Parashat Va’eira

Friday, January 4, 2019 /27 Tevet, 5779
Parashat Va’eira Exodus 6:2-9:35

Dear Friends,

Open the bottle! The four cups of wine at Passover find their origin in this week’s Torah portion.

Our text comes from the earliest interactions of Moses and God, prior to the first plague, when God is establishing a relationship with Moses and Aaron. We read (Ex. 6:6-7) “Wherefore, say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments; and I will take you to Me for a people.

The sages of the rabbinic period, who designed Judaism, wrote the prayer book, and crafted the Haggadah and the Passover Seder, found their inspiration for the four cups of wine – and the four questions and the four children – here in these verses. Note the four verbs expressing redemption: I will BRING you out, I will DELIVER you, I will REDEEM you, and I will TAKE you; each of these corresponds to one of the four cups which are drunk at the Seder.

The message is that what might look like a simple structure for the Seder, actually is grounded in a textual foundation. There is reason and design behind the structure. Each cup reminds us of one of these verbs of deliverance, and each one draws us nearer to our promise of freedom and life in the land which God has promised.

Furthermore, note the ontological order of the verbs: bring, deliver, redeem, take. They are not synonyms, but rather, are built each upon the previous. God cannot take us to be a people, until and unless we are redeemed, delivered and brought out of Egypt. Similarly, we cannot be redeemed and find value in our peoplehood, until we have been brought out of Egypt and delivered from servitude.

It is helpful and insightful to discover the foundations which undergird our rituals and practices. It allows us to find greater meaning in each Jewish behavior, and inspires us to seek new meanings, as well.

And, we just might want to open a bottle (of Manischewitz?) in January!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Doug Kohn