May 27, 2024
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The Two-Step Password of Geula

At the burning bush, Moshe Rabbeinu is tasked with the mission of redeeming the Jewish people from Mitzrayim. As his first encounter with historical mission occurs, Moshe has pause and hesitates for various reasons: Pharo deems intractable and Moshe’s own extreme humility makes him feel unworthy of this Divine agency. However, the greatest deterrent for Moshe is the likelihood that the Jewish people—enslaved in body and crushed in spirit—will not believe him or rally to this opportunity.

In response, Hashem instructs Moshe to gather the elders and transmit a coded message, which evidently would sway public opinion. Moshe is instructed to inform the people “pakod pakadti,” Hashem has “remembered” your suffering and the historical covenant with the Avot. Something about this opaque reference would resonate with the older generation and, by extension, would incite redemptive fervor amongst the general populace.

Rashi informs us that this phrase, which is essentially a repetition of the same verb of pakod, was delivered by Yosef prior to his death. In fact, in the final three pesukim of the Torah this phrase appears twice as Yosef delivers this coded message with a slogan that appears to be repetitive. A vital message was encoded and each generation transmitted this veiled message. Evidently, the elder leadership acknowledged Moshe’s legitimacy when he uttered these magical words.

This phrase is so poignant and so persuasive because it instructs us about the arch of geula. Typically, our expectations of geula and redemption are sometimes naïve and unrealistic: we expect it to be sudden, rapid and to instantly transform our world. More often, though, redemption courses through historical realities and through political affairs that sometimes feel slow and frustrating. Often, an initial thrust is provided by a preliminary event that is then followed by a more comprehensive “culmination” of redemption. Even in Egypt, which the redemption is described as being b’chipazon, or rapid, Moshe’s initial attempts to redeem us were only partially successful. His first attempt was met with derision from Pharo and disillusion from the Jewish people, whose workload was increased due to Moshe’s stalled attempts. The full geula only occurs during the second stage described in Parshat Va’eira. To be sure, the option of immediate and instant geula is always “on the table” if our behavior merits this pace. Unfortunately, we rarely rise to the challenge and typically our redemptions drags at a pace we sometimes find exasperating.

This notion of “geula in stages” was also acknowledged by Zecharya (6:12) when he forecasts “[Moshiach] will be referred to as ‘tzemach’ (a blossom) that will subsequently bloom (yitzmach).” For Zecharya, geula is likened to a blossoming plant, with the full recognition that this blooming will not all occur instantaneously but in different stages—as conveyed by the language of a “blossom” that will subsequently bloom. Of course, this awareness of the stages of blossoming was incorporated into our daily tefilla within the bracha that yearns for geula—Et tzemach David avdecha meheira tatzmiach. We daily remind ourselves of Yosef’s original message that redemption requires stamina and patience, but also the wisdom to trace its trajectory and the historical awareness to recognize that it may not be instantaneous.

A very intriguing comment of the Sefat Emet (comments to Purim 1834) reminds us both of the “staged” nature of redemption as well as the cyclical nature of Jewish history. He identifies Purim as a miracle that provided final thrust for both the return to Yerushalayim as well as the final construction of the Mikdash. The Jews had already partially returned and had begun construction. The process ground to a halt and Purim provided national energy to restart the comprehensive geula. It was a pre-redemptive miracle that yielded a more complete redemption. Furthermore, as Jewish history is cyclical, he claims that our final geula will also be paved by a similar pre-redemptive event enabling a subsequent more comprehensive geulah.

Both Yosef’s code and Zecharya’s image are similar in that each is a repetitive phrase and each evokes the probability that geula will be staged. However, there are two important differences between the metaphor of Yosef and the image of Zecharya. Yosef describes two distinct events of Hashem remembering us and interceding on our behalf; each moment is defined and identifiable. Zecharya describes the growth of a plant, which though it may be ceaseless is also indiscernible at any given or specific moment. Though the process of our geula may not always be visible, it always progresses and advances. We may experience moments that appear to be stagnant, but history is constantly surging toward its terminus centered upon Yerushalayim and pivoted upon sweeping knowledge of Hashem.

Conversely, there is an element in Yosef’s metaphor that isn’t incorporated into Zecharya’s. The term pekidah is a double entendre. Its literal meaning in this context suggests remembering and interceding. Hashem remembered our historical covenant and intervened (in the same manner that the word is used to describe Hashem’s intervention on behalf of Sarah who was barren, v’Hashem pakad et Sarah). However, the term also suggests appointment or delegation (such as pekudat haLevi’im, or the census conducted to delegate duties to the various Levi’im). This term of pakod implies that we are not just the beneficiaries of the geula process but are also delegated with responsibility to advance it. A plant grows naturally, often without need of human assistance. Yosef reminds us that when Hashem redeems us He also has expectations of us.

For reasons that are difficult for the human mind to comprehend, our generation was chosen to experience these experiences of geula. Our nation has begun to blossom and we have felt the presence of Hashem and His intervention in ways that haven’t been this discernible in thousands of years. If we are redeemed we are also chosen and if we are chosen we are also delegated with expectations to participate in this process and hopefully cause its acceleration.

By Rabbi Moshe Taragin

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

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