Parashat Vaeira – Holiness is Relationship As you are probably aware from the Passover Seder, we have four different cups of wine or grape juice. Each one, we are taught, refers to a verb that God uses in the Torah to describe the process of the Exodus from Egypt. One of those words is והוציתי – ‘v’hotzeiyti’ – ‘I will take (you) out.’ The Chassidic work Meschech Chochma teaches that ‘to be taken out’ is the promise by God to remove the Jews from the evil decrees of the Pharaoh.
There is an interesting twist to this and it takes a bit of deeper reading. The teacher teaches us that if God wanted to ‘take the Jews out’ of Egypt because of the endemic evil in the land, then it seems to imply that the Jews somehow resisted the evil themselves. They were in, we are taught, an idolatrous nation, surrounded by the evil of all the Egyptians and the temptation that comes from all these evil influences. He then asks the question, what was it that the Jews posessed (in this Rabbinic imagination and midrash) that set them apart from the rest of Egypt and gave them the strength to avoid falling into the same evil that God so despised and from which God needed to take them out?
It was, we are taught, the state of קדושה – kedusha – ‘holiness.’ Mesech Chochma teaches us that this first cup of wine – ‘I took you out’ – is the cup of sanctification – kiddush (same word!) and it refers to the fact that God is the ‘One who sanctifies Israel and the Festivals.’ This means that God sanctified Israel only when Israel recognizes the Festivals. The Talmud reflects this when it says, ‘God considers the Festivals to be Festivals only if Israel declares them Festivals.’ How insightful this is.
When the Jews declare their Festivals to be holy, they are holy and subsequently recognized as Festivals by God. To be able to know that the Festival is holy and that the Festival is near takes a determined heart and a knowledge about when it will fall. The reality is that if the Jews don’t care when the Festival lands, the Festival, as it were, would never come. There is real insight here. Only when Jews care about being Jewish and make the effort to do so is the Judaism alive. There are many who consider themselves Jewish only by dint of being born to a Jewish parent. There are those who are ‘cultural Jews’ who often are self-identified as ‘gastronomic Jews.’ Each of these kinds of Jews are part of the Jewish people. There is certainly nothing ‘evil’ about being such a Jew. But the meat of Jewish thought and the depth of the Jewish soul is often missing.
Our tradition is filled with amazing things, profound knowledge and an astonishingly modern outlook and insight into so many things. No one is ever forbidden from reading anything and, in fact, each Jew is highly encouraged to delve deeply into every sea of knowlege. Are you taking the plunge?