Thursday, January 23, 2020

PARSHAS VAERA 5780


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS VAERA 5780
“DRINK OF ETERNITY”[1]

           In November 1974, Yassir Arafat, placed a pistol on the lectern of the UN podium and declared: "We have entered the world through its widest gate. Now Zionism will get out of this world- and from Palestine in particular- under the blow of the people’s struggle. We shall never stop until we can go back home, and Israel is destroyed. The goal of our struggle is the end of Israel, and there can be no compromise or meditations. We don’t want peace, we want victory. Peace for us means Israel’s destruction, and nothing else." 

          On the wall of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel, there is a quote from Jakob Wasserman, a noted author. In 1921 he wrote: “I am both - and equally - a German and a Jew and one must not separate one from the other."
          History would prove him wrong - very wrong!

      After 210 years of unbearable oppression and slavery, Hashem instructed Moshe that redemption was imminent. Hashem utilized four different expressions when describing the stages of redemption: "Therefore, 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 for a people and I shall be a G-d to you."[2]
      Seforno explains that the four expressions of redemption represent different levels of redemption. "I shall take you out" was accomplished when the plagues began, and the nation was ‘taken out’ of physical servitude. “I shall rescue you" was accomplished when Klal Yisroel physically left the confines of Egypt at the time of the exodus. "I shall redeem you" was achieved at Kerias Yam Suf when the army of Egypt was eradicated. The climactic point of, "I shall take you" was accomplished at Har Sinai when Klal Yisroel accepted the Torah and became the Chosen Nation.  
          At the Pesach Seder, we drink four cups of wine, to commemorate those four expressions of redemption.
          The question is why we specifically drink four cups of wine to commentate the four expressions? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to have four matzahs on the Seder table?              Meshech Chochma explains that more than any other food or drink, wine symbolizes the uniqueness of a Jew. A bottle of wine may not be touched by a Non-Jew, otherwise it is forbidden for a Jew to drink that wine. For that reason, wine must be supervised from the time its produced until its consumption. In addition, the Gemara[3] states when Haman maligned the Jewish people to Achashveirosh he said that the Jews, "eat, drink, and mock the throne. If a fly would fall into one of their glasses, they would spill out the fly and drink the wine. But if my master, the king, would touch their glass of wine, they would spill it on the ground and not drink it." 
          G-d redeemed our ancestors from Egypt solely so that they would serve Him. When G-d appeared to Moshe in the burning bush during their first encounter, G-d told him, "This is the sign that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship G-d on this mountain (i.e. Har Sinai)."[4]
          The purpose of the redemption from Egypt was so that the nation could come to Sinai and accept the Torah, and thereby become “a rose among thorns"[5], and "a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation"[6].
          Being that the purpose of the exodus was to elevate them into a holy and unique nation, it is appropriate to commemorate the redemption which culminated with “I will take you to Me as a nation” at Har Sinai, on wine which symbolizes that uniqueness and separateness.
          During the Seder, we recite the beloved paragraph, ‘והיא שעמדה’ - in which we note that despite the fact that in every generation we have encountered enemies who seek to destroy us, we have always prevailed because Hashem has saved us from their hands.
          While reciting this paragraph, it is customary to raise the cup of wine. Generally, we only lift the cup of wine when we recite a blessing on it. Why should we lift the cup now in the middle of recounting the exodus?  
          The paragraph begins: “It is this that has stood by our fathers and us”. Simply, “this” refers to G-d’s promise and assurance that He would preserve us. That promise has stood by us in all generations. But it can also refer to the cup of wine in our hands. We lift the cup and declare “it is this” - this cup of wine, which symbolizes our uniqueness - “that has stood by our fathers and for us.” We have survived and thrived because we never forgot the lesson of wine which symbolizes that we are unique from the rest of the nations.[7]
          Tragically, it is when we have forgotten who we are that our enemies have reminded us. There is an adage that “when the Jews try to make kiddush with the goyim, the goyim make havdalah”[8]. When we try to be just like them, they remind us that we aren’t just like them.
          Rabbi Berel Wein relates that the last 2500 people gassed in Auschwitz were people whose great grandparents converted to Christianity. We may try to forget who we are, but G-d will always remind us.         
          In 1897, Mark Twain wrote in Harpers’ magazine: "If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought never be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contribution to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor; then faded to dream stuff and passed away; the Greeks and the Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?"
          The answer to Mark Twain’s question is symbolized by the cup of wine. The secret of our immortality lies in the eternal covenant G-d made with our ancestors that we are, and will always be, His Chosen nation.    

          I shall take you to me for a people”
          “It is this that has stood by our fathers and us”


Rabbi Dani Staum LMSW
Rebbe, Heichal HaTorah, Teaneck, NJ
Principal, Ohr Naftali, New Windsor NY



[1] This essay was from the second year that I sent out Stam Torah in 2001/5761
[2] Shemos 6:6-7
[3] Megillah 13b
[4] Shemos 3:12
[5] Shir Hashirim 2:1
[6] Shemos 19:6
[7] I heard this thought from my rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Heimowitz
[8] In this adage kiddush is used to symbolize mingling, such as what occurs at a kiddush. Havdala means separation, as in the prayer we recite after Shabbos and Yomim Tovim declaring the separation between the holy day which just ended and the upcoming weekdays.

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