By Yaakov Wagner
MyLife Essay Contest 2017
Life is a constant cycle of evolution and progress. Human beings yearn for purpose and meaning. We aren’t satisfied remaining static, when at the end of any period there is no discernible development to look back upon. Often, however, when considering the objective it feels like staring up an imposing mountain and wondering ‘how will I ever scale this height?’ The daunting goal appears so distant, the aspiration too ambitious to reach. Even when we begin the process of growth, failure is all too common; instead of growing we end up back where we began. In this essay we will examine a method illuminated by Chassidic thought that demonstrates the gradual stages of growth to help us implement effective and lasting progress.
The familiar reason given for the four cups of wine by the seder on the night of Pesach is that they correspond to the four – apparently synonymous – terms G-d used when describing the redemption of the Jewish nation from slavery in Egypt. We know, as well, that the theme of the number four is one which is expressed in many of the traditions on the seder night (there are four questions, four sons etc.), indicating that ‘four’ is a prominent idea in connection with redemption. Which begs the question – the redemption itself is seemingly a solitary event, so why is there such emphasis given to the lyrical language used to describe it? Chassidic teachings conclude that the four different languages convey four phases of redemption that we re-experience through our customs on Pesach night.
Another instance where the number ‘four’ is highlighted is in our morning prayers after reading shema, where the word ‘emes’ (truth) repeats itself four times. The Zohar says that this too corresponds to the four expressions of redemption, for redemption is synonymous to truth. Redemption is the freedom from the shackles of falsehood that imprison anyone in their hold and the arrival to a state in which truth is apparent. This is accomplished through a gradual process, for although truth is an objective absolute, it cannot be attained in a single leap. To subjectively realize a truth and replace a false (or faulty) premise can only be accomplished through tiered stages.
These specific steps are conveyed to us, as mentioned, through closer examination of the four terms used in the verse to describe the redemption from Egypt. The first is “v’hotzeisi” – (Hashem promises) “I will take them out of the suffering of Egypt.” This is the initial stage in my growth process, freeing myself from the negative effects of the faulty circumstance or perspective that I am attempting to grow out of. If there are negative behaviors associated with the previous state then implied in this is the complete ceasing of those behaviors. In simple words it is the removal of anything that can obstruct and prevent the improved state and clarity from being properly implemented.
The second term is “v’hitzalti” – “I will save them.” The root of this word has another meaning as well – “tzel”, shade. This is related to the verse of the prophet “in the shade of My hand I will protect them.” This implies something that is higher than a person (therefore it shades him), that is to say something that he has not (yet) internalized. Practically that means to follow a mode of behavior that would be expected according to the higher level I am reaching towards, despite not yet being completely prepared for it.
The third term is “v’goalti” – “I will liberate them.” At this stage a person is completely liberated from the negative shackles of his earlier state and entirely absorbs the improved state that he is evolving into. He is able to appreciate the truth on his own. This is specifically accomplished through studying and understanding, thereby realizing and internalizing the new level I am striving towards.
This stage itself has two tiers though. At the first step while the study helps me understand and appreciate the new “liberated” state I am not yet completely fused with the knowledge, there is still a disconnection between me and what I understand. The highest tier is where I become completely one with the state which I am striving towards so that I and it define each other. This is conveyed in the final and fourth term “v’lokachti” – “and I will take them for Me as a nation,” which is where those who are liberated are identified in their newly acquired status.
This can be compared to the growth stages of a seed. Its first stage is germination. As long as the seed maintains its boundaries (as a hard dry kernel) it is an inert entity. To grow it must (be buried in earth and) moisten and lose its form, as such eliminating its previous limitations and ridding itself of the obstructions that prevent growth. The second stage is to set roots that allow it to grasp onto its new identity and support growth, although it has yet to rear its head as a plant that exists outside of the soil. The third stage is the growth of the body of the plant, so that it now has emerged as a new entity spreading up and out in all directions. The fourth stage is the reproductive stage, where the plant produces flowers, seeds, and fruit. At this stage the plant has so intimately absorbed its new identity that it is able to reproduce others in its kind.
To illustrate this idea with a basic practical example we can look at someone who is eating a food which is unhealthy for him and causing negative effects. The first step he must take is to stop eating the negative food. The second step is to begin a healthy diet which is beneficial for him. The third step is to learn and understand information about the “how” and “why” of staying healthy. Finally he must achieve a state where making the right choices when eating becomes natural for him.
Following these steps ensure that the growth is completely absorbed and that it will not regress. On a less tangible level, if someone is striving to adopt a healthier or better mindset he must also completely rid himself of the effects of the negative attitude so that the improved state of mind is untainted. So, for example, when working on self esteem it is important to clear the thoughts that are causing the lack of self esteem in order to take positive steps forward.
