July 18, 2024
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Pekudei: Varieties of Redemption

The book of Shemot, which will be concluded this Shabbat, was referred to by our Chazal as the Book of Redemption, or “Sefer Hageulah.” The redemptive process that defines this sefer concludes in our section of Pekudei with the descent of God’s presence into a Mishkan crafted by human hand. In his introduction to the book of Shemot, the Ramban claims that redemption occurs “when the Jews return to their ‘home’ and to the “heights” of their ancestors (ad yom shuvam el mekomam v’el ma’alat avotam yashuvu). In this light, our parsha marks the climax of a geulah that has been evolving throughout Sefer Shemot. As the sefer begins, we witness the Jews living, subjugated in a foreign land, far-removed from fulfilling their national mission. Moreover, God’s presence hadn’t been openly perceived during the 210 years of dark Egyptian bondage. Finally, as the sefer concludes, God’s presence dwells in the Mishkan, His presence inhabits the human realm and the redemption of Man is complete. Now that the Jews have returned to the stature of the ancestors they are considered “redeemed” and the Book of Redemption can close.

Hmm… one factor appears to be missing. At this stage the Jews had yet to actually, physically return to the Land of Israel. How can the Book of Redemption conclude or how can the redemptive process be accomplished without a return to our homeland? Evidently, at least according to the Ramban, geulah isn’t primarily pivoted upon a geographic return to the Land of Israel. Geulah occurs anytime man achieves a Mishkan-esque experience and re-establishes a relationship with the Shechinah or the presence of God. Encountering the Divine presence isn’t limited to the Land of Israel or to any specific timeline. In fact, the seventh bracha of Shemoneh Esrei, Go’eil Yisrael, doesn’t refer to a “specific” redemption but rather to the ongoing “process” of redemptive experiences throughout Jewish history. For this reason Hashem is referred to in this bracha as “Go’eil Yisrael”—in the present and continuous tense—as opposed to “Ga’al Yisrael,” which would refer to a past redemption such as the Exodus from Egypt. Redemption isn’t limited to space and time but extends throughout history.

Without question, the ultimate “historical” geulah entails the return of the entire Jewish people to their ancient homeland in Israel—an event that occurs as history closes. However, at the core, redemption is any restoration of “ma’alat avotam,” re-encountering the presence of God and recreating the tone of our ancestors’ relationship with God. These moments are strewn across Jewish history and evolve in a fashion that appears to be unrelated to our return to Israel. In a similar vein, mere physical return, absent of a corresponding spiritual awakening, doesn’t represent comprehensive redemption. The final scene of Shemot punctuates the manner in which geulah is autonomous of land and time!

As the experience of geulah is a continuous element of national experience and not merely a solution to exile or return from the Diaspora, it can take many forms. For example, Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism asserted that man inhabits a fragmented world in which God’s indivisible presence is divided and scattered. Rebuilding this disjointed world into a cohesive one, in which the Divine presence is fully integrated, entails a form of cosmic redemption. Cosmic redemption obviously extends far beyond the boundaries of our geographic terrestrial homeland.

Even on a personal level, re-establishing a relationship with God can be termed a “redemptive experience.” For this reason, one of the metaphors employed to describe the process of teshuva or repentance is the term “geulah,” as implied in the verse in Isaiah 44 that promises “shuva elai ki ge’alticha” (return to Me for I have redeemed you). By erasing sin, the barriers between man and God are lifted. The newly established bond in the wake of teshuva constitutes a form of geulah since a penitent man once again resides in the presence of God. The “redemptive” conclusion of Sefer Shemot outside the borders of Israel reaffirms that geulah isn’t limited to the Messianic return of the Jews to their homeland but that it defines Jewish history just as it characterizes human experience in general.

In a broader sense, beyond identifying different varieties of redemption, our redemptive attitude has literally shaped our perspective of our world. A Jew never flees his world but embraces it with all its blemishes and flaws. Yet, a Jew also lives with an abiding and unshakeable sense that our world isn’t static but dynamic and that we aren’t trapped within any particular set of inflexible circumstances. Instead, we constantly yearn to change and improve our condition, whether through incremental steps that gradually mend our broken world, or through an apocalyptic overhaul that radically transforms our world into a completely different and unrecognizable reality. Either way, geulah is a key engine that drives Jewish history and experience—on both individual and collective levels. Recognizing that the universe is constantly surging to a more perfect state, we feel emboldened to drive that process rather than remain wedged within any current reality. Jews have always driven the world toward progress and change because we sense that a better and different reality is merely hidden around the next ridge!

By highlighting the descent of God into history as a climax of redemption, Parshat Pekudei liberates the concept of redemption from a particular time and location. It fixes the notion of redemption at the heart of Jewish identity and molds our world view. We await the conclusion of history, the full reparation of our people to their homeland and the complete and final redemption.

By Moshe Taragin


Rabbi Moshe Taragin is a rebbe at Yeshivat Har Etzion located in Gush Etzion, where he resides.

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