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Parsha Bo: 4 Steps to Personal Redemption

We are presently in the midst of the parshas about the Exodus of Egypt. Last week’s parsha described the first seven of the 10 plagues and this week we get the final three. They are preceded with an introduction by God to Moshe of what He plans to do when saving the Israelites from bondage (Exodus 6:6-7): 

אֲנִ֣י ה’ וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֙חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵעֲבֹדָתָ֑ם וְגָאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבִשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים 

I am the Lord. I will remove you from the labors of the Egyptians and save you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and awesome wonders. 

וְלָקַחְתִּ֨י אֶתְכֶ֥ם לִי֙ לְעָ֔ם וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָכֶ֖ם לֵֽאלֹהִ֑ים 

And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God.

Many commentators note the symmetry of the four verbs that are used in these two verses and much has been written about the meaning of each of the phrases in an attempt to match different stages of the Israelite’s exodus to each of the following four phrases: 

וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם – I will remove you 
וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם – I will save you 
וְגָאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ – I will redeem you
וְלָקַחְתִּ֨י אֶתְכֶ֥ם – I will take you (to Me to be My people)

So on a national level there seems to be four steps that took the Israelites out of slavery and into their relationship with God. But this doesn’t apply only in a big-picture, mammoth Exodus event, as we can also describe these self-same stages to our own personal Redemption.  This is based on the idea in Jewish tradition that says that Pharaoh and Egypt are symbols of the Yetzer Hara – the evil inclination. 

The Yetzer Hara is that part of us that drags us down and keeps us from our higher and holier selves. Every one of us has their own personal Pharaohs and chains of Egypt that enslave us and keeps us from our potential. We are all imprisoned by something. It might be alcohol, food, drugs, cigarettes, laziness or TikTok. It might be a self-esteem issue and not believing in what we can accomplish. We all have our battles that we fight on a daily basis. And very often they are long-term battles.  

These four descriptions that God mentions in redeeming Israel from Egypt can also be seen as four different stages in our attempt to break from our personal Pharaohs and Egypts.

וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם – I will Remove you refers to the first stage. God had to get the Israelites geographically out of Egypt. We simply need to separate. We have to come to the initial realization that we have an issue, a problem, an addiction and have to make the commitment to remove ourselves from it. We all know that half the battle of dealing with our own weakness, or someone else’s, is simply acknowledging that there is one to begin with. And once we have that understanding, then we need to distance ourselves from it. “I will remove you” means you gotta’ get out – physically or otherwise. You just cannot be within proximity of the food or the booze or the toxic person in your life. Get out of there or get it out of there. 

וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם – I will Save you is the realization that in order to be “saved” we need help. We cannot do it alone. Just like a prisoner or slave (or the Jewish nation in the parsha) can seldom save himself without the assistance of another – or a Higher Power – so too we need someone to help pull us through. This is an integral part of any 12-Step program and behind the idea of needing a sponsor. Life coach, psychologist, rabbi, friend, intervention, God’s help – all are possible options and based on this realization that when it comes to those major things that harm us, we all need a helping hand. And that is perfectly fine. We have to realize we are not alone in our battle and be open to getting help from an outside party. 

וְגָאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ – I will Redeem you refers to the stage when you finally break free. You have quit. You are done. You have won. You are clean. Redemption means Freedom. For the Israelites, this happened after they emerged from the other side of the splitting Red Sea. Egypt and Pharaoh became a tiny image in their rear-view mirror. Yes, a person always has to be vigilant not to slip backwards and indeed some of the Jewish people still wanted to return to Egypt when things got tough. But for the most part, this is the point of no-return. Redemption has arrived and this is the stage of being a new you, a new person now that you have succeeded in breaking the bonds and chains of your personal demons. 

וְלָקַחְתִּ֨י אֶתְכֶ֥ם – I will Take you (to Me to be My people) refers to the fact that now that we are redeemed, the story is not over but just beginning. The goal of getting away from and overcoming the negative is not to stay at zero, not to spend the rest of your time resting and relaxing. But to carry it forward to make the world a better place. For the Jewish people it was all well and nice to be finally rid or Pharaoh and Egypt. But they didn’t then travel to Boca Raton and spend the rest of their days working on their golf game. No, it was onward to Sinai to receive God’s Torah, to fulfill His mitzvot, to become His people and begin their destiny to perfect the world. Similarly, in the 12-Step program, the final step is the call to carry your message to others and pay it forward to another. Redemption is only meaningful when we become a Light Unto Nations and offer others the same insight, wisdom and awareness that we have been fortunate to gain. 

So there you have it: 1) Separate from the negative 2) Get help doing it 3) Reach Redemption and 4) Help others do the same. This is what it means to leave Egypt, to beat down your Pharaoh and to finally enter into the Promised Land. This is what it meant for the Jewish nation thousands of years ago, and what it means for each and every one of us today. 

Won’t you guide me through the dark night of the soul
That I may better understand Your way
Let me be just and worthy to receive
All the blessings of the Lord into my life

-Van Morrison

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