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The 4 Steps to Freedom

By: Rav Yonny Sack

At the beginning of this week’s parasha, VaEra, we find Hashem assuring Moshe that the redemption from Egypt is about to begin and Hashem instructs Moshe to tell the Jewish people the famous 4 lashonot of Geula – the 4 expressions of redemption. The Talmud Yerushalmi [1] teaches us that the 4 cups of wine that we drink on Pesach correspond to these 4 expressions of redemption found in the following pasukim:

And I, too, have heard the cry of the Children of Israel whom Egypt enslaves and I have remembered My covenant. Therefore, say to the Children of Israel: “I am Hashem, and I shall take you out (VeHotzaiti) from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you (VeHitzalti) from their service; I shall redeem you (VeGaalti) with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I shall take you to me (VeLakachti) for a people and I shall be a G-d to you . . . (Shmot 6:6-7)

Looking at the above pasukim we are met with an obvious question; Are these 4 statements merely synonyms for redemption? Nothing in the Torah is superfluous, the Torah wastes no words, so what then is the need to describe redemption in 4 different terms? To answer this, the Yerushalmi refers to the 4 statements as “4 geulot” – “4 redemptions” meaning that each one represents an independent aspect of redemption, unique and instructive on its own. Furthermore, Rabbeinu Bachayei (and other mefarshim) explain the 4 as different stages in the process of achieving true freedom, each one uniquely important. On a simple level the stages work as follows: the first stage is Hashem’s bringing the Jewish people out of the slavery and backbreaking labor. This occurred on Rosh Hashana some 6 months before they actually left. The second stage refers to being saved from the domination of the Egyptians. This means that while the first stage would bring an end to the slavery, the Jews would still be considered somewhat under the dominion of the Egyptians while still living in Egypt. The second stage therefore brings a redemption in that the Jews would actually leave the land of Egypt. However, despite having left the land, they would not yet be considered truly free until the destruction of the pursuing Egyptian forces at the splitting of the sea. This then brings the third stage where the Jewish slaves need no longer look over their shoulders in fear of their enemies. The sea splitting and subsequent destruction of the enemy is therefore the 3rd stage.

What then is the 4th stage? This is the receiving of the Torah at Mt Sinai where the Children of Israel became the Jewish nation through the marriage of Hashem and his people [2], Mt Sinai as the chupa so to speak, and the Torah as the covenant of commitment.

Galut and Geula of Mitzrayim is the rosh for all future exile and redemption [1]. Therefore, we must always remember when reading these parashiot that the freedom from the Galut (exile) of Mitzrayim (Egypt) is not a one off historical event but rather a foundational root for all subsequent exiles and redemptions - both for the Jewish people as a whole and for each and every individual. An Individual also has their own personal Mitzrayim - that which holds them back and squashes them from being the true beautiful holy self, fueled by their own personal Pharaoh (the Yetzer Hara) in what is termed the Galut HaNefesh – the exile of the soul and geulat haNefesh – redemption of the soul [2].

Based on this, we can follow through each of the 4 stages of redemption and learn towards our own spiritual “leaving of Egypt”.

Our first step in leaving our personal Mitzrayim must involve an end to the “slavery”. Sometimes there are bad habits that are so entrenched in our conduct that we are even unaware of them. They have become as if permissible. Sometimes it is the way we speak about people, or callousness we display to others in need. Whatever the negative trait or behavior may be, the first step is to wake up from the sleepy insensitivity and realize there is an issue. Once we do this we are no longer slaves, we have seen the first light of redemption, the light of ‘it doesn’t have to be this way’. We are not however free just yet. Now comes the hard work of letting go. To choose to hold onto a new pathway, a new vision, a new better you, you first need to let go of the grasp you have on the harmful, destructive damaging things. This would entail releasing ourselves from the precious attachments we have, the desires that we feed off, which pull us towards that negative conduct and then also dealing with the fears that we have of ‘what will be’ if I do indeed change. If we can do this then we can leave Mitzrayim, stop the negative actions/thoughts/speech and we are half way there. However, we are not yet fully free for we have the pursuing Pharoah and his men chasing after us. This refers to the Yetzer Hara for the old ways which somewhere inside us still pulls at us for attention and pursues us trying to attack and pull us back to the Mitzrayim we thought we had left. With the miracle of the sea splitting, and drowning of the evil pursuers, the impurity of Mitzrayim was completely gone. We defeat the Yetzer Hara when we remove any trace of affiliation and desire for that which we have left behind [3].  

We see then something so profound. Despite the complete disconnection from the negative, true freedom for the Jewish people is only achieved with the giving of the Torah. We are not considered free, even though we are no longer slaves, no longer in Mitzrayim (Egypt), no longer pursued by our enemies – as long as we have not yet made our commitment to a way of life which will reveal G-dliness in this world. It is one thing to leave behind negativity but it is another thing entirely to embrace the positive. Until we do so we are not called free. This underscores the profound meaning of true freedom: it is not the freedom from but the freedom to. We are not called free when we do whatever we want. The YOLO lifestyle of “if it feels good then just do it, because You Only Live Once” is irresponsible at best and utterly destructive at worst. “Freedom” where anything goes is a freedom which will only breed anarchy. On a personal level, when we ‘let ourselves go’ we lose touch with our pure, beautiful G-dly essence and unique mission in this world as we replace it for undisciplined, unholy hedonism. True freedom is achieved with Torah because it provides the commitment which lies at the core of what it means to be holy. When we let ourselves go then we are truly still slaves to our lower selves – the lustful desires of our heart. In the ‘marriage’ of the Giving of the Torah, Hashem took us to be His bride (VeLakachti Etchem Li – and I will take you to me”), he brought us under the Chupa, and we committed to a relationship which would allow us the true freedom to be our holy, lofty, incandescent selves.

Finally, there is a hidden 5th expression of redemption which we have not mentioned. The verses quoted above continue and the Hashem concludes with saying “And I shall bring you (VeHeVeiti) to the land . . .” With what does this 5th expression correspond? The Torah sources say that it corresponds to the 5th cup of Eliyahu at the Seder night. Eliyahu is the one who will herald to the world the coming of Moshiach – the true and final redemption, the time when we will all achieve true clarity of vision, seeing the world filled with Hashem’s light, and all the Jewish people will return together to Eretz Yisrael[4], where we are truly home[5]. On a personal level, the 5th corresponds to accessing the highest part of our soul, the 5 level, the ‘Yechida’, corresponding to the 5th prayer of Yom Kippur, Neila, and aligning with the highest of heights of spiritual purity.  

May we learn from these parashiot the art of growth, the step by step process of change and come that little bit closer to the final redemption,

Shabbat Shalom!

 


[1] The Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:1 where it says the 4 cups are corresponding 4 Geulot (4 redemptions) and then lists the 4 expressions of redemption.

[2] This is all explained beautifully in Rabbeinu Bachaye and in the Netivot Shalom on this week’s parasha.

[3] See the Slonimer Rebbe in Netivot Shalom in his writings on the 7th Day of Pesach.

[4] See Pardes Yosef. The Slonimer Rebbe also writes that the 5 levels parallel the 5 levels of the Jewish soul.

[5] This thus represents the 5 stage, where the husband (Hashem so to speak in this case) brings his wife into his home.

 

 

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