Monday, January 16, 2012

The Path to Freedom--Stage by Stage

Liberation takes time.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-era, God makes a four-fold promise to liberate the Jewish people: “I am the Eternal One, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians. I will deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great portents. And I will take you to be my people; I will be your God.”

Why this seeming repetition: “free you. . . deliver you. . . redeem you. . . take you”?

Some of the classical commentators, such as Ovadiah Sforno (Italian, 1475-1550) argue that this is a kind of poetic literary device, to emphasize God’s saving power. Most, however, see significance in the details of the sequence (which provides the biblical basis for the four cups of wine or juice that we consume at the Pesach seder). Nachmanides (1194-1270) describes each aspect of the promise as a separate but essential step toward full deliverance. Liberation begins with the cessation of external oppression. Next, one must shed the “slave mentality” that can linger long after physical emancipation. The third stage of the journey to true freedom—corresponding to “I will redeem you”—entails learning new values and responses. Finally, the ultimate liberation comes with living out these values and making them our own.

When we strive to liberate ourselves (often asking God’s help) from the narrow spaces and circumstances that confine us, we, too, make the journey in stages. Sometimes getting out of a bad place is only the beginning; it can take a very long time to escape the spiritual, material, and psychological toll that our “Egypts” exact from us. Re-setting our attitudes and priorities is the work of a lifetime. But portion Va-era reassures us that we can, indeed, break through to true freedom if we nurture the faith and patience to proceed stage by stage.

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