In response to Moshe Rabbeinu's complaint that
Israel's condition has only worsened
since the beginning of his mission to Pharaoh, Hashem
pronounces the four famous expressions
of His redemption: "Vehotzeisi," "Vehit-zalti,"
"Vega'alti," "Velakachti. "
Rabbi Yisrael Lifshitz, the Tiferes Yisrael, explains that
these four words represent the four aspects of enslavement to which
the Bnei Yisrael were subjected and from which, consequently,
they had to be redeemed. Their suffering, he writes, was physical,
material, psychological and spiritual.
In a recent speech,
Natan Sharansky, the famed former Soviet dissident and current
Minister of Absorption for the State of Israel, movingly described his
nine years in the Soviet gulag and how he survived the incessant
interrogations of the K.G.B. He drew strength, he said, from a small
book of Tehillim, which had been sent by his wife, Avital, and
was able to mentally prepare himself for the questions of his captors.
During the course of these interrogations, he would tell over
to the K.G.B. agents the latest jokes circulating about Brezhnev.
Sharansky would then explode in laughter. His interrogators, too,
wanted to laugh, but were forced to stifle the urge. Sharansky would
then tell them, "You see, you are really the prisoners and I am the
While physically imprisoned, Natan Sharansky
remained free psychologically.
In our Diaspora, we enjoy
physical freedom, economic freedom, religious freedom. Yet, we risk
being psychologically enslaved by the foreign culture in which we
live. Our Sages have given us the formula to remain free by enacting
the mitzvah of arba kosot, the four cups of wine drunk at the
seder table. Each of the arba kosot corresponds not only to one
of the four expressions of redemption but also to an important element
of the seder. Kiddush is recited over the first cup, the
Hagaddah over the second, Birkat Hamazon over the third,
and Hallel over the fourth.
There is another aspect to
these cups. They "must be properly mixed," rules the Rambam in
Hilchot Chameitz Umatzah, "so as to be pleasant to drink....
One who drank these four cups using concentrated wine," which is not
pleasant, "fulfilled [the mitzvah of] the four cups but did not
fulfill [the aspect of] freedom.... One who drank these four cups
using [properly] mixed wine, but drank them at once," and not in their
proper sequence, "fulfilled [the aspect of] freedom but did not
fulfill [the mitzvah of] the four cups." Rav Yitzchak Ze'ev
Soloveitchik, zt"l, the Brisker Rav, similarly splits the significance
of the cups in two. One aspect is that they are kosot shel
berachah, each having a blessing said over it. One who did not
drink the four cups individually would not recite a separate blessing
over each. The second aspect, he says, is to display one's freedom by
drinking the wine. If the cups' taste is unpleasant, they do not
properly display freedom.
Jews must realize that Torah and
mitzvot are kosot shel berachahvehicles through which we
are blessed. They are not a restrictive burden, but rather an
extraordinary opportunity to lead a life of freedom, joy and
fulfillment. Second, Jews must display that freedom externally. We
must wear our Jewishness with pride.
Rabbi Meir Simcha of
Dvinsk, zt"l in his great work, Meshech Chochmah, cites
the famous Midrash that the Benei Yisrael were redeemed
because "they did not change their names, their language or their
clothes" while slaves in Egypt. Maintaining the external identity of a
Jew, he writes, is even more significant in preventing assimilation
than the performance of mitzvot.
If we realize that the
study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot are an
shel berachah, and if we proudly exhibit our Jewish
identity, we will remain free until the
complete and ultimate redemption of our people, which we so
Rabbi Moshe Keletnik
Rabbi Kletenik is the Rabbi of Congregation Bikhur Cholim,
Machzikay Hadath, Seattle Washington.
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