Archive for gener de 2010
Vaera … The verbs of freedom
Our parashah this week opens with a very dry dialogue between God and Moses. What’s the reason? If we remember the end of last week’s parashah (Shemot) we can see a somewhat disillusioned Moses after a disastrous first encounter with Pharaoh, addressing God in a tone bordering disrespect: “Ever since I came to be Pharaoh and to speak in Your name, he has dealt worse with this people; and still You have not delivered Your people” (Ex 5:23)
Moses’ apparent incredulity is perhaps rooted in the fact that having been brought up in the Egyptian court, he remained imbued with the sense of an all-powerful Pharaoh. This feeling is confirmed by the remarks of the arrogant king: “Who is The Lord, that I should heed Him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord nor will I let Israel go.”
After a brief, sharp rebuke, God gives Moses the way to “get it back” to Pharaoh, commanding him to meet with the Pharaoh at the banks of the Nile. Pharaoh, the king-god of the Egyptians, “headed for the waters” (Midrash Rabbah offers us here surprising details: Pharaoh was going to satisfy his natural corporal needs, a secret that nobody was supposed to know, given his “divine” nature exempting him from any natural function).
The secret was now revealed and Pharaoh humiliated because he was found in that posture. Then God entrusts Aaron to Moses as his companion, the mission being to carry on with the plagues that will affect the Egyptian population, sparing Israel. Thus in a systematical and gradual way, Pharaoh’s pride will be broken. During this week’s parasha, seven plagues will hit Egypt. Pharaoh, as all the enemies of Israel over the centuries, is aware of the damage caused by his obstinacy. Instead of trying to avoid the next plague, he gets more and more harsh. He keeps refusing to let the children of Israel go. Next week we will have the chance to read about The last three and more dreadful plagues.
From slavery to freedom: the dynamic words
“Say therefore to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free (ve hotseti) you from the labors of the Egyptian and deliver (ve hitsalti) you from their bondage. I will redeem ( ve ga’alti)you with an out-stretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take (ve lakachti) you to be My people, and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, the Lord, 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 (ve natati) it to you for possession, I the Lord.” (Exodus 6: 6-8).
Many scholars have commented on differences between the physical delivery and spiritual deliver-ance of an individual or society. Physical delivery is a necessary condition for freedom. Some people are free inside of their prisons and others have never felt free outside, in a world called free (or freed).
Whenever the body is enchained, the mind itself remains free. These are the same rabbis who instituted the mitzvah of drinking four cups of wine during the seder (Mishnah, Pesachim 10:1) These four cups correspond to the four levels in which Israel was delivered. We can summarize them in four words: physical, cultural, national and spiritual. Our rabbis have given many explanations regarding the meaning of these verses.
Commentary by Nachmanides
Ve hotseti (I will free you): This is a promise of freedom from slavery
Ve hitsalti (I will deliver you): This is the Senior Egyptian officials at the highest political who will officially announce the end of slave status for the children of Israel.
Ve ga’alti (I will redeem you): This refers to the punishment imposed by the Eternal to the Egyptians through the plagues.
Ve lakachti (I will take you): This refers to the Revelation at Mount Sinai, where Israel received the Torah.
Commentary by Obadia Sforno
Ve hotseti (I will free you) is the divine promise of the end of slavery in the first plague on Egypt.
Ve hitsalti (I will deliver you) from the day when Israel will pass the Egyptian border at Ramses (the city built by themselves).
Ve ga’alti (I will redeem you) is the separation of the Sea of Reeds where Israel was able to feel totally free. The death of the Egyptian cavalry means the end of the oppression, and Israel no longer belongs in the category of slaves. Free, Israel was able to sing and give thanks unto the Lord. (Az Yashir Moshe, the canticle of the sea Exodus 14).
Ve lakachti (I will take you) to Mount Sinai to reveal Myself to all Israel by the ten words. This is the sign that I will take you to the people.
Most commentators still interpret these verbs differently, but they unanimously recognize that these biblical terms refer to different steps of the Deliverance process. In addition to these steps towards freedom, our Rabbis have taught that, in an advanced and mature society, there is a need for boundaries around freedom. There need to be limits to freedom. Nobody can be considered free if their freedom en-croaches on freedom, the rights of others, or if it affects the welfare of others. It also means that true freedom is subject to discipline and a legal framework. The traditional example is the train that can only work when it is on track. Without these much needed boundaries, the end of this process would be catastrophic!
It is the same for a life lived without discipline: leads to ruin! True freedom is to be found at the deepest of people able to control themselves. The challenges that allow us to measure our degree of freedom are expressed through physical, social or political parameters. They define the context where we are brought into task. Our parasha quotes the genealogy of the Israelite families in Chapter 6. Pay special attention to the verse which refers to Moses and Aaron, saying: “It is the same Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said “Bring forth the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.”
According to R. Samuel Mohilver, one of the first rabbis of the 19th century, when he was asked “Why Israel needed two chiefs? Would it not be enough with just one?” He answered “Two were needed because while the role of one was to remove Israel physically from exile, the role of the second one was to remove the exile from their hearts and minds.”
In true freedom a mature freedom means first of all, to free oneself of the slave mentality, to think and behave like adults, freed from apparent constraints and an attitude of servile life. Only once we have reached such a freedom can we consider ourselves as totally free.