Pesah: Redemption Then and Now
In our nightly Arbit service, we describe how G-d brought Beneh Yisrael out of Egyptian bondage "Le’herut Olam" – "for everlasting freedom."
How can we call the Exodus from Egypt "everlasting freedom"? For the majority of Jewish history, sadly, we have not been free. Although we were freed from Egyptian bondage, we have since been driven back into exile, and ruled by foreign nations. In what way did Yesiat Mizrayim (the Exodus from Egypt) bring us eternal freedom?
The Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria, Safed, 1534-1572) taught that the Egyptian exile marked the "mother," so-to-speak, of all future exiles. It is the blueprint of all the exiles that the Jewish People subsequently endured, and it set into motion the process of our nation’s subjugation by other peoples. For this reason, the Arizal explained, the story of Egyptian bondage begins by speaking of Yaakob’s family arrival in Egypt – "Ha’baim Misrayema" (Shemot 1:1). The word "Ba’im" is an acrostic representing the words "Babel," "Edom," "Yavan" and "Madai" – alluding to the four exiles that we have endured. ("Babel" – Babylonia; "Edom" – our current exile; "Yavan" – the period of Greek persecution; and "Madai" – the rule of Persia.)
By the same token, the Exodus from Egypt laid the groundwork for all future redemptions. G-d’s bringing our ancestors to freedom from Egypt set into motion the process of our freedom from subsequent oppressors. And it is in this sense that the Exodus from Egypt brought us "Le’herut Olam" – to everlasting freedom. It created the foundation for all future redemptions, including the final redemption for which we hope, pray and yearn.
This idea makes the Seder experience so much more relevant to our lives. By celebrating and studying the Exodus from Egypt, we reinforce our faith in our future redemption. We are reminded that just as G-d rescued our ancestors from Egypt, He will likewise redeem us from our current state of exile.
As many have noted, the number 4 is a recurring theme at the Seder. This theme expresses the four exiles that we have experienced after the Exodus from Egypt – under the empires of Babylonia, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome. The various groups of four that are featured at the Seder correspond to these four exiles.
We might suggest applying this correspondence to the four sons described by the Haggadah. The first son, corresponding to the Babylonian exile, is the Hacham, the wise son – because the Babylonian exile resulted in the Talmud Babli, the brilliance and wisdom of the Gemara. The second son, the Rasha (wicked son), alludes to Haman, the evil villain who threatened the Jewish People during the period of Persian rule. The third son, the "Tam" (simple son) poses the question of "Ma Zot" ("What is this?" – Shemot 13:14), alluding to "Zot Hanukah" (the eighth day of Hanukah), which celebrates the victory over the Greeks. Finally, the fourth son is the "Eno Yode’a Li’sh’ol," the son who does not know how to ask. In the current, bitter fourth exile, which has lasted for nearly two millennia, we have so many questions that we cannot even begin to ask. We have experienced so much suffering, so much hardship, and so many injustices, that we are left dumbfounded and speechless, unable to open our mouths and ask what is happening.
Studying the story of the Exodus from Egypt reassures us that our final redemption will indeed arrive, and with it, all our questions will be answered. When the Gemara comes across a question which it cannot resolve, it states, "Teku," which has been understood as an acrostic for the phrase "Tishbi Yetaretz Kushyot U’be’ayot" – the Tishbi, Eliyahu Ha’nabi, will resolve our difficulties and answer our questions. This refers not only to our Halachic queries, but to all our questions. Once the final redemption arrives, we will be transformed from people who are unable to ask to people who ask and receive answers. Everything will become perfectly clear.
May our celebration of our ancestors’ Exodus from Egypt strengthen our faith in our future redemption, and bring us closer to the rebuilding of the Bet Ha’mikdash, speedily and in our times, Amen.