Kenneth Brander
Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

Sacrifice Comes Before Success (Parshat Vaera)

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In this week’s Torah portion, as Moshe begins to take on the mantle of leadership, he is told by God, ‘I am going to redeem the Jewish people’.

And God uses four statements of redemption [Exodus 6:6-7] –

“Ve’hotzeiti” – I will take them out.

“Ve’hitzalti” – and I will save them.

“Ve’ga’alti” – and I will redeem them.

“Ve’lakachti” – and I will take them as a people.

Each one of these statements is a redemptive process on its own. As the Jerusalem Talmud says, “Arba Ge’ulot” – “four redemptions”. [Jerusalem Talmud, Pesachim 10:1]

Therefore, each one of these statements represents a different experience on Passover night.

The first cup of wine, “Ve’hotzeiti” – a person can only sanctify something if they themselves are free, and therefore the first cup of wine is connected to Kiddush, the sanctification of the moment.

The next cup of wine, “Ve’hitzalti”, is focused on telling the story of the Haggadah, of the Redemption, of how the Jewish people were saved.

The third cup of wine is connected to Birkat Hamazon – “Ve’ga’alti” – because Birkat Hamazon is all about redemptive experiences that happen to the Jewish people, and therefore it is connected to the statement that focuses on redemption.

“Ve’lakachti” – and God announces that He will take us as a people. The final experience on the Haggadah is the singing of Hallel, celebrating the unique relationship that God has with the Jewish people.

Yet, there is a very unique halacha that is found regarding the four cups of wine, that is only found with one other mitzvah, and that is, unlike any other mitzvah, be it matza, be it tefillin, whatever positive mitzvah you can think of, there is no obligation to go into debt, or even to spend your last penny, to fulfill the commandment.

However, when it comes to drinking the four cups of wine, the Mishnah tells us “ואפילו מן התמחוי”. [Mishnah, Pesachim 10:1; Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 472:13 and Mishnah Berurah, 472:42]

A person has to borrow money, and we have to be willing to give that person money to fulfill the obligation. That is not true when it comes to matzah or any other positive mitzvah, but these four cups of wine require sacrifice.

And the reason for that is because they represent sacrifice.

They represent the initiative of the Jewish people to go through the redemption process.

God doesn’t redeem us alone; God needs us to be involved in the redemption process.

The United States Army may have opened up some of the concentration camps, and to that, especially as a child of a survivor, I am indebted to them forever.

But at the same time, it is those who walked out of the concentration camps or were carried out of the concentration camps, who were willing to sacrifice to begin lives again, and to build again, that that also needs to be celebrated – the willingness to sacrifice, to be redeemed.

Therefore, baked into this mitzvah is the requirement to borrow, to sacrifice for the four cups of wine, because it represents sacrifice.

This is an extremely important message for us. Because the bottom line is whether I’m interested in improving my spirituality; If I’m concerned and I want to improve my family, or my mental health, or my physical health – none of those things happen on their own – they happen only with sacrifice.

Anything important requires sacrifice.

Therefore, etched in this mitzvah that celebrates redemption is the recognition that sacrifice is necessary to achieve greatness, and therefore this mitzvah requires sacrifice, even if that is necessary to fulfill it.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 30 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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