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Four and Ten

Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )

by Rabbi Menachem Weiman

When God says to Moses that He is going to bring the Jews out of Egypt, He uses four different ways of saying the same thing (Exodus 6:6-7):

  • "I shall take you out from under the burdens."
  • "I shall rescue you."
  • "I shall redeem you."
  • "I shall take you to Me for a people."

Why this redundancy?

These four statements are really four different types of redemption. You may recall at the Passover Seder, where the four cups of wine symbolize these four phrases. So what does each of these phrases mean?

  1. "I shall take you out from under the burdens." Even if God did not take us out, He still stopped the servitude, for which we are grateful.

  2. "I shall rescue you." To rescue is to remove the problem altogether. We ask God to get us out of Egypt, so we won't have to worry about the problem happening again.

  3. "I shall redeem you." The word "redemption" implies removing the effects of the problem - our slave mentality, our lack of wealth, our lack of infrastructure for an independent society.

  4. "I shall take you to Me for a people." When God takes us to Him, He gives us a new purpose, something positive and proactive to do.

* * *


Teshuva means to return. When we do something that we know took us away from the Infinite and holiness, we don't beat ourselves up, wallow in guilt, or crawl into a hole. We do something called teshuva. We try to correct ourselves. We return to the Almighty.

This is a four-step process, hinted to in the verses of redemption from Egypt:

  1. Stop the problem - resolve not to do the transgression again.

  2. Rescue - put yourself in a circumstance where you won't be tempted to do the transgression again. If every time you hang out with a group of people, you end up gossiping, consider not hanging out with that group anymore.

  3. Remove the effects of the transgression - If you stole something, you need to return it. If you became insensitive to people, you need to read material on how to be more sensitive.

  4. Do something positive - Every transgression comes from a misplaced desire. Look for opportunities to increase a positive activity that removes the desire for transgression. If you find yourself saying something negative about a friend, think of three constructive ways you can help your friend change.

* * *


Every significant "four" in the Torah relates back to God's four-letter name (see Exodus 6:2). There are many names of God which refer to different attributes. The primary name which implies His infiniteness, and His love and mercy, is the four letter name - spelled Yud, Hey, Vav, Hey - sometimes referred to as the tetragrammaton.

In this week's Torah portion, God introduces Himself to Moses in a way that appears to change the relationship that God and the Israelites are meant to have from now on. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob related to one aspect of the Infinite, while Moses and the nation of Israel from now on will relate to the four-letter name.

Until now, we related to God through an aspect of strict justice. From now on we will relate to Him through His qualities of love and mercy. The idea of redemption and the process of teshuva are expressions of God's love and mercy.

* * *


Every significant "ten" in the Torah can be broken down to two sets of "five." The Ten Commandments are written on two tablets: five commandments relating to the dynamic between man and man, and five between man and God. Similarly, we have ten fingers, five on each hand.

Furthermore, each five can be broken down into "four plus one." Like the fingers on a hand are four plus a thumb.

Each foursome can be further broken down into "three plus one."

Each threesome is an expression of the three primary forces in the universe: Love, Justice and Harmony. Just like the legs of a stool must be three to support the seat, the universe rests on three principles. Just as a stool is usually a temporary seat, while a chair is more sturdy and permanent, so too, the foursome in the Torah always represents permanence.

* * *


Like the other tens in the Torah, the Ten Plagues also can be reduced conceptually. This is one reason why this week's Torah portion contains seven plagues, and the next portion, Bo, contains three.

The process of redemption and the process of teshuva can be done with three steps, but the fourth step - taking positive action - adds permanence.

When you stop and prevent evil in the universe, you are doing the will of God. But when you also include something positive, you are becoming like God.

* * *

Spiritual Exercise:

Think of one single area of personal improvement, and take it through the four steps.

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