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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

How Many Expressions of Divine Redemption?

by Rabbi Dan Margulies (Posted on January 19, 2023)
Topics: Sefer Shemot, Torah, Va'era

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The beginning of Va’era includes a passage familiar to many, which includes the four leshonot of geulah, four expressions of divine redemptive power. This is the source for the idea that we should have four cups of wine or grape juice at the Pesach seder, corresponding to each of the four steps of the progression of God’s taking us out of slavery in Egypt (Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:1). According to a fascinating comment quoted by Rashi from Rabbi Moshe haDarshan, it is also the reason why the mitzvah of tzitzit, in a sense a commemoration of yetziat Mitzrayim, has four corners, corresponding again to the four words used here to express divine redemption of Bnei Yisrael from slavery (Rashi Numbers 15:41).

However, I would like to problematize this idea. If we pay close attention to the text, we see that there are not only four future tense verbs characterizing God’s redemption of Beni Yisrael from slavery and Egypt, there are in fact seven, a much more characteristic typologic number in biblical studies.

לָכֵן אֱמֹר לִבְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲנִי יְי וְהוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלֹת מִצְרַיִם וְהִצַּלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מֵעֲבֹדָתָם וְגָאַלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בִּזְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבִשְׁפָטִים גְּדֹלִים׃ וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם לִי לְעָם וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי יְי אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלוֹת מִצְרָיִם׃ וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתִי אֶת־יָדִי לָתֵת אֹתָהּ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב וְנָתַתִּי אֹתָהּ לָכֶם מוֹרָשָׁה אֲנִי יְי׃

Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am Hashem. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgment. And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, Hashem, am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I am Hashem” (Shemot 6:6-8).

These seven verbs are broken up into three verses and open with the bracket “Ani Hashem–I am the Lord”. The first three verbs occupy the first verse, about leaving slavery in Egypt. The next two are in the second verse, describing building a relationship with God. The final two are about achieving a national destiny as Bnei Yisrael emerge from slavery, enter the land of Israel, and put into practice the laws of the Torah in the society that God expects us to build. The passage then concludes with the bracket again “Ani Hashem”.

This is pointing us to consider a progression of Jewish history and Jewish destiny from emerging from slavery, through receiving the Torah and building the relationship and covenant with God at Har Sinai, to entering into the land of Israel and putting those laws into practice.

We could consider these three stages as corresponding to the three pilgrimage holidays of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot: emerging from slavery, receiving the Torah and building a brit with God, and entering into the land of Israel, enjoying its bounty, and celebrating our presence in the land.

Another thing to reflect on is why then would Chazal tell us that the Pesach holiday is only about four expressions of geulah? Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann suggests that perhaps after the Temple was destroyed, there was a push in certain rabbinic circles to create a truncated version of the Exodus narrative minimizing the aspect of the story about entering the land, where the promise to our ancestors would be fulfilled and mitzvot could be expressed fully there. It is possible that due to political circumstances with the Romans, the destruction of the Temple, and the diaspora of Jewish community, people were no longer comfortable with that idea. People felt challenged invoking that part of the story around Pesach time, instead focusing on the fact that we left slavery and emerged victorious in that moment, but focused less on the parts of our history where our hopes were not yet fulfilled (Melamed Leho’il Part III 65:1-2).

Shabbat Shalom.