YU Remembers Mandela: He Brought Freedom
The Jerusalem Talmud (chapter 10, 37c, halakha 1) offers several reasons for the four cups of wine at the Pesach Seder. The one we are most familiar with is that of Rebbe Banyah. The cups of wine represent the four redemptive experiences which occurred in Egypt, redemptive experiences celebrated in the following verses: “... I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments;and I will take you to Me for a people.” (Shemot, 6:6,7)
The Talmud also records a second answer by Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi. He states that the four cups at the Pesach Seder corresponds to the four cups of wine that are mentioned in the early Egyptian experience of Yosef and Pharaoh.
These answers represent two different paradigms of redemption. The first answer of the Talmud focuses on a redemptive process that is linear. The Jewish people move to be free people in a positive upward progression. The recognition of the overt miracles showered upon us by Hashem requires us, through the seder and multiple other experiences, to recognize these miracles.
The second answer of the Talmud recognizes a redemptive process that is not linear but circuitous, a process that has its ups and downs in which Hashem’s hand is hidden and His name not found in the Biblical dialogue. Yet this form of redemptive experience must also be celebrated.
The leadership of Nelson Mandela facilitated and inspired this second form of redemption. His ability to persevere, to sacrifice for injustice, to “speak truth to power” through his actions, are values that we as Jews must never ignore, and we must acknowledge that the hand of Hashem was orchestrating these heroic activities against racial injustice.
We celebrate Mandela’s life against the backdrop of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s ideas that he shares in his article “Confrontation.” We are part of two communities: we are citizens of the Jewish community, a particular community where our primary responsibility is to insure the eternality and the immortality of our people. But we are also members of society and have a mandate from Hashem to toil toward the betterment of the world community. As citizens of the global community we must work hand-in-hand with all people to dispel the darkness in the world. While Nelson Mandela may not have helped our particular Jewish community, he inspired and enriched our society. He brought light and freedom to millions and we must recognize that wondrous accomplishment.
Rabbi Kenneth Brander is the Yeshiva University Vice President for University and Community Life and Dean of the Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future.