavery altogether, when we actually quit Egypt; "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great wonders" – the Splitting of the Red Sea; and I will take you unto Me for a nation – when we received the Torah at Sinai.

These are the stages of the Complete Redemption, the Redemption of the Body, and the Redemption of the Soul. These first three stages deal with the Exodus from Egypt, and the fourth stage is the Giving of the Torah, the Spiritual redemption. The first three deal with our freedom from Egyptian servitude, and the fourth stage introduces us to our singularity.

What singularity is that? A fifth stage the comes along that helps us actualize it: "I will bring you to the Land that I raised My hand to give to you, to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov; and I will give it to you as a legacy" (6,8). Only in Eretz Yisrael do we have the opportunity and ability to fulfill, completely and truly, our destiny as the Nation of G-d. Thus, this fifth stage of coming to the Land is that which ends and completes the process of Redemption.

The Source of Our Various Exiles

The Exile in Egypt is actually the source of all our succeeding Exiles, and the Redemption from Egypt – the source of all future Redemptions. The Redemption from Egypt is a model and prototype for the final Redemption, during which we are now living. Just as there are stages in the Exile – the body is enslaved first, followed by the subjugation of the soul – so too in the Redemption: The body is redeemed first, and only afterwards does the soul follow suit. The subjugation of the body is less severe than that of the soul, and the Redemption of the body is easier than that of the soul. For, even after the body is freed, the soul still remains enslaved for a period of time.

The Prophet Yehezkel presents the Divine Program for our Final Redemption:

"I will take you from amid the nations and I will gather you from all the lands and I will bring you to your Land. And I will sprinkle pure waters upon you, and you will become purified from all your defilements… And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will place within you, and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and I will give you a [human] heart. And My spirit I will give within you, and cause you to follow my laws and observe them." (Yechezkel 36, 24-27)

This is referring to a process that also has four stages: Ingathering of the Exiles (redemption of the body), followed by three stages of redemption of the soul, leading up to a complete return to the observance of Torah and its laws. Only then will come the fifth stage, the summing-up: "You will dwell in the Land that I have given to your forefathers, and you will be unto Me a nation and I will be G-d for you" (verse 28)."

We have merited in this very generation to live through and experience the Beginning of the Sprouting of our Redemption, with the establishment of the State of Israel and the ingathering of the Exiles into it. This is the redemption of our [national] body, and its guaranteed and obvious continuation is the redemption of our national soul – and this will be the Complete Redemption, the Geula HaShlema.

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