Behar: Words of Redemption ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

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The end of Leviticus speaks about different forms of redemption in the legal sense. It mentions the rights — or even commandments — of the impoverished and their extended family to “redeem” property sold out of desperation, and bring it back to the family. This applies to a field, a house of residence, or a person sold as a slave (Lev. 25:25-55). Moreover, the Torah also teaches us about the halachic mechanisms for redeeming consecrated animals, houses, or fields (Lev. 27:9-34). The word used for redeeming in these contexts is sometimes goel and sometimes podeh.*The noun forms of those verbs are geulah and pedut/pidyon, respectively. What is the difference between these two different words for redemption and what can we learn from these words?

To better understand the words for redemption, we look to the quintessential act of redemption: the Exodus from Egypt. The Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer of Vilna (1720-1797), explains that the Exodus consists of two parallel redemptions. The pidyon (which occurred on the night of Passover) was a form of salvation whereby G-d traded Jewish firstborns for the Egyptian firstborns, saving the former and annihilating the latter. Almost concurrently, the geulah was G-d’s way of saving the Jews by way of sheer brute force. In this way, pidyon implies salvation which comes about through an exchange, while geulah connotes a form of rescue which is done without any type of remuneration.

Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk (1853-1918) explained the difference between pidyon and geulah by using the classical Yeshivish cheftza-gavra (object-person) construct. He explains that the term pidyon focuses on the object of redemption, and denotes a change in the object’s personal status, while the term geulah focuses on the owner of the object, and denotes redemption as a change in the ownership of said object.

Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839), known as the Chatam Sofer, writes that pidyonrefers to negative redemption — that is, simply being saved from whatever calamity confronts him — while geulah refers to positive redemption — that is, not just being saved from something bad, but being raised above one’s circumstances and becoming greater. A similar explanation is recorded by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager of Kosov (1768-1825) who writes that pidyon offers temporary relief for whatever ails him, while the term geulah implies a more comprehensive, everlasting form of deliverance.

Along these lines, Malbim explains that the term pidyon denotes redemption as the fact of salvation. On the other hand, the word geulah denotes redemption that is born of closeness between the redeemer and redeemed. That closeness serves as the impetus for the redeemer’s feeling of responsibility in saving the redeemed. When one’s relative is murdered, one has a status that may, under certain circumstances, perhaps allow avenging the death. The relative who is named as having this status of carrying out this act is called by Numbers 35:19, goel hadam (“redeemer of blood”). In this context, the word goel alludes to the avenger’s kinship with his murdered brethren.

Rabbi Shmuel Tuvia Stern (1920-2004), the late Rabbi of Miami Beach, explains that pidyon refers to taking something which is holy and redeeming it from its holy status by transferring the holiness, effectively consecrating something else instead. Geulah, on the other hand, applies to the idea of taking something that is of the unholy/non-holy and redeeming it by shaking off those non-holy associations, allowing it to enter the domain of the holy. Alternatively, Rabbi Stern explains that pidyon refers to redemption on a case-by-case basis (i.e. the redemption of the individual), while geulah refers to mass redemption (i.e. redemption of the public, or nation, at large).

*NOTE: While the word podeh is generally spelled PEY-DALET-HEY, in one place (Iyov 33:24), the Bible replaces the HEY with an AYIN. Rashi (there) and Nachmanides (to Ex. 21:14) explain that the AYIN and HEY are interchangeable letters, so this word is the same as podeh. However, Rabbi Yonah Ibn Janach, Rabbi Menachem ibn Saruk, and Radak, in their respective lexicons of roots in the Hebrew language, have separate entries with a HEY and with an AYIN, implying that they understand the latter is a separate word from the former.To this effect, Malbim writes that podeh with an AYIN may be related to a similar-sounding Arabic word which means “removal”.




Pesach: The Pele(wonder) of Pesach — “And It Makes Me Wonder” ~ Tzvi Abrahams

פֶּלֶא: wonder

נְפִילָה: falling

פִּיל: elephant

תְּפִילָה: prayer

הִפְלָה: separate, distinctive

פֶּלֶא: Wonder

There are foolish people who have gone down to Egypt to find evidence that the miracles of the plagues really happened. They found evidence in hieroglyphics, and then they tried to explain away how all the phenomena could have happened naturally, by cause and effect. They explain that some disease affected the waters in the rivers, which caused the fish to die, the frogs to come out, the lice, etc.

Fools! The real wonder פֶּלֶא/wonder, the peleof Pesach, was how Hashem separated us from the Egyptians; the blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death of the firstborn born did not affect us. We were handpicked for life and they for punishment, to show the whole world the greatness of Hashem — וְהִבְדִילָנוּ מִין הַטוֹעִים/that He separated us from the ones that stray.

פֶּלֶאis a wonder. When we are children, life is full of wonder; a baby can be mesmerized for hours by a plastic cup, seeing things for the first time, examining them, analyzing their textures, shapes, colors, and function. But slowly, as we get older, we get used to things and we lose the aspect of wonderment.

