Your Cup Overfloweth

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Va'eira
Your Cup Overfloweth

As Jonah peered out from between the bars, his thoughts went back to the time that he was a free man. Life had been pretty good for him on the outside. Flashes of BBQ's with his family and strolls down the beach with friends zipped through his mind. Ah, those were the days.

The loud buzzing bell and clinking of the metal gates opening jolted Jonah's return to his present situation. Just like all the other prisoners, Jonah had to walk outside his cell and wait for the guards to bark their permission to walk single file into the cafeteria.

It was always the same mucky substance they called food. The real protein came from some worms that had crawled into the steamy slop.

You always had to watch yourself. You had to know who you were 'allowed' to speak with and who you had to stay away from. There were certain inmates you never wanted to cross.

Whether in the yard, library, or workshop, you had to know which spots were off limits because they were somebody's turf. Invasion of turf could result in serious injury or worse.

The guards were no better. They were so rough with the prisoners that they could be considered legalized criminals. Many of them were dirty cops, accepting bribes in exchange for certain 'benefits'.

Jonah would half chuckle to himself when he heard people refer to prison as a 'correctional facility'. The only 'correcting' that happened behind these walls was advancing a person's skills on how to be a better crook.

State penitentiary was no picnic. Everything about it was tough. You were at the warden's mercy. If he did not like you, he could make your life so unpleasant that being thrown into the hole would come as a reprieve. Ironically, the only place where it seemed like there was no justice was behind bars.

Jonah knew that he did not belong with the other convicts. The other inmates were hard criminals who had long histories with drugs and violence.

Jonah, on the other hand, was a pretty decent guy. Until recently, he would have never considered breaking the law. That is, not until he met Sam. Sam had a talented tongue. He could convince just about anybody to do almost anything.

Financially speaking, Jonah was having a rough time. Every attempt at making a decent living failed. The situation was becoming increasingly desperate. Julie told Jonah that if things did not improve soon, she would have to leave him and move back in with her mother.

At the café, Sam enthusiastically explained his 'business' proposition to Jonah. It would not involve any money laundering. It would just be a matter investing people's money and getting paid for the profit he would be making for them.

Sometimes Jonah would have to pay the investor from another person's investment. What could possibly be wrong with that? In the end, everybody would get their money back. Everybody would make a profit, and Jonah would get paid a sizable amount, after paying Sam handsomely for his contacts.

Although it sounded a little suspicious, the plan made a lot of sense. It almost seemed too good to be true. Maybe money does grow on trees! The deal was too attractive to turn down. In desperation, Jonah dismissed his concerns and accepted the job without consulting an attorney to ensure that everything was being conducted legally.

As the months rolled by, the partnership was working perfectly. Jonah was back on his feet, Julie was happy, and he felt a sense of confidence once again.

Jonah never saw it coming. As he slept, FBI agents surrounded his house. Then, with a sudden crash, they came storming into his bedroom. After being thrown to the floor with his hands cuffed behind his back, "You have the right to remain silent" were the first words that he heard.

The judge found him guilty as charged for a Ponzi scheme. Jonah had not even heard of the Italian born financier, Charles Ponzi, before. Yet, millions of dollars were irretrievable, and tens of thousands of victims had lost all their savings. The damage was devastating.

Of course, Sam was acquitted because his name was never found on any of the documentation. Sam was too smart for that. All Sam needed was a naïve, trusting person to prey upon. Jonah was that man. And now Jonah faced a sentence of 430 years of imprisonment without bail.

Unaccustomed to the brutality of prison life, Jonah took a real beating. An incident that happened in the cafeteria sent Jonah to the infirmary. A muscle-bound man with tattoos all over his body, known to the others as 'Killer', approached Jonah's table with his gang of thugs behind him.

Upon seeing Killer drawing near, the other table mates picked up their trays and walked away. Jonah did not know what to do. Looking up at Killer, Jonah could see all his piercings. With a snarl on his face, Killer pulled Jonah's tray and spit onto it.

Getting nervous, Jonah stood up and turned to walk away. Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder, swinging him around. Just then, he saw Killer's knuckles speedily making their way towards his face. The first blow nearly knocked Jonah unconscious. Killer and his men kept pummeling him with their fists and kicking him with their heavy boots.

Jonah finally passed out. The next thing he saw was the I.V. drip hanging over his head. Having suffered a concussion and numerous fractures, he was allowed to make one phone call. There was only one person he wanted to speak to anyway.

The next time he woke up, Julie was at his side. Hearing about the incident, Julie was furious and went straight to the press. The newspapers now featured reports about the violence going on within the prison's walls. In a short amount of time, this became quite a controversial topic.

The lack of security for inmates was embarrassing to the warden and to the governor. For political reasons, something had to be done.

