A Few Thoughts from Va’era

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l in his Applbaum edition of the haggada, comments, 

At the very moment that we gather together to remember the past, we speak about the future. The seder brings together the three dimensions of time. Before the meal we tell the story of redemption in the past. During the meal we experience it in the present. After the meal, as we conclude the Hallel and say, “Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt,” we look forward to redemption in the future.1

Redemption, in other words, is not something that happens once, at a single point in time. Rather redemption is a continual process, beginning with one’s first encounter with HaShem and continuing throughout life until welcomed home into the Olam Haba (World to Come) in the presence of HaShem. If this were not so, Rav Shaul would not have encouraged the Yeshua-followers in Philippi as he did, 

Therefore, my loved ones, just as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence—work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For the One working in you is God—both to will and to work for His good pleasure.2

Philippians 2:12-13

Why start this week’s commentary on Va’era, Exodus 6:2 – 9:35, with a comment on redemption from the Pesach/Passover seder? The primary reason is that the beginning of this week’s parasha contains the foundation of the redemption that Pesach celebrations commemorate.  

So, I have remembered my covenant. Therefore, say to Bnei-Yisrael: I am ADONAI, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you to Myself as a people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am ADONAI your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. So, I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, and give it to you as an inheritance. I am ADONAI.”

Exodus 6:5b-8

According to the “Ask the Rabbi” respondent at aish.com, “The four cups of wine are a rabbinical mitzvah, in commemoration of the four expressions of redemption that appear in Exodus 6:6-7: ‘I will take (or bring) you out… I shall save (deliver) you… I shall redeem you… I shall take you.’”3

We also see in this passage, as in the seder, the past, present, and future intertwined. HaShem affirms that the reason for Bnei-Israel’s redemption is because he remembered his past covenantal commitment to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because of that past commitment, he will now bring Bnei-Israel out of Egypt, deliver them from Egyptian bondage, and redeem them – paying Egypt back multiple times for the oppression of Jacob’s descendants. Then the future action will be bringing of Bnei-Israel into the land sworn to the patriarchs. Another important point is mentioned in this passage. Because of the present actions of bringing out, delivering and redeeming Bnei-Israel, HaShem becomes not only the God of their forefathers, he becomes their God,

I will take you to Myself as a people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am ADONAI your God…

Exodus 6:7

The original covenantal commitment to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is now expanded in a physical expression of deliverance and redemption not only for folks four or five hundred years in the past, but in a real tangible way for Bnei-Israel in the present. The phrase, “You will know that I am ADONAI your God,” is important as it is not merely a mental ascent but an experiential reality. In Exodus 1:8 the word “know” makes its first appearance in Exodus. Concerning the word “know” Dr. Nahum Sarna comments, 

The usual rendering, “to know,” hardly does justice to the richness of its semantic range. In the biblical conception, knowledge is not essentially or even primarily rooted in the intellect and mental activity. Rather, it is more experiential and is embedded in the emotions, so that it may encompass such qualities as contact, intimacy, concern, relatedness, and mutuality.4

So, what about us today? Do we just sit around the table once a year, and remember what happened in the ancient past? Not at all. Remember Rabbi Sacks’ words that the past, present, and future are intertwined in the seder. Rabban Gamliel used to say:

In every generation a person must regard himself (or herself) as though he (or she) personally had gone out of Egypt, as it is said, “And you shall tell your son (and/or daughter) in that day, saying ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt’”5

Mishnah Pesachim 10:5

Though our redemption is based upon a past action, we should live as if it were happening each and every day. Many are familiar with the Modei Ani prayer said each morning, thanking HaShem for restoring our soul to our bodies (that we did not die in our sleep). Jeremiah may have had this idea in mind when he wrote, 

Because of the mercies of ADONAI, we will not be consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning! Great is Your faithfulness. “ADONAI is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24

May it be that each day of our lives we remember the redemptive work of HaShem, through the work of his son Yeshua. We have been brought out of the slavery and oppression of this present age and brought into the Kingdom of God, both Jew and non-Jew alike. But our journey is not yet over, we still have the wilderness of this present life to traverse as we make our way to the promised new heaven and new earth (Isaiah 65:17-19 and Revelation 21:1-5) in the Olam Haba.

Endnotes:

  1. Gila Fine, Editor in Chief. The Jonathan Sacks Haggada, 2nd edition, Jerusalem: Maggid Books, 2016, p. 24.
  2. All Scripture readings are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society
  3. https://www.aish.com/atr/Four_Cups_Verses.html
  4. Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus the traditional Hebrew text with the new JPS translation /commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991 p. 5.
  5. https://www.sefaria.org.il/sheets/32014?lang=bi
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