One of the more common phrases we hear and say is “yetzi’as Mitzrayim” —going out of or leaving Egypt. The Exodus. Whether the context be zechiras yetzi’as Mitzrayim (mentioning leaving Egypt) twice daily or the obligation of sippur yetzi’as Mitzrayim (telling the full story of the Exodus, the events leading up to it, and its miracles), that phrase is the one we automatically think of when we think of Hashem’s fulfilling the promise made at bris bein habesarim to Avraham Avinu. Yet there is another phrase which keeps popping up which seems at first glance to be somewhat repetitious and redundant.
We say in birkas hamazon “We thank you Hashem our G-d… and because You took us… from the land of Egypt and redeemed us from house of servitude.” We say in the berachah following kerias shema in the morning “You have taken us out of the land of Egypt, Hashem our G-d, and from the house of servitude You have redeemed us.” We repeat that exact sentence in nishmas every Shabbos and Yom Tov (or whenever else one says the nishmas prayer). Similarly, we find in many places throughout Chumash both phrases sitting side-by-side, and sometimes only the redemption phrase is used to describe the Exodus.
In Devarim, we find:
- “Because of Hashem’s love for you… did He take you out with a strong hand and redeem you from the house of slavery.” (Devarim 7:8)
- “And do not destroy Your people… that you redeemed in Your greatness; that You took out of Egypt.”(ibid 9:26)
- “For he has spoken against… Who takes you out of Egypt and Who redeems you from the house of slavery.” (ibid 13:6)
- “You were slaves in Egypt and Hashem your G-d has redeemed you.” (ibid 15:15; see also there 21:8; 24:18 and other places.)
We say in the berachah of ga’al Yisrael in the maariv prayer “for Hashem has redeemed Yaakov, and has saved it from the hands of those stronger than it.” So what exactly is ‘redemption’? What aspect of geulas Mitzrayim does it refer to? Moreover, how does this differ from ‘hotzeisanu’ (you have taken us out)? What is yetziah and what is pidyon? We say it frequently in davening; it appears frequently in pesukim dealing with the exodus. What does it mean? What does it refer to?
I think that there are three aspects to the concept of pidyon, or pediyah. Let us examine them, and gain new insights into yetzi’as Mitzrayim.
- The Ramban writes in his introduction to Chumash Shemos. “After it (i.e., the Torah) completed the account of “creation” (the Ramban had explained previously how the stories of the lives of the Avos would rightfully be part of the ‘creation’ story), scripture begins another book, which concerns the actions that emanated from those previous allusions (i.e., the account of the lives and deeds of the Avos)… Shemos is dedicated to the subject of the first exile… and to the salvation from that exile. (Ramban will now explain why the story of the construction of the mishkan is in sefer Shemos, and not in Vayikra) Now, the galus did not end until the nation returned to the stature of their forefathers… they were still considered exiles… but when they built the tabernacle and caused the Shechinah to dwell amongst them, at that point they returned to the eminence of their forefathers of whom it was said that the counsel of G-d was over their tents, and they themselves were considered “the Divine Chariot (a vehicle for the Shechinah).” And it was then that they they were truly considered redeemed from their exile. And that is why this Book ends with is completion of the work of the Tabernacle and with the glory of G-d filling it.”
One concept of pidyon is a return to the basic, intrinsic state. I redeem a captive, returning him to his state of freedom. I redeem something I made kadosh, returning it to its intrinsic state of a plain, ordinary item. I redeem ancestral land that I have sold, returning it to its ‘real’ owner. And that is what the Ramban is teaching us—going out of Mitzrayim was so much more than that (yetziah); it was a pidyon, a return to their natural state, the madreigah of the Avos. The lesson that this holds for us is that we can climb out of our personal ‘exiles’; for even if we are at the forty-ninth gate of tumah —we have the template of pidyon to move from that state to where we truly belong.
- A second aspect of the concept of redemption is that there are some types of redemption that are the cause of transference of sorts. For example, when I am podeh hekdesh, the former hekdesh becomes chulin, but the former chulin (say, the money) becomes kadosh! The loss of one state is the catalyst for the gain of another state. That too is implicit in “redemption” –a sophisticated replacement.
We celebrate leaving Mitzrayim. We thank Hashem countless times for that. Yet, the quintessential question remains —didn’t He put us there in the first place? Do we thank a Doctor for curing us from a disease that he, the Doctor, brought upon us? The answer ,of course, is that we are talking about a Doctor who perceives a diseased foot —and is determined to cure it, despite the difficulty involved, because, you see, he really cares about, and loves the patient. In fact, wouldn’t you know it; the patient is his very own son! Therefore, of course he will break the foot in order to reconstruct it anew, and the foot will then be not only cured, but also better than ever!
Thus, by calling yetzi’as Mitzrayim a pidyon, we are acknowledging that there was a purpose and a premeditated mission for the galus and enslavement in Mitzrayim! Whether it be a bittul of the nation’s gashmiyus essentiality (which they shared with the rest of the world), whether it be achievement of a recognition of Yisrael’s total dependence on Hashem, or any one of the many explanations given for this seminal event in the establishment of Klal Yisrael. Thus we can see that pidyon teaches to see our nisyonos and difficulties as opportunities for growth—a second idea of pidyon, redemption.
- A third idea is the idea of redemption is actually self-redemption, in the sense that the word is used in Chassidic and kabalistic thought. That is, to rebuild and reconstruct, rather than to wallow in one’s past trials and tribulations. The way we talk about redeeming a broken promise, or redeeming ourselves after we’ve ‘messed up.’ To be more, much more, than a survivor. Many people survived the Holocaust, but remained with just that—they remained just survivors to the end of their lives. Others were able to have a redemptive experience—to rebuild, to overhaul, to reconstruct. That too is what happened in Mitzrayim, and set a pattern and a template for all of Klal Yisrael’s history, both for the nation as a whole and for the individual Jew.
Hopefully, along with the matzah, maror, and im yirtzeh Hashem, the Korban Pesach, here is food for thought. A Chag Kasher Vesame’ach to all!
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