Even though we’re spending the whole night discussing the exodus from Egypt, the root for redeem, גאל, really only appears in these two sections of Maggid- once by the response to the “wicked son,” and the 7 times by the culmination of Maggid ( Leitwort, anyone?). Otherwise we generally speak about יציאת מצרים- leaving Egypt, or God taking us out of Egypt- הוציא אותנו.
So this redemption that we’re trying to figure out is not just another word for the Exodus, and it’s not some word that’s thrown about all willy-nilly. It has some real meaning, and that meaning is something we are working to acheive throughout Maggid. What does redemption mean? How can I feel redeemed?
The colloquial term “the four expressions of redemption,” appreciates that redemption is not just part of the process, it’s the whole shebang- once again pointing to the idea that redemption is something greater than just a physical act of salvation. It’s both a part of the process, and the ultimate goal.
Tthe various usages of the root גאל in the Torah revolve around the idea of “do the part of the next of kin,” as the BDB puts it, rather than the “physical salvation,” that one might have thought. The salvation, in fact, seems to be just one of the things someone close to us is meant to do on our behalf. In a classI recently gave on this topic, the term “restore” was suggested as an alternative translation to “redemption,” and I tend to agree with that suggestion- in the Bible the גואל restores land to the family, the גואל הדם restores the balance of life and death, and God restores the Jewish slaves to a state of freedom, as they, and all of humanity, was created.
To better understand this “restoration” we should ask ourselves: why is it a “next of kin” is doing the restoring?
True redemption must include both the physical freedom to do as one desires and the spiritual freedom it takes to be aware of one’s true, authentic desires. As Judaism believes each person is created in the image of God, true redemption means possessing an awareness of ourselves as created in the image of God, and acting upon that, realizing our potential, in mind and in in body.
The same is true of redemption as a nation. Just as each person is unique, each person must understand how they can individually express their own aspect of the Divine, so too each nation has a unique character, their own mission. As Ramban states, the mission of the Jewish people is to carry God’s message in this world.
The first step to redemption, to restoration, as individuals and as nations, is to understand who we are, our uniqueness, and our mission in this world. And it is here that the other meaning of גאל fits in. When we lose track of ourselves, it is up to our kinsman to come and help us understand, to restore us to our roots, to who we really are, and help us discover our own self’s worth, and live up to all our potential. Who better to do that than someone similar, someone who can help us see ourselves for who we are by showing us who they really are?
This is what the Haggadah is supposed to do. We begin at the beginning, when the Jewish people were only a twinkle in God’s eye, and follow the nation through diapers, as they begin to take their first steps in the dessert on their journey of self-discovery. We see how God interacts with the world, His mighty hand and outstretched arm, Divine justice and mercy, His salvation, and we are meant to learn from His ways, so we can realize the Divine within ourselves and appropriately bear his massage to the world.
At the culmination, we are meant to view ourselves as “redeemed.” Learning about the redemption, acting as though we went through it, is meant to help us feel as though we have, so we can understand who we really are, and act accordingly.
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