Parshat Vaera: Unity and Redemption
Rebbetzin Sarah and Rabbi Leron Bernstein were shlichim of Straus-Amiel in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Rabbi Leron was the Managing Director of Yeshiva College
The ‘Four Expressions of Redemption’ found in Parshat Vaera are well-known – setting the tone for our annual Pesach Seder and providing a powerful progression in our journey to freedom from the enslavement of Egypt.
“Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the L-rd. 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 through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take you to be My people (“עם”), and I will be your G-d. And you shall know that I, the L-rd, am your G-d who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians.”
The final Expression of Redemption contains a very specific description of who we are at that point of ultimate freedom. We are called ‘Am’. The Malbim in Sefer HaCarmel articulates the difference between two terms used to describe a nation – ‘Goy’, and ‘Am’.
“Goy is a gathering of individual entities, without any higher purpose. It is derived from גוה a body or unit. It is also used as a reference to a large group, which is what it means when used in reference to the Jewish people. Am is a higher level, which references a unified group with a guided purpose, whether it be governmental or otherwise. Therefore, a person can belong to an Am – עמי. But a person never belongs to a Goy – there is no גויי, my nation.”
An ‘Am’, according to the Malbim, is a group brought together by a common purpose. The word ‘Am’ can also be read as ‘Im’ which means ‘with’. We are a nation by virtue of joining with our fellow nation-members. We are connected because of that which binds us together.
More than that, when we join together at this core soul level, we reveal the unified purpose and destiny that emerges from who we are at our shared source – “One Man with One Heart”. It is with this unity that the ultimate group of people merits the ultimate Divine mission, in receiving the Torah. The Ramban, Sforno and others identify this stage of “And I will take you to be My People’’ as a reference to Ma’amad Har Sinai.
The most impactful shlichut is found where one’s commitment to the mission of being an ‘Am’ that is an ‘Or LaGoyim’ is fuelled by one’s care for and identification with the other. That care for the other is, similarly, most elevated when it stems from seeing the best version of the other person – driven by the vision of who they ought to be and the potential they have to contribute to the ever-unfolding destiny of Am Yisrael.
These two fundamental principles of purpose and unity drive the educational philosophy of Ohr Torah Stone and the Straus-Amiel Institute. On a practical level, Theodore Roosevelt’s words are always helpful guides along the way: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. On the broader level, it is the unity of the nation that drives the realization of the mission.
We are living in miraculous times – beyond the Exodus from Egypt and the Receiving of the Torah, overcoming exile and thriving in our Homeland, Eretz Yisrael. As many of us return home to Israel, it is these same two values that are even more significant to instill at ‘home’ – unity and purpose. With these two shining lights as our guides, may we advance along the continuum of redemption, towards the complete Shivat Tziyon with the building of the Beit Hamikdash, bimheirah v’yameinu.
Established in 1953, Yeshiva College was the first Torah learning school in Southern Africa. It is still the largest Torah school in the region, with over 800 students. The Yeshiva College Mizrachi Campus is home to eight Shabbat minyanim and serves as the religious epicentre of the South African Jewish Community.