This week’s Torah portion begins with God informing Moses that God’s Covenant with the Patriarchs is not forgotten, and Redemption will soon take place. In Exodus 6:6-8, we have five different expressions relating to the Redemption: ‘Vehotzeti Etchem’ (I will take you out); ‘V’hitzalti Etchem’ (I will rescue you); ‘ V’Ga’alti Etchem’ (I will redeem you); ‘V’lakachti Etchem’ (I will take you); ‘V’heveti Etchem El ha’aretz’ (I will bring you to the Land).

The Talmud rules that a cup of wine should be drunk at the Passover Seder in honour of each of these expressions. However, a debate arose in the Talmud which was never fully settled. The first four expressions refer to the immediate betterment of their condition. The fifth, ‘I will bring you to the Land’, speaks of a somewhat distant event (over forty years away, as it turned out), rather than the tangible reversal of the Exile. Some even interpret it as referring to the future messianic redemption. Therefore, we should only have four cups of wine as we commemorate the Egyptian Exodus. Therefore, a fifth cup would be premature.

An alternate view was offered that the fifth expression is the raison d’être of the first four. The end of bondage has little significance until we are free, and spiritually fulfilled, in our own Land. Therefore, five cups should be the appropriate practice. The generally accepted view follows the first opinion. However, since it was left an open question, we place a fifth cup on the table; the cup of Elijah. After all, Elijah will not only proclaim the final redemption, but will, according to Talmudic tradition, also answer all unresolved issues.

At the Seder, we all remember the hardships of Egypt, as well as the hardships that have followed. But we are called upon to look to God, and envision where our lives, individually and collectively, are headed. We anticipate with the fifth cup, whether drunk or merely sitting before us a world more free and less broken in  anticipation.

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Torah Reading Shabbat Va’era

Exodus 6:2-9:35 (Ex 6:29-7:19)
Plaut p. 384; Hertz p. 235

Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-13, 23
Plaut p. 1492; Hertz p. 944

This Shabbat we celebrate the beginning of the new month Sh’vat

Our portion is the second of the Exodus narrative in the Torah.

* Despite God’s message that they will be redeemed from slavery, the Israelites’ spirits remain crushed. God instructs Moses and Aaron to deliver the Israelites from the land of Egypt.

* The genealogy of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and their descendants is recorded. Moses and Aaron perform a miracle with a snake and relate to Pharaoh God’s message to let the Israelites leave Egypt.

* The first seven plagues occur. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, and Pharaoh rescinds each offer to let the Israelites go.