MORE THAN MEETS THE I
Rabbi David Zauderer
Did you ever wonder why on all other Shabbat and festival nights we drink one cup of wine, but on this night we drink four cups? The Jerusalem Talmud explains that these four cups represent the four expressions of redemption mentioned in the Torah.
Did you ever wonder why on all other Shabbat and festival nights we drink one cup of wine, but on this night we drink four cups? The Jerusalem Talmud explains that these four cups represent the four expressions of redemption mentioned in the Torah. G-d instructed Moses, "Say to the Children of Israel: I am G-d, and I shall take you out from the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you from their service; I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I shall take you to Me for a people. . . ." (Exodus 6:6-7). Each of the four cups represents one of these four expressions, and each expression, in turn, represents a more advanced level of redemption.
The commentaries explain that the first expression of redemption refers to the Jewish people's redemption from tortuous, backbreaking slave labor and endless persecution. The second level of redemption occurred when the Jewish people stopped working for the Egyptians altogether. If this is so, what does the next expression, "I shall redeem you" add to the equation? After all, the Jews were no longer shlepping heavy boulders up steep inclines. They were not working at all it was an extended vacation. They were probably just sitting around watching G-d wreak havoc on their tormenters. So why the need for further redemption?
The Hebrew word used in this third expression of redemption is "geulah," alternatively translated as freedom. Freedom is a concept and an ideal that has been thrown around quite a lot over the past few decades. The 60's were a time when many sought to gain freedom from what was perceived to be the old-fashioned, much-too-inhibited establishment crowd. The message of that decade, one that has stayed with us to a large degree into the 90's, is that to be truly free one has to be able to do whatever one wants, whenever one wants. Whereas America's founding fathers talked of "freedom of religion," it has somehow been twisted to mean "freedom from religion." If we take an honest look at where that path has led our country today, at least from a moral perspective, we can see that somewhere along the way, something went wrong.
The truth is, though, that those "revolutionaries" of the 60's were 100% right. Freedom is one of the highest ideals we can hope to achieve for humanity, and it does mean the ability to do "whatever I want." The only question is who am I? If I am just my physical body, then freedom for me translates into the ability and the right to get all the physical, hedonistic pleasure I can get out of this world, and no government or religion or ethical standard is going to stop me.
G-d and His book, the Bible (available for purchase online @ amazon.com), are here to teach us that there is a whole lot more to 'me' than meets the 'I'. I am my soul, a breath of G-d, a complex personality capable of refining myself to reach the highest levels of goodness and G-dliness. I am merely clothed with this physical, temporary casing which will one day return to the dust from where it came. True freedom, says the Torah, is for me to have the ability and the chance to do what I really want to do. Rather than spend my life primarily occupied with my shell, being a slave to my desires and needs, I need to try to get in touch with who I really am. That is where Judaism kicks in. Prayer and other such spiritual pursuits serve to remind me of the depth of my humanity that it is not just skin-deep. If I recognize who I really am, and what I am capable of accomplishing, then I can be truly free. The Jews in Egypt had stopped doing the hard labor. They even had the leisure time in which to see the latest plague being visited upon their enemies. After 210 years of slavery, they could finally do whatever they want. However, that is not "geulah," that is not freedom. It is when G-d came to them at Mt. Sinai with a mission, a goal through which they might be able to fulfill their true, spiritual potential, that they were truly free. This freedom culminated in the fourth expression of redemption told to the Jewish people by G-d "I shall take you to Me for a people."
Rabbi David Zauderer is a member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel.
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