I hope you are all well, wherever you are and whatever crazy winter weather you are experiencing! It’s hard to believe that the fall semester at Pardes ended last week. I have learned SO much in these last few months and look forward to soaking up as much Torah as possible, further exploring this country and strengthening relationships I have made in my time remaining in Israel.
This past Shabbat, we read Parshat Beshalach which describes the ‘final scene’ of the Jewish enslavement in Egypt, namely the physical exodus from Egypt including Pharaoh’s last-minute pursuit of the Jewish People, the splitting of the Red Sea and the famous song of praise to God (Az Yashir – “Then He/They Sang”) for saving the people from Pharaoh’s army.
As you might imagine, there is a lot of adrenaline running when the Egyptians pursue the Jewish People in their attempt to flee persecution and start anew in the Land of Israel. With Moses leading the Jewish People and Pharaoh and his chariots fast-approaching behind them, the people panic and exclaim:
יא) וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, הֲמִבְּלִי אֵין-קְבָרִים בְּמִצְרַיִם, לְקַחְתָּנוּ לָמוּת בַּמִּדְבָּר: מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לָּנוּ, לְהוֹצִיאָנוּ מִמִּצְרָיִם
11) And they said unto Moses: ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt, had you taken us away to die in the wilderness? what have you done to us, to bring us forth out of Egypt?
יב) הֲלֹא-זֶה הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְנוּ אֵלֶיךָ בְמִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר, חֲדַל מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנַעַבְדָה אֶת-מִצְרָיִם: כִּי טוֹב לָנוּ עֲבֹד אֶת-מִצְרַיִם, מִמֻּתֵנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר
12) Is not this the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying: Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it were better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.’ (Exodus 14:11-12)
Moses calms the people, saying:
יג) וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-הָעָם, אַל-תִּירָאוּ–הִתְיַצְּבוּ וּרְאוּ אֶת-יְשׁוּעַת ה’, אֲשֶׁר-יַעֲשֶׂה לָכֶם הַיּוֹם: כִּי, אֲשֶׁר רְאִיתֶם אֶת-מִצְרַיִם הַיּוֹם–לֹא תֹסִפוּ לִרְאֹתָם עוֹד, עַד-עוֹלָם
13) And Moses said unto the people: ‘Do not fear, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will work for you today; for whereas you have seen the Egyptians today, you shall see them again no more for ever. (Exodus 14:13)
In reading Moses’ response to the Jewish People, I was struck by the language of the Torah.
Why does Moses decide to describe God’s actions in this moment of crisis as ישועת ה, “salvation of God”?
Especially given that the prior language of גאולה “redemption” is employed very clearly in Exodus 6:6, it seems strange that the Torah would use a particular terminology in one part of the narrative and change it in another part of the same narrative.
To answer this question, I decided to poll some of my friends who were online while I was writing this dvar Torah. I asked them: what is the difference between the terms ישועה (salvation) and גאולה (redemption)?
My dear friend and long-time chevruta (study partner), Phil Keisman answered that ישועה reminded him of a different part of the Bible, particularly the Book of Judges. The Book of Judges uses this same Hebrew verb to refer to the judges in a given generation who would save the Jewish People from the oppressive rule of a neighbouring nation, like the Philistines. According to the Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew Lexicon (BDB), the term ישועה implies a physical salvation, ensuring safety and prosperity, whereas גאולה has the connotation of redeeming the slave and of being a kinsman. This being the case, Phil suggested that Moses uses the word ישועה in this context because he is referring to direct divine intervention to save them. If Moses had used the term גאולה, they might have understood that they were expected to play a role in getting themselves out of this situation.
Another friend of mine, Ora Shore, suggested that ישועה is more about the process and גאולה may be the result of this ישועה. To frame it slightly differently, I would say that God’s direct salvation (ישועה) is necessary at this moment and ultimately will enable the Jewish People to self-actualize and attain redemption (גאולה).
So what can we learn from this linguistic exploration?
I think it is not for nothing that the Torah chooses to employ one terms in a specific context and another term elsewhere. Particularly, when reading about the Exodus from Egypt, we become aware of the heightened anxiety of the Jewish People; they are terrified that they will not make it out alive and that God is going to abandon them in the desert, en route to Israel. Moses reassures them that God will not leave them, and moreover God will directly intervene to keep them safe and secure. Nevertheless, the purpose of leaving Egypt is not for the nation to become utterly dependent on God’s aid; they must use their time in the desert to unify as a people and draw on their own strengths and talents to conquer and settle in the Land of Israel. This is the intended end-goal of the Exodus: Redemption.
I don’t want to presume anything but I can speak personally and say that I often struggle to find a balance between my dependency on God (ישועה) and expectation that God will save me and secure my future and functioning as an autonomous individual and self-actualize (גאולה) in order to seek what I need or want in my life.
And so, I bless us all that we are able to find this balance in our lives and recognize when we need to ask for ישועה (salvation) from God and when we need to make things happen for ourselves and enable our own personal and/or collective גאולה (redemption).