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Parashat Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

“Pharaoh’s heart remained stubborn and he did not
hearken to them, just as God had spoken.” (Exodus 7:13)

Parashat Va’era begins an epic battle of wills between God and Pharaoh. First, though, God reassures Moses of the outcome: “…I will bring you out from under Egypt’s burden, I will save you from their bondage, I will redeem you with an outstretched arm… and I will take you to myself as a people and I will be a God to you…” (Ex. 6:6-7). These four verbs make clear God alone (not Pharaoh, Moses, or the Israelites themselves) is responsible for the soon-to-come freedom. They are dubbed the arba l’shonot g’eula, or the four languages of redemption, and are symbolized by the four cups of wine at the Passover seder (Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 10:1). But, they also provide a road map for liberation.

Rabbi Mordechai Hacohen (1523–1598; scholar and kabbalist in Tzfat) claims each verb identifies a necessary step in an unfolding process. “I will bring you out from under…” means God will raise the Israelites’ consciousness of their dilemma, eliminating their acceptance of the status quo. “I will save you from…” means the Israelites will no longer invest their physical efforts on behalf of someone else. “I will redeem you with…” means the Israelites will stand up for themselves. Only when the Israelites are free, self-reliant, and independent, will God then “…take you to myself as a people.”

There is a fifth verb in the sequence, though: “And I will bring you into the land…” (Ex. 6:8) The Israelites must become a people (not just a religion) before they can occupy the land. Peoplehood is a prerequisite for nationhood. And the bonds of peoplehood transcend both space and time.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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