Sharing Torah Insights

Va’era- Separate, but Equal

Posted on כ״ה בטבת ה׳תשע״ב (January 20, 2012) | in Uncategorized, Vaeira | by

There is much written regarding the Four references to Redemption used by God in our Parsha- And I will take you out, And I will save you, I will redeem you, and I will take you as a nation. There is also a fifth reference to God bringing us to the Land of Israel.

I do not understand the order of the first two references: “I will take you out from their burden” and then: “I will save you from their service”. Aren’t they very similar?

The Yerushalmi in Pesachim as explained by the commentators tells us that Seder night we drink 4 cups of wine corresponding to these 4 references to redemption.

Why wine? Why not some other drink or some other food?

There are many possible answers. The Meshech Chachma explains that wine not only symbolizes comfort and freedom, but to the Jewish People in particular, wine symbolizes our separation somewhat from the other nations. Wine, in particular, carries with it strict laws in terms of who prepares the wine. Wine made by a non-Jew is rendered non-kosher. A rationale is that wine is a drink that usually accompanies parties, social events. The Rabbis were worried that wining and dining with non Jews could lead to intermarriage as well as possible abandonment of our faith. Symbolically, having certain items serve to keep Jews too themselves allows for closer, unadulterated relationship with God. (I defer to the Rabbis among us for clarification, but I believe that while we are not allowed to eat cooked sole by a non-Jew, once a Jew takes a minimal part in the cooking process, a non-Jew can do the rest and the food is kosher. I am not sure if the same arrangement can be made with regard to wine.)

Achashverush in the Purim story knew this and therefore the Gemara explains that he made strictly kosher wine available to the Jews so that they would join their fellow countrymen in the celebrations. Ironically, it seems the Jews inculcated only the letter of the Law in terms of kosher wine, but not the spirit of the Law, the reason that it was instituted in the first place.

And so we raise our glasses Seder night and proclaim “And this has stood by our ancestors as well as us….”. There are many explanations for what “And this” refers to. The Meshech Chachma offers that we are proclaiming that the wine which we hold- kosher and separate from non-Jews- is what kept us afloat in the tumultuous ‘waters of Egypt”. Indeed, this is echoed in the teaching that what kept Jews standing was that Jews kept their names, language, and modes of dress in Egypt.

Robert Frost wrote: “The best things and best people rise out of their separateness; I’m against a homogenized society because I want the cream to rise.” When no one can focus on studying and living their own particular beliefs and faiths, then greatness eludes us.

This should not be misconstrued as bigotry, rather an expression of Judaism’s wish to keep certain things private. Just as spouses and famalies keep certain things under wraps, so too in our relationship with God, we should also keep things private and ‘holy’. Of course, in most other aspects we are adjured to show all of mankind the utmost respect.

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