Towards the beginning of Parashat Va-Era, we read the famous "arba leshonot shel ge'ula," or "four expressions of redemption." God promises the Israelites, "I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm… And I will take you to be My people…" (Exodus 6:6-7). The meaning of three out of these four "expressions" is, for the most part, clear. "Ve-hotzeiti" ("I will free you") apparently refers to the actual release from slavery. By contrast, "ve-hitzalti" ("deliver") presumably denotes general freedom from the Egyptians; Egypt will exert absolutely no power or authority over the Israelites. The fourth expression, "ve-lakahti" (“I will take you”) seems to refer to the aftermath of the Exodus, specifically Ma'amad Har Sinai, where the People of Israel entered into a covenant with God and formally became His people.
The meaning of the third term, however, "ve-ga'alti" (“I will redeem you”) is less obvious. After Benei Yisrael are freed from Egyptian servitude, what further "redemption" do they require? While instinctively we might think of spiritual redemption, this appears to be included under the fourth expression, "ve-lakahti." To what, then, does "ve-ga'alti" refer?
Rabbi David Silverberg (http://vbm-torah.org/archive/salt-shemot/14-7vaera.htm) cites two approaches. Nahmanides (Ramban) explains the term "ve-ga'alti" based on the halakhic concept of "ge'ula." In Parashat Behar, the Torah describes the process and guidelines of "redeeming" or reclaiming land sold under financial duress. Thus, concludes the Ramban, the term "ge'ula" refers to quid pro quo transactions. In this third expression, then, God promises that He would not only free Benei Yisrael from Egypt, but He will ensure that the Egyptians, in exchange for their lives, will chase them out - setting them free decisively and wholeheartedly.
Seforno, on the other hand, argues that "ve-ga'alti" refers to the elimination of the Egyptians at the Red Sea. Until that point, Benei Yisrael fled Egypt as fugitives; once, however, they witnessed their former oppressors drowned at sea, they became free men in the fullest sense of the term.
The question arises as to the significance of this promise, "ve-ga'alti." Even without the components described by Ramban or Seforno, Benei Yisrael were out of their chains - independent, self-governing, and no longer bound to anybody in Egypt. At this point, seemingly, all that remained was their march to Sinai to see the realization of the fourth promise, "ve-lakahti." Why, then, according to these commentaries, does God emphasize the aspect of "ve-ga'alti" as well?
Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz explains that according to these commentators, "ve-ga'alti" refers to emotional freedom. Before reaching the stage of "ve-lakahti," becoming G-d’s nation, Benei Yisrael had to not only achieve physical freedom from the Egyptians, but attain an internal sense of freedom as well. Transforming their self-image from one of dependent slaves to one of free men indeed marked a critical stage of redemption. Therefore, "ve-ga'alti" forms the bridge, as it were, between the first two stages – physical freedom – and the final stage – spiritual freedom. In between, Benei Yisrael had to feel and internalize their independence. According to the Ramban, the circumstances surrounding the Exodus, the way Egypt begged them to leave and drove them out in fear of their lives, gave Benei Yisrael a sense of closure. They left Egypt not against the Egyptians' will, but at their desperate behest. According to Seforno, however, this was not enough; they needed to free themselves, once and for all, from the emotional slavery to which they had been subjected for two centuries. Hence, Benei Yisrael had to witness firsthand the demise of their Egyptian taskmasters.
What this process shows us, of course, is that "ve-lakahti" – the establishment of a deep, covenantal relationship with God – requires a "ve-ga'alti" which is a clean break from previous masters who set our agenda. Benei Yisrael required a complete detachment from their sense of obligation to Egypt. To be "taken" by God, we must wholeheartedly accept the Almighty as our one and only source of ultimate authority.
Hag Kasher ve-Same’ah!
Rabbi Dr. Aryeh A. Frimer is the Ethel and David Resnick Professor of Active Oxygen Chemistry at Bar Ilan University; FrimeA@biu.ac.il.