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Redeeming qualities

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In this week’s Parsha, we read the four expressions of redemption.

The third expression is G-d’s promise, “And I will redeem you.” The Hebrew word used by G-d in this context is “vega’alti”.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch alludes to the use of this word (or, at any rate, its root) elsewhere in the Torah (in the portion of Behar), where it deals with a family member who is expected to assist a relative in financial distress. There, the Torah teaches that if your impoverished relative sells his land to sustain himself, you, as go’el (redeemer), shall help him recover such land. Similarly, if an impoverished relative is forced to sell himself into slavery, you, as go’el, are required to free him by satisfying the debt owed.

A go’el was someone, who more than merely sympathising with the other, took decisive action to alleviate the other’s suffering.

When Hashem says, “And I will redeem you [vega’alti]”, he’s assuming the role of the go’el for the entire nation of Israel (then and into the future). At that very moment, G-d, in the most tangible sense, becomes our relative, our family, avinu malkeinu (our father our king), the Divine Being responsible for and committed to our well-being.

In the words of Rabbi Hirsch, “You don’t have one kindred soul in Egypt who would feel personally hurt by the abuses to which you are being subjected. Therefore, I will stand up as your kinsman. I’m hurt,” affirms G-d, “whenever one of my children is hurt.”

It’s not by chance that it’s just prior to the emancipation of the Israelites and the formation of our nation that G-d utters the enduring words of “vega’alti”. G-d is modelling what’s expected of us in relation to our fellow within this new nation.

All around us, there are vulnerable and maligned people, people who have no one else to turn to in their moment of distress and suffering. These are people with no go’el!

We need to echo the words of Hashem to such people: “You do not have one kindred soul in your environment who feels your pain and is prepared to redeem you from your plight. Therefore, we will stand up as your kinsmen.” But, it cannot end there. To emulate G-d fully and properly, we mustn’t merely speak the words of promises but must act swiftly, compassionately, and purposefully in fulfilling them.

In last week’s Torah reading, Hashem proclaimed, “My child, My firstborn, Israel.” Our proclamation to each other ought to be, “My brother, my sister, my kindred soul, Israel.”

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