These steps correspond to the verse in Tehillim (Psalms), “Stay away from evil, do good, seek out peace and pursue it.” Staying away from evil is removing oneself from the negative restraints of a situation he is moving away from. Be it a negative habit one wishes to move past, or an unhealthy mindset to abandon. One must begin always by shedding the deficient condition whose restrictions prevent him from achieving growth. Doing good is using action to grow roots that will give a person a grasp and foundation in the new and positive position he is evolving into. The pursuit of peace is study – which is a twofold process – and achieves peace through resolving the person’s instinctive nature with the finer state of truth and goodness he is adopting. First by understanding it, and subsequently through assuming it completely.
This formula can be applied to any change and growth a person wishes to make, and it is the method through which Hashem brought about the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt and evolution into a nation. Egypt, or Mitzrayim, represents constraint (the meaning of the word ‘Mitzrayim’) that is limited to its own (negative) reality and is unable to grow and develop (like a hard dry seed). The redemption from Egypt is the ability of a Jew to enter into the ultimate and unlimited reality and truth of G-d. To be able to appreciate this truth is a gradual process. And this is not only an occurrence of long ago, but one we (must) perpetuate in our lives every day as we attempt to enter into a higher state of living.
In the first stage of this redemption, Hashem removed from us the impurity of Egypt that tainted our mindset and weighed us down holding us back from emerging in a new level. In our practical behavior this is the ceasing of any behaviors that we are instructed in the Torah not to do. This is then followed by the practical performance of mitzvos (the positive instructions in the Torah) even prior to properly understanding and appreciating the reasons behind such behavior. The next stage is the unique opportunity G-d gives us to study Torah allowing us insight and comprehension into the mitzvos, a glimpse into G-d’s perspective. Finally, (we are able to absorb the inner dimension of Torah as well, which causes that) our soul is clearly manifest and we achieve a state wherein the adherence to Torah and mitzvos is not something being imposed upon us from outside but rather the deepest expression of our own truth and reality. At this stage the reality of Egypt (the limitation and constraint that holds a Jew back) is not only something that a Jew was able to “escape” from, but it is something that is impossible and antithetical to his very existence.
On Pesach night this experience is relived through drinking four cups of wine. Wine emerges from the grape through escaping its boundaries; therefore it is a most suitable medium through which to experience leaving the constraints of Mitzrayim. Thus “wine gladdens the hearts of men”; the effect of drinking wine is joy which melts a person’s boundaries. However one cannot fulfill his obligation through drinking the cups alone, he must drink each one in the appropriate section of the reciting of the haggada, because each stage of leaving Mitzrayim has its own unique content and objective as outlined above. Through following the steps as prescribed everyone is able to shed their limitations and accomplish true growth and redemption.
|Language of Redemption||Definition of Language||Tree Analogy||Verse in Psalms||Spiritual meaning||Practical application|
|Removing the “suffering” i.e. the negativity of Egypt||Germination of the seed||“sur mei’ra”||Stopping any conduct that is contrary to the Torah’s instructions||Ceasing behavior and thought which is negative|
|Level of “tzel” (shade) which is “higher” than a person||Setting roots||“v’asei tov”||Increasing action of mitzvos||Adopting better behavior/ perspective even without a full appreciation of it|
|Complete “redemption” from limitations of Egypt (exile)||Emerging of the plant||“bakesh shalom” 1||Torah study (revealed level of Torah)||Educating oneself about the benefits of the better behavior/ perspective|
|Amalgamation of Jew with Hashem||Production of fruit and seed/pollination||“bakesh shalom” 2||Torah study (inner dimension of Torah which is a direct expression of Hashem)||Making the better behavior/ perspective into a (second) nature|
Sources and Footnotes
 Lekutei Sichos vol 11 p. 21, Mamar 5721 d”h lochein emor, Mamar 5654 d”h v’hoyo ohr halevono ois 2, Lekutei Torah Bolok 73b
 Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:1, B”R ch 88
 Shemos 6:6,7
 2 pg. 216b
 See also Tanya ch. 13 (and Torah Temima Shemos 6:6 and He’emek Davar ibid.)
 Yeshaye 51:16
 which didn’t identify with the improved state before
 Expressed in the study of (Kabbala and) Chassidus
 The inner dimension of the Jew
 See Lekutei Sichos vol. 26 p. 43 (v’shom nisman) see also Kuntres L’pesach 5757 from R’ S.Z. Aurbach
 Tehillim 104:15
 Pesachim 108b “shos’on b’bas achas…”; 117b “arba kosi tiknu Rabonon…”; Rambam 7:10; Tushu”a 472:8; see also Chidushei Riz Halevi on the Rambam 7:6
 The first kos is kadesh urchatz – to sanctify oneself and wash away all impurity. The second kos is magid rochtzo– the drawing down of additional spirituality through purifying oneself and performing mitzvos. The third kos is tzofun beirach – lifting up the concealed sparks of the mitzvos so that they should be in a revealed state of blessing. The fourth cup is hallel nirtzah – the song of redemption and joy achieved from complete connection to Hashem. See Alshich and Chidah referenced in the Rebbe’s Haggada on the simanim of the seder