נְפִילָה: Falling

Rivkah, when she saw Yitzchak for the first time, fell off her camel:וַתִּפֹּל מֵעַל הַגָּמָל. The sages say this was because she saw him coming out of Gan Eden upside down. She was in wonderment, and the word used to describe this action is lashonנְפִילָה/falling.

Why do we fall? Sometimes, when we are struck by wonder, it can be so powerful that it can knock us off our feet. We lose our balance and we fall from our ordinary state of seeing the world. Instead, we are in a state of amazement, literally “knock your socks off!”

פִּיל: Elephant

The Gemara in Brachossays: הַרוֹאֶה פִּיל בְּחַלוֹם פְּלִאוֹת נֶעֶשׂוּ לוֹ/if one sees an elephant in his dream, it is a sign that wonders will happen to him.1פִּילis called so because it is the biggest animal and in the times of the Greeks was used in warfare like a tank, causing the enemy to flee and fall.

תְּפִילָה: Prayer

תְּפִילָהis not only called so because we fall down and pray, but it is also related to wonderment. How can it be that when we open our hearts to heartfelt prayer we see transformations happen in our lives? It should leave us awestruck in wonder.

הִפְלָה: Separate, Distinctive

If you survived a plane crash where everyone on board died except you, your wife, and your children, or you were thrown into the lion’s den like Daniel, or thrown into a pit full of snakes like Yosef, or into a fiery furnace like Avraham, and survived, would you not be in wonder?!

Coming back to our exodus from Egypt, in the plague of wild animals, thepasuksays: וְהִפְלֵיתִי בַיּוֹם הַהוּא אֶת אֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן אֲשֶׁר עַמִּי עֹמֵד עָלֶיהָ לְבִלְתִּי הֱיוֹת שָׁם עָרֹב לְמַעַן תֵּדַע כִּי אֲנִי ה’בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ/and I will separate on that day the land of Goshen where my people are, a place without wild animals, in order that you will know that I am Hashem in the midst of the land.2

וְהִפְלָה ה’בֵּין מִקְנֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל וּבֵין מִקְנֵה מִצְרָיִם/and Hashem separated between the cattle of the Bnei Yisrael and the Egyptians.3

וְנִפְלִינוּ אֲנִי וְעַמְּךָ/and I will niflinu, I and your people, from all the people that are on the face of the earth.4Rashi comments that the word niflinuhas a connotation of “and you will be separate in this matter from all the people,” just like Hashem separated the cattle herds of Israel and Egypt.

נִפְלָאֹת/And behold I am cutting a brisopposite all your people, and I will make wonders that have not existed in all of the land and all of the goyim, and the people will see that you are within the deeds of Hashem, because awesome is my dealings with your people.5Rashi explains lashonnefilahas being separated from all the nations of star worshippers in that the Divine Presence will not rest upon them.

In all the above pesukimwe see a common thread: that the real נִפְלָאֹת/wonders that Hashem performed in Egypt were how He separated us from thegoyim. They worship the stars and are influenced by them, whereas Hashem compares us to the stars. We are above mazal, we are above the stars in that we arethe stars. We are the chosen nation,אַתָּהבְחַרְתָּנוּ, who shine Hashem’s presence in the world, a light among the nations.

שֶׁלֹּא עָשַׂנִי גּוֹי— We bless Hashem in the morning with the brachahthat He did not make us a goy. A friend of mine told me that when he was coming out of the mikvehone Shabbos afternoon, there were two Chassidim dancing and singing who appeared to be in an extreme state of joy. As he drew closer, he was able to make out the words they were singing and dancing to:שֶׁלֹּא עָשַׂנִי גּוֹי…שֶׁלֹּא עָשַׂנִי גּוֹי. In the prayerעָלֵינוּ לְשַׁבֵּחַ, wepraise Hashem that He did not make us like the goyim,who bow down to vanity and emptiness and to a god that doesn’t hear them. We bow and acknowledge before the King of Kings, HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

This should be our kavanahwhen we make Havdalah. Just like Hashem has made a separation between holy and profane, between light and darkness, so too Hashem has separated us, the Jewish Nation, from the other nations. Just like the sunrise, which separates light and darkness, leaves us in a state of wonderment, so too Havdalah, the separation that Hashem made between us and the goyimin Egypt and continues to do throughout history, should leave us in no less a state of wonderment. The difference is literally light and darkness.

Leaving Egypt is a state of mind. It is to know that we have been set aside by Hashem from all of the nations, using the lashonof pele/wonder. The fact that we are still here, a lone sheep among seventy wolves, is a wonder. The goyimhate us — yes, there might be a few righteous non-Jews here and there, but en masse they have proven many times over who they really are. If not the Egyptians, then it was the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Spanish, the pogroms, the English in York, the Germans, and now the whole world in the guise of the United Nations.

וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְלָנוּ,שֶׁלֹּא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד עָמַד עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ,אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלוֹתֵנוּ,וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם

And it has stood for our fathers and us that not only one has stood against us to annihilate us, but in every generation they stand against us to annihilate is, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu saves us from their hands.6

“And it makes me wonder.”

1Brachos 56b.

2Shemos 8:18.

3Ibid., 9:4.

4Ibid., 33:16.

5Ibid., 34:10.

6Pesach Haggadah.




Pesach: Jumping for Passover (Part 2/2) ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

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We mentioned in Part 1 that the Hebrew name for the holiday of Passover is Pesach and the sacrifice associated with that holiday is likewise known as the Korban Pesach (Pesach Sacrifice). We cited Rashi’s explanation (to Exodus 12:11; 12:13; and Isaiah 31:5) that the word pesach is an expression of dilugand kefitzah, both of which are words for jumping. Indeed, the Paschal Sacrifice is called the Korban Pesach because it commemorates G-d “passing over” or “jumping over” the houses of the Jews when He struck the Egyptians with the Plague of the Firstborn. The holiday is accordingly named after the sacrifice associated with it. In the following paragraphs we will demonstrate exactly how the word pesach means “jumping”, but is not fully synonymous with the words dilug and kefitzah.

In Part 1 we explained the major difference between the two words for “jumping” by noting that the word dilug focuses on one who “jumps” as a means of skipping over something, and the word kefitzah focuses on one who “jumps” as a means of travelling faster. Rashi’s comment that the word Pesach is an expression of both dilug and kefitzah means that the word Pesach has both of these elements, especially in regard to G-d passing over the houses of the Jews in anticipation of the Exodus from Egypt.

Rabbi Avigdor Neventzhal (Chief Rabbi Emeritus of the Old City of Jerusalem) points out the obvious: when we speak of G-d “jumping” over the Jews in order to afflict the Egyptians with the Plague of the Firstborn, this cannot mean that He literally “jumped” over them, because He does not possess any physical body with which to perform such an action. Rather, the Torah speaks from the post facto perspective in which the Egyptian firstborns died, and the Jewish ones did not. In hindsight, it seemed as if G-d “jumped” over the Jews and smote only the Egyptians. In what way can this be called a dilug? Rabbi Neventzhal explains that just as the idea of dilug is to “skip over” something which has been deemed unnecessary, so too did G-d “skip over” His general requirement that one perform some act of commitment to seal his connection to G-d before G-d will allow that person to come close to Him. However, at that the Exodus, though the Jews had not yet exhibited that desire to connect to G-d, He nonetheless performed miracles on their behalf and took them out of Egypt.

In a similar vein, Rabbi Nachshon Schiller focuses on the haste with which the Exodus from Egypt occurred. Kabbalistic sources assert that during their stay in Egypt, the Jews had alarmingly fallen to the forty-ninth level of impurity and seriously required the Divine intervention of the Exodus. The urgency of the matter is highlighted by the Jews’ descent to the depths of impurity. Had the Jews remained in that land for an extra moment they would have plunged to the fiftieth level of impurity, from whence it would be impossible to recover. Therefore, G-dhastily redeemed the Jews before it was too late. Rabbi Schiller explains that for this reason G-d commanded that the Paschal Offering be eaten “in haste” (Exodus 12:11); eating from that sacrifice should be done quickly in imitation of G-d’s fast-acting miracles that brought the Exodus. In this way, the word Pesach is related to the word kefitzah, which denotes the speed of the jumper.

To summarize, the Exodus from Egypt has both an element of “skipping” and an element of “speed”, concepts which shed light on Rashi’s comment that Pesach is related to dilug and kefitzah. In redeeming the Jews, G-d waived the usual requirement that the recipient of Divine assistance actively show his commitment to Above. In essence, the Exodus basically “skipped over” (dilug) that general prerequisite for a miracle, a favor celebrated in the name Pesach. At the same time, the urgency and gravity of the dire situation demanded that G-d redeem the Jews immediately, and the speed (kefitzah) with which He did so is also immortalized in the very name of the Holiday of the Exodus — Pesach.

Before concluding I would like to point out another insight related to the Hebrew word pesach — and its verb form poseach. Those wordsshare their etymological root with the Hebrew word piseach (lame or immobile). The root of both words is the letter combination pehsamechchet. This occurrence is a poignant example of a common phenomenon in the Hebrew language whereby words whose meanings are conceptually diametric opposite are sometimes phonetically/orthographically similar (i.e. they are spelled or pronounced the same). This phenomenon illustrates the notion that words in the Hebrew language are not mere happenstance based on human whims, but possess inherent meanings and follow a Divine intuition not found in other languages. Therefore, a paralyzed person or an amputee who has been rendered immobile is known as a piseach, a word which resembles the very mobile act of “jumping” (poseach).