Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Thursday, April 1, 2010


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Walk Article


Shvi'i shel Pesach-5770

Rabbi David Walk


            To my thinking a good Seder has two elements.  First there is bonding among the participants; friends and family feel closer than before the occasion.  Then, there is an exchange of ideas which brings the events of Jewish history to life.  Well, I'm happy to report both happened at my Seder this year.  A friend of my son-in-law brought up a point which continues to percolate in my mind, much like the matzah is doing in my stomach.  We started talking about the meanings of two words which are critical to the understanding of the Haggadah, namely pidyon and ge'ulah.  Both of these words get translated as redemption, but that can't be.  According to rabbinic usage we don't have synonyms in Hebrew.  Every word has its own unique nuance.  So, we want to understand the words at the end of the blessing recited just before we eat:  We show gratitude to You with a new song for our redemption (ge'ula) and the redemption (pidyon) of our souls.  So this worthy guest gave an explanation of the difference between ge'ula and pidyon.

            This distinction is important for the last day of Pesach, because there's a famous tradition that the four terms of redemption in Exodus (6:6 &7), namely 'and I will take out (v'hotzeiti),' 'and I will save (v'hitzalti),' 'and I will redeem (v'goalti)' and 'I will take you to Me (v'lokachti),' correspond to four different events in the exodus process.  The four events were the stopping of work (at the beginning of the ten plagues, probably on Rosh Hashanah), the actual departure from Egypt on the first day of Pesach, the crossing of the Yam Suf (usually translated as Red Sea) on the seventh day of Pesach, and the receiving of the Torah on Shavuot.  Since the third step, which is identified as ge'ulah, occurred on the upcoming seventh day of Pesach, it is important to comprehend that word now.  So, this young medical student from Be'er Sheva explained that pidyon and ge'ulah both entail a change of status, but the former just describes the instant of the change while the latter implies the beginning of a beautiful friendship. 

            There are various commentaries on these two words at the end of the blessing over the recitation of the Haggadah.  Some say that the geula is from a nation while pidyon is personal.  Others suggest one is physical and the other is spiritual.  Another suggestion is that one term describes the exodus from Egypt while the other predicts the future redemption. Interesting positions, but nothing that really moved me.

            The Ari Hakadosh (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534-1572) explains ge'ulah in a way that really got me thinking.  The great mystic suggested that ge'ulah requires a close attachment to the redeemer, dveykut. On the other hand exile or galut is being at distance from God.  It's not about geography; it's about spirituality.  This redemptive cleaving to the Other is a result of a process which is described as da'at, which means intense or experiential knowledge.  We use this term to describe the relationship between husband and wife in many Biblical contexts.  Many people think of this word as a euphemism of sexual relations, but the Ari OB"M demurs.  It describes the mating of souls, not bodies.  As a matter of fact there is support for the Ari in the famous verses recited by many men while wrapping the tephilin strap around their finger three times.  The verses are:  And I will betroth you to Me forever, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness...And I will betroth you to Me with faith, and you shall know the Lord (Hosea 2:21 & 22).  Knowledge of the spouse takes place at betrothal, which traditionally took place a full year before the couple lived together (nesu'in). 

            This new approach fits in nicely with a well known triumvirate of words.  We often talk about wisdom (chachma), deductive reasoning (bina), and knowledge (da'at).  So, it follows logically that da'at is the third step in the exodus process, while chachma and bina describe the first two stages of the procedure.  Perhaps, the words to describe those steps are hatzala (physical rescue) and pidyon (the lower level of redemption).  At Shavuot a fourth and final phase is initiated which we usually compare to a permanent marriage. 

            But let's go back to the seventh day of Pesach when the Jews were at the shores of Yam Suf.  What happened at the splitting of the sea to achieve this bonding or d'veykut with God?  What part of this awesome experience brought them to the level we call da'at?  Three times during the plagues Moshe told Pharaoh that the purpose of the plagues was that he should know God (Exodus 7:17, 8:18 and 9:14).  Pharaoh got this level of cognition at the tenth plague, but the Jews accomplished this at the Sea.  I can't put my finger on the exact instance when the light bulb went off over every Jewish head, but they proclaimed this new found status when they exclaimed, "This is my God, and I will devote myself to Him (15:2)."  No other moment in Jewish history attained this level of propinquity to God which prompted the Jews for the only time in all of our chronicles to use the demonstrative pronoun 'this' to point out God's immediacy.  That was the wow moment of all time.  And it was universal, for the Midrash declares that the humblest of society saw more than the greatest of the later prophets.

            Why is this important?  Because on our holidays we don't just celebrate or even consecrate past happenings; we endeavor to recreate.  But how can we recreate that amazing moment?  I don't know.  However, we can do two steps.  We can gather the information about that instant in a process we call chachma.  We can think about that data and expand upon it in the method we call bina.  Then, just maybe, if we yearn for it enough, God will momentarily lift the veil and grant us da'at.  It's a marvelous thought and the day to have it is the seventh day of Pesach.  Enjoy the feeling!      


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