This d’var Torah was posted online for the Atlanta Jewish Times on January 7, 2013.
There are tremendous crimes, tragedies and injustices of all kinds that exist in our world. Parashat Vaera teaches me that I have to continue the work of Creation by doing my part. Let’s look at the text:
Note that the term for Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, and the root of the word – tzar – means “narrow.” Thus, being in Mitzrayim is a narrow place, a confining place.
Today, we are supposed to remember how we were slaves in Egypt so that we can be a source of support to others who are still in some sort of a “Mitzrayim.” But the genius of our text is that even in such a place – the place that traps us – we are never alone.
God does hear us, even when we are too weak or depressed to even cry; when we are simply groaning.
When God heard our Israelite ancestors, God made five promises of redemption. The first four are symbolically reflected in our Passover seder with the four cups of wine, as follows: “I will free you…and deliver you…I will redeem you…I will take you… (Exodus 6: 6-8).”
But the fifth promise is: “I will bring you into the land.” And we don’t drink the fifth cup at our seder; instead, we leave that for Elijah the Prophet. Think for a moment of that symbolism.
If there are five promises of redemption and we do not consume the fifth cup (not yet, anyway), it means that the fifth promise has not yet been fulfilled. Thus, the fifth cup is reserved for Elijah, who also has the task of announcing the coming of the Messiah.
So perhaps we are to drink that cup when the Messianic time is upon us? And – this has always been the question to stir me the most – are we to just simply wait for that time?
What about the teachings of Elijah knocking on our doors, looking for an act of chesed/kindness while we are at our seder?
I believe we can play a part in bringing Elijah to partake in that fifth cup. We can do our part to assist those who are confined, imprisoned, trapped in some sort of Egypt. It could be the Egypt of mental health disorders; it could be the Egypt that poverty brings; it could be an Egypt through addiction.
Whatever the case may be, we can choose to listen to the cries and groans of our neighbors, just a little more carefully, bring redemption to these suffering souls and thus to our world. These people in their Egypts, they need us.
As we move into 2013, let this be the year where we don’t leave people’s cries and groans only for God to hear. We can play a part in redeeming the world by helping our neighbor, finding ways in our communities to support the fallen, and thus we will truly walk in God’s ways.
Rabbi Greene is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Tikvah and a member of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association.