One of our most difficult religious tasks is to “see ourselves as if we had personally left Egypt.” It requires a skill of imagination which most of us lack.

The task seems difficult only if we understand it to mean that we must imagine ourselves as shackled in chains and then suddenly bursting out of confinement, dancing with exhilaration after witnessing miracles, and marching with confidence into an unknown wilderness. Accomplishing that would indeed be a tall order.

However, if we understand the task to simply “see ourselves as redeemed individuals,” the task becomes much more attainable. This is especially so if we follow Ramban’s definition of redemption, of geulah.

His definition is contained in his introductory remarks to the Book of Exodus, whose first portion we read last week. Ramban rejects that nomenclature and insists upon entitling this second book of the Bible as the “Book of Redemption.” He defines redemption not as mere freedom from bondage, but as the recovery of “the status of our fathers,” the exalted moral stature of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Following this redefinition of redemption, the task of “seeing ourselves as redeemed” no longer is one of creative imagination. Rather, it is one of personal moral and ethical refinement. We must attempt to emulate the model behaviors which our Patriarchs exemplified.

Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb (OU)

One aspect of those behaviors is based upon a concept elucidated by the 19th-century sage Netziv (Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, 1816-1893), who points out that each of the patriarchs was known as a yashar, an ethically straightforward person. Netziv defines a yashar as those who can adapt to neighbors who are very different from themselves, who can live peacefully and cooperatively with others with whom they are at odds, religiously and culturally.

This is one distinctive feature of our forefathers: They were pious and highly spiritual, but over and above that, they were yesharim, able to transcend the differences between themselves and their idolatrous neighbors.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35), we learn of other distinctive qualities possessed by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As we will see, although these qualities were evident in the lives of the patriarchs, they were lacking in the person of Moses himself.

Va’era begins with the Lord addressing Moses, contrasting him with his forebears Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To understand the basis of this contrast, we must refer to the closing episode of last week’s Torah portion. There, Moses intervenes on behalf of the people of Israel with Pharaoh, but that intervention, to say the least, backfires. Rather than accomplishing the slightest step toward freedom, it results in a disastrous exacerbation of the enslavement.

Moses complains to the Almighty, saying, “O Lord, why did You bring harm upon these people? Why did You send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak Your name, he has dealt worse with this people, and still You have not delivered Your people.” (Exodus 5:22-23)

Rashi understands the Lord’s opening address in this week’s Torah portion as a rebuke to Moses for this plaintive challenge. Rashi employs an Aramaic phrase to capture the power of the Lord’s ire and dissatisfaction with Moses: “Chaval al d’avdin v’lo mishtachkin. What a shame that the followers I once had are now lost and nowhere to be found!”

The Almighty bemoans the fact that He once had loyal followers like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who trusted Him absolutely. Such followers, He sadly admits, are no longer to be found.

“Moses,” the Lord is saying, “you have not attained the ‘status of your forefathers.’ After one minor frustration, you throw up your hands in despair. Your forefathers experienced many greater frustrations, but they always trusted in Me and never questioned My ways, lo hirharu achar midotai.”

Here we have an additional distinctive quality of the patriarchs. “Lo hirharu achar midotai.” If we are to attain redemption, which for Ramban means regaining the “status of our forefathers,” then we must make every attempt to develop a level of religious faith which is firm and unwavering. That is how we can “see ourselves as having personally left Egypt,” of having personally become redeemed.

But true spiritual growth is not limited to tolerating the frustrations of life, the suffering and the disappointments that we all experience to some degree or another. It is not limited to having faith in times of trial and challenge.

True spiritual growth extends to the ability to appreciate and to express gratitude to the Almighty for the successes that one experiences in life, for life’s blessings.

True spiritual growth goes beyond the saintly person’s capacity to suffer in silence. It is much more glorious to be able to experience the wonder of the everyday gifts of life. Here, too, we find a quality which is distinctive of the forefathers.

True spiritual growth extends to the ability to appreciate and to express gratitude to the Almighty for the successes that one experiences in life, for life’s blessings.

Permit me to share with you one patriarch’s, Jacob’s, simple expression of appreciation and gratitude to the Lord for what we would call “the small stuff of life.” I draw from a passage in the writings of one of the great Jewish moralists of the past century, Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, known as the Alter, the “Old Man” of Kelm.

The Alter often reacted with deep emotion to biblical passages that most of us typically overlook. Just two weeks ago, we read Jacob’s prelude to the blessings he was about to give Joseph and his children. The passage reads: “The God who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day.” The Alter is moved by the Aramaic translation of this phrase, which he simply renders as, “He who has fed me from my birth to this day.”

The Alter reacts:

In my entire life, I have never heard a person, not the average person and certainly not a wealthy one, who would exclaim, “Baruch HaShem, I had a wonderful year. I had three square meals every day!” And yet, here we have our forefather Jacob, the grandson of a very wealthy man, who praises the Lord for having fed him a meal. I was astounded when I heard from Jacob words that I never heard from ordinary people. I remain astounded!

He then continues, and here I paraphrase:

That is, until I sat down to recite Birkat HaMazon, the Grace After Meals. Then I became astounded at myself! I have been oblivious to what I’ve been saying all my life. Birkat HaMazon is an expression of gratitude to the Lord for His freely given soup and sandwich and cup of coffee.

Rabbi Simcha Zissel provides us with the simple but dramatic example of what Ramban refers to as “the status of our Forefathers.” They were capable of clinging to their faith even in catastrophic times. But they were also capable of the flipside of that tenacious faith in the face of dire circumstances. They knew how to celebrate blessings, large and small, with gratitude and joy.

Having adopted Ramban’s definition of “redemption” as the reclaiming of the spiritual stature of our forefathers, we now have become familiar with at least three aspects of that “spiritual stature.” If, at the Passover Seder, we must “see ourselves as having been redeemed,” we now know how to do so.

We must try to become yashar, able to overcome the prejudices which interfere with our ability to get along with those who differ from us; able to cling to our faith even in the most trying circumstances; and able to appreciate all that we ordinarily take for granted, to be thankful for the many blessings that the Almighty bestows upon us b’chol eit u’v’chol sha’ah, at every time and at every moment.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is the executive vice president, wmeritus of the Orthodox Union. Rabbi Weinreb’s newly released “Person in the Parasha: Discovering the Human Element In the Weekly Torah Portion,” co-published by OU Press and Maggid Books, contains a compilation of Rabbi Weinreb’s weekly Person in the Parsha columns.