Parshat Va’era: Free Choice and Divine Presence

‘Therefore, say to the children of Israel: “I am the Lord, and I shall remove you from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will save you from their labor, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. And I will take you to Me as a people and I will be a God to you… And I shall bring you to the land which I swore to give… to you as a heritage…”’ (Exodus 6:6-8)

This stirring passage presents the four (actually five) expressions of redemption which are the source for our four (actually five) cups of wine at the Passover Seder. (The fifth refers to the Divine promise to “bring you to the land.”) And this text tells us of the coming attractions when it speaks of God’s redemption by means of His “outstretched arm and with great judgments,” referring to the Ten Plagues against the Egyptians, the awesome wonder of the splitting of the Re(e)d Sea, which drowned the Egyptians and enabled the Hebrews to escape freely onto dry land and the Revelation at Sinai, when God took the Hebrews to Himself as His covenantal people.

As we shall see, the expressions of Divine redemption set the stage of contrast between our biblical history and post-biblical history. In the earlier period, God plays the star role (as it were) in effectuating our national freedom and in establishing our national constitution to form us as a “holy nation and kingdom of kohen-teachers” to all humanity, whereas during our subsequent Second Commonwealth – talmudic and post-talmudic history leading up to Redemption – it is Israel who must take the responsibility and assume proactive leadership as God’s senior partners in the international arena.


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