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Home » Passover

Passover: A Contemporary Tale

Submitted by on April 1, 2007 – 4:32 amNo Comment | 11,244 views

Four Redemptions

When G-d informed Moses of the exodus from Egypt he provided four descriptions of the coming redemption. “I will bring them out from under the burdens of Egypt. I will save them from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and I will take you to me for a people.” It is fascinating to note that these poetic descriptions delineate four distinct stages of the exodus. (1)

Four Promises

To understand the four stages we must go back to the very beginning. When the saga of the Jewish enslavement in Egypt was foretold to Abraham G-d made four promises. His children would be  foreigners. In a strange land. They would be enslaved. They would be persecuted. These four promises represent four stages of subjugation, each progressively more oppressive. (2)
Residents of countries that have been occupied by foreign powers live by the whim of their occupiers.  Their privileges can be revoked at any moment or worse, they can be expelled. Yet to be a resident in an occupied land is far less onerous than to be a foreigner in a strange land. Occupied residents live amid familiar customs, language and culture. Foreigners in strange lands are completely lost.
Even foreigners in strange lands are free to come and go as they please. To be a slave is much more onerous than to be a foreigner. But even slavery can be benign; not all slaves are persecuted. The harshest promise delivered to Abraham was the last one. His children would not only be foreigners, but in a strange land. Not only in a strange land, but also enslaved. Not only enslaved, but also persecuted.

Four Stages

These levels of hardship unfolded in four stages. a contemporary tale - innerstreamAbraham was initially told that his children would languish in exile for four-hundred years. In his kindness G-d permitted the first stage to begin with the birth of Isaac. Isaac lived in Israel, but it was not a Jewish land. Isaac was a foreigner in his own land.
Isaac was thus the fulfillment of G-d’s initial promise that Abraham’s children would live as foreigners. Indeed, the exodus from Egypt occurred precisely four-hundred years after Isaac’s birth. (3)
A stranger in his own land, Isaac was still better off than his son, Jacob, who descended to Egypt, a land not his own. This was the fulfillment of G-d’s second promise, that Jews would not only be foreigners, but in a strange land. Jacob and his family were accorded great respect in Egypt, but shortly after Jacob’s passing the period of enslavement began. This represented G-d’s third promise.
The initial period of enslavement was relatively benign. The true persecution began after Joseph passed away. At this point our ancestors lost all faith in their future redemption and thus was G-d’s final promise actualized.

Four Redemptions

The redemption from Egypt also unfolded in four stages. The Torah tells us that when Moses delivered his prophecy of redemption our ancestors’ faith in the future was restored, they were thus redeemed from the persecution element of their exile. They were redeemed from the slavery element of their exile six months before the actual exodus, when they were exempted from their bondage to Pharaoh. (4)
The actual exodus released them from the “strange land” element of their exile, but they did not come into their own until they passed the Reed Sea. It was there that their former captors were drowned and the Jews were fully released from the final element of their exile.
We now understand that G-d’s four descriptions of redemption outline the four stages of redemption. “I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt,” freed them from persecution. “I will save you from bondage,” freed them from slavery. “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm,” freed them from living in strange lands. “I will take you to me for as a people,” established the Jewish nation and freed them from being foreigners.

Emotional Enslavement

Our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt stimulates thought of personal liberation for we too are enslaved. We are entrapped by our emotional responses to the daily pressures of life. G-d endowed us with freedom of choice. We cannot control what others say, think or feel, but we can control our reactions.
Yet we routinely surrender control over ourselves, allowing others to dictate our responses and determine our mood. Our boss treats us harshly and we allow it to ruin our day. Our spouse takes us for granted and we slide into depression. Our children are demanding and we grow desperate. Rather than control our emotions we allow our emotions to control us. We become enslaved to our feelings. (5)

Four Modes of Entrapment

Our emotional enslavement also follows a four stage pattern. Every day we offer a prayer for liberation to G-d. We ask him to support the falling, heal the sick, release the bound and care for those who have perished. These four prayers reflect a pattern that grows progressively worse. (6)
Just before we fall ill we often get a sense of oncoming illness. We feel drawn and haggard. We know that we are sliding toward illness and try to strengthen our immune system with vitamins and rest. It is easier to reverse the illness before we slide into it than after we actually fall ill.
Illnesses can be cured. But, sometimes an illness becomes so protracted that we feel as if the illness is bound to us. The bindings must be released and this requires hospitalization and outside assistance. Still, recovery remains possible. A dead person has lived his last. Only G-d can resurrect the dead. These are the four stages of our prayer, falling, illness, bound and dead.
These four stages correspond to the four modes of emotional entrapment. At first we feel ourselves losing control. The toll of warning bells gives us pause to reflect and to reassert control. If we don’t regain control we slide into emotional illness.
Yet, the illness is relatively new. We have yet to internalize the destructive patterns and we can unlearn them almost as quickly as we have learned them. Once we internalize these patterns we are metaphorically bound to our errors. Recovery at this point is still possible, but it requires outside therapeutic assistance. Sometimes we descend into such destructive patterns that only G-d can save us.
This is the inner meaning of our prayer of liberation. We ask G-d to support us when we first begin to fall. Then we ask that he heal us when we actually do fall. We then ask that he release our bonds when we bind ourselves to our errors and even care for us after we are beyond human assistance.
The pattern of this prayer closely resembles the pattern of our ancestors’ redemption from Egypt. This is because Passover is not an ancient tale of irrelevant miracles, it is an intricate web of a contemporary tale. Our sages taught that Passover is a time conducive to liberation and indeed, it is incumbent upon  each of all to weave a web of personal liberation. (7) (8)


  1. Exodus 6: 6-7.
  2. Genesis 15: 13.
  3. Mechilta on Exodus, 12:40. See also Rashi ibid and Rashi on Bab. Talmud Megillah 9a.
  4. Exodus 4: 31. For the exemption from bondage see Bab. Talmud, Rosh Hashanah: 11a.
  5. The same is true in our service to G-d. We are endowed with the freedom to choose a life of holiness and G-dliness despite the allure of physical and emotional temptation. Yet, despite this freedom, we often surrender control and allow ourselves to be lured by temptation. Like a leaf in the wind, we are in the sway of our passions; unable to break away. We become enslaved to our temptations.
  6. Text from second blessing of the Amidah prayer.
  7. Mishnah Pesachim, 10: 5. See also Haggadah for Passover.
  8. This essay is partially based on commentary by Shem Mishmuel (R. Shmuel Salir, Rebbe of Sochaczev, 1855-1927) on the four questions of the Seder Night.

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