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Posted on September 5, 2016 (5776) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

…your G-d, Who takes you out of the land of Egypt, and Who redeems you from the house of slavery…

Meshech Chochmah: Leaving Egypt, leaving slavery – isn’t it all the same? Of course not. If they were, the Torah would not have used two phrases where one would have sufficed. To understand the difference between the two, we turn to the Gra in Aderes Eliyahu.

There were indeed two stages to leaving Egypt, reflecting very different stances taken by Hashem towards the Egyptians. The earlier stage occurred at night. Paroh effectively received and reacted favorably to an ultimatum: set the Bnei Yisrael free, and you can spare yourself further punishment. This stage is called “redemption.” One redeems an object for consideration. Something is offered in place of the other – some sort of a quid pro quo. It resembles a negotiated settlement, or a contract. Indeed, the night of the first Pesach was a “redemption,” requiring that the first-born of the Bnei Yisrael be “given” as a kind of payment for HKBH neutralizing the first-born Egyptians.

A sea-change dominated the next stage, the actual physical removal of the Jews from Egyptian territory. Here, Hashem “took” them out forcibly, taking no heed of any Egyptian objections. This was no negotiation, but a display of His strong Hand.

The Gra links this difference to an enigmatic passage in Yeshaya:

“Why is it that I have come, and there is no man; that I have called, and there is no one who answers? Is My hand too limited to grant redemption? Is there no strength in Me to rescue?”[2]

Here, too, the pasuk speaks of different types of intervention on behalf of an oppressed party. It speaks of “redemption” and of “saving.” Here, though, the two kinds of intervention follow from two disappointments, as it were, to Hashem’s expectation. The preceding phrases speaks of His “coming” to an empty location, and His “calling” that is met with no human response.

Those phrases, explains the Gra, refer to prayer and Torah, respectively. Hashem’s coming to an empty place, says the gemara,[3] refers to a shul that does not get a minyan. Hashem comes to the shul, but finds it effectively without people. It is unable to deliver up the needed tefillah that could enlist Divine support for its needs. He “calls,” but no one answers. This calling is Torah. G-d makes it available, but no one answers the call with an enthusiastic offer to engage the Torah He makes available. He does not need to “come” any where in particular, because Torah does not require a minyan or a special place.

What does this mean? Why are these two mitzvos treated separately and differently in the text? A possible explanation may be rooted in an important halachic distinction between two kinds of consecration. Some things are consecrated with intrinsic kedushah; others are consecrated for their monetary value. In the latter case (generally applying to things that cannot be offered on the altar), the consecration is weaker, more changeable. In the right circumstances, the kedushah can dissipate without any formal process of deconsecration. Objects that are consecrated with intrinsic kedushah, however, enjoy a more robust sanctity. Their kedushah is part of the substance of the object, not limited to its monetary value. Thus, the law of meilah[4] applies to the forbidden fat of nosar[5] even though it has no monetary worth. It doesn’t have to. The very substance is holy, even if it has no marketable value. On the other hand, meilah does not apply to a food item that has been consecrated for its monetary value and then becomes chametz on Pesach. Since the consecration is limited to its worth, the prohibition of chametz that strips it of its worth robs it, so to speak, of its holiness at the same time.

A corollary of this concerns prior lienholders against property. If an owner assigns intrinsic kedushah to an object (e.g., consecrates an animal as an offering in the beis hamikdosh), the consecration can dislodge the lien against that property. Should the owner assign only monetary-value kedushah to some property, the prior lien of a third party against that property is maintained. The weaker kind of consecration is not significant enough to overcome the interest of the lienholder.

The gemara[6] sees prayer as involved with “temporal needs” / chayei sha’ah. It seeks, for the most part, to protect and improve the interests that a person can understand – the needs of this world. As such, it is comparable to monetary-value consecration, i.e. a holiness that is not completely intrinsic to the person, much as life in the here and now is not life that is related to the true essence of a person. It is therefore subject to “redemption;” it can be bought off or traded for its value. By itself, it cannot dislodge the rights of another Party should the person become obligated through the debt of sin to a Divine Lienholder. Tefillah, therefore, is often inadequate for the job. It must be accompanied by other forms of compensation, like teshuvah and tzedakah.

Torah, however, strikes at the very essence of a person. It deals with the eternity of a person, not just his temporal needs. Its holiness is like intrinsic consecration. It can and does dislodge the claims of the “lienholder,” and therefore requires no other forms of “payment.”

Prayer, therefore, is linked in our pasuk to redemption, where “payment” is offered as consideration. Torah, on the other hand, is linked to pure rescue, where no other form of compensation is part of the package.

  1. Based on Meshech Chochmah, Devarim 13:6
  2. Yeshaya 50:2
  3. Berachos 6A
  4. Deriving benefit from consecrated objects
  5. An offering beyond the period specified by the Torah as permitted to be eaten. It must be burnt, and is considered to be without monetary value.
  6. Shabbos 10A

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