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LANGUAGE OF FREEDOM

by Danny Gimpel    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"Say to the Children of Israel: 'I am Hashem, and I shall take you out from under 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 as a nation and I shall be a G-d to you" (Exodus 6:6-7).

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"Say to the Children of Israel: 'I am Hashem, and I shall take you out from under 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 as a nation and I shall be a G-d to you" (Exodus 6:6-7).

At the beginning of this week's Torah portion, we find the four expressions of Hashem's promise to redeem the Children of Israel from slavery to freedom. These four terms of salvation play a central role during the Passover seder, since each of the four cups of wine represents one of these four expressions. Perhaps by trying to better understand why the Jewish people, living within another nation, merited each specific promise of salvation and delivery to freedom, we might recognize our responsibilities today to deserve redemption from our present status in exile within a foreign nation.

The first expression is "vehotzeti - I shall take you out." It is clear that in order to take out anything from within a mixture, the object to be removed must at least be physically distinguishable and separate from everything else in the mixture. The Jewish people remained physically separate from the Egyptians because they did not intermarry with them. The Torah later mentions the name of one woman, Shlomit bat Divri, whom our sages explain was the only one amongst all of the Jews to have a child from an Egyptian. Because the Children of Israel were meticulous in marital relations, they merited the first expression of final freedom, "I shall take you out."

"Vehitzalti - I shall save you" is the second expression. Someone that needs to be saved obviously must find himself in some form of danger, and the Egyptians were pursuing the Jews to annihilate them. However, Hashem will only save that person as long as he himself is not pursuing anyone else. Our sages in the Midrash tell us that while in Egypt, the Jewish people refrained from speaking lashon hara, gossip or slander. (It must be mentioned, however, that there is another opinion amongst the sages that the Jewish people in Egypt were not so meticulous in refraining from speaking lashon hara, as described in "Lethal Weapon" in last week's issue of Torah from Dixie.) The Jews knew how to guard their tongues when they spoke. The Midrash proves this from the fact that all the Jews knew about the tenth plague of killing the firstborn 11 years and 11 months before it happened, and they also knew that they would be taking the Egyptians' gold when they left, but not one Jew told any Egyptian about what was going to happen. The fact that they did not speak gossip shows that they were living in peace and love without jealousy, rather than pursuing one another. They therefore merited the expression "I shall save you" because the Egyptians pursued them, yet they did not pursue one another.

The third expression is "vega'alti - I shall redeem you." The act of redeeming someone means to remove someone's burdens or obligations of debt. In order to redeem a person from slavery, it must be shown that the person longs to be free and not remain a slave. The Midrash tells us that the Jewish people did not change their names while they were in Egypt: Reuvein, Shimon, and Levi went down to Egypt, and Reuvein, Shimon, and Levi came up out of Egypt. The practice of not changing their names shows that they did not want to emulate their masters and neighbors, but rather wanted to maintain a connection to their past lineage. Keeping the names of their forefathers shows that they wanted to be a free people that recognized Hashem, just as their forefathers had done before. Because they maintained their Jewish names, they merited the expression of "I shall redeem you" from slavery to freedom.

The fourth and final expression is "velakachti etchem lee l'om - I shall take you to Me as a nation." The Hebrew term "om - nation" comes from the same root word as "eem - with". The word "with" is used to imply a connection, and it follows that to be a nation, there must be something connecting the people together. Our sages testify in the Midrash that the Jewish people did not change their language while in Egypt. They spoke the holy language of Hebrew with one another. Language is the connecting link between people of the same nation, and since the Jews retained their language, they remained connected to each other as a nation. The Jewish people merited the fourth expression of "I shall take you to Me as a nation" because they remained bound together through their language.

In conclusion, it would appear from these sources that the secret to redemption is found in two general attributes. The first is to remain separate; just as the Jewish slaves in Egypt did not intermarry or change their names, so too we must recognize that we are different and must remain distinct in the way we look, in the way we act, and in the way we think. The second attribute is to remain together; just as the Jewish slaves did not speak lashon hara against one another and they kept their language which bound them together, we also must remain together as one nation in harmony. With Hashem's help and our efforts to remain a separate nation together with one purpose, may our final redemption come speedily.

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This article is based in part on the commentary of Rabbi Meir Simcha Hakohen, a foremost Torah scholar at the beginning of this century.

Danny Gimpel, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore.

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