Once Jonah could walk again, he was called into the warden's office where he was told that in light of recent events, and considering that he was a only a first time offender, he was going to be freed. Although he was sentenced to 430 years of imprisonment, his verdict was reduced to just 86 days. Since he already spent 86 days in jail, he was to be freed immediately.

There was just one condition Jonah had to fulfil. He had to call his parole officer every single day to monitor his behavior.

Jonah learned a valuable lesson the hard way. Always follow the law, and when in doubt, ask advice. Eventually, Jonah got back on his feet and lived a happy and honest life with Julie.

Jonah's story, on the individual level, mirrors the story of the Jewish people on the national level. The Toras Chaim (Rabbi Avraham Chaim Schorr, Belz, d. 1631; Chullin, chap. 7, "Gid Hanasheh", pg. 92a) shares the following teaching.

The Jews are good and decent people. However, all the Jewish people's souls were once part of Adam and Eve's grand souls. When the test of the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge presented itself to them, the temptation was overwhelming. Without properly thinking it through, Adam and Eve sinned, and all future Jewish souls sinned with them. As a result, all of their souls were spiritually ruined (Arizal, Sha'ar Hapesukim, Parshas Shemos).

One Hebrew word for soul is "nefesh." The word "nefesh" is numerically 430. This number comes to teach us that it would take 430 years to cleanse those souls from their stain (Megaleh Amukos, parshas Vaeschanan).

Moreover, when Adam and Eve sinned, the verse mentions God's Name "Elokim" five times, representing the five measures of harshness that came down to this world (Gn. 3:8-14). The name "Elokim" is numerically 86. Since the Name "Elokim" is mentioned five times, it teaches us that it would take 430 years to sweeten the five measures of strict justice contained within the five names of "Elokim" (Arizal).

This is why the Jewish people were supposed to spend 430 years as slaves in Egypt (Ex. 12:40). It was to atone for the five measures of harshness that descended to the world, contained in the five names of "Elokim." Therefore, when the Torah describes the bitter life for Jews in Egypt, the verse mentions God's name "Elokim" five times (Ex. 2:23-25). The pattern has been set. The 430 years of Egyptian bondage was so that the Jews could cleanse the world of the five measures of strictness that came into the world as a result of the sin by the Tree of Knowledge (Arizal).

However, had the Jews remained in Egypt for 430 years, they would have sunken into the fiftieth level of impurity. That would cause the Jews to be beyond the point of return. They would have become so assimilated that there would not have been any Jews left to redeem.

So, God performed a kindness to the Jewish people. They stayed in Egypt for only 210 years. Out of those 210 years, the actual slavery lasted for only 86 years (Yalkut Shimoni, Shemos, 162). This means that the Jews only slaved for 1/5 of the time that they were supposed to (430 divided by 5 equals 86).

Perhaps we could suggest that this is the meaning of the verse which says that the Jewish people left Egypt "chamushim" (Ex. 13:18). Many interpretations have been given to explain the meaning of this word. However, we could propose that since the root of the word "chamushim" is "chamesh" (five), it comes to teach us that the Jews left Egypt only after 1/5 of the time that they were supposed to be there.

This explains why the angel appointed over Egypt rushed to bring the Jews back to Egypt after they marched out of the land (Shemos Rabba, 21:5; Ex. 14:10). The angel argued that the Jews left only after 86 years of slavery which is only 1/5 of the time they were supposed to be slaves.

This also explains why the Jewish men wanted to appoint a new leader over them to lead them back to Egypt after the majority of spies gave an evil report about the land of Canaan (Nu, 14:4). They thought that the reason why they were having such a bumpy ride from the moment they left Egypt was because they were not supposed to have left yet.

They thought that Moshe took them out of Egypt before the time was ripe. That must be why they kept being attacked by enemies such as Amalek, Sichon, and Og. Had their Exodus been sanctioned by God, they would have had smooth sailing all the way to the Promised Land.

They wanted to return to Egypt in order to finish their debt to God by slaving the full 430 years and thus repair the damage that was done to their souls.

However, they were mistaken. Hashem did them a favor and allowed them to leave after only 86 years so that they would not sink to the fiftieth level of impurity. God forgave the other 4/5 of the time. This means that God took us out of Egypt 344 years before the appointed time (86 x 4 = 344).

This is why our sages instituted that we drink four cups of wine on Passover night (Yerushalmi, Pesachim, pg. 68b). The Hebrew word for cup is "kos." The numerical value of "kos" is 86. Therefore, four "kosos" (cups) equals 344. With every cup, we thank Hashem for taking us out of Egypt another 86 years before the appointed time.

Additionally, although we only left Egypt once, it is considered that we experienced four more redemptions simultaneously, because each chunk of 86 years that we left Egypt before we were supposed to, is likened to another redemption. This is why the Yerushalmi (ibid, Rebbi Yochanan citing Rebbi Benaya) says that the four cups of wine on Passover night represent the four "redemptions" and not the four "expressions of redemption." There were four redemptions wrapped up in one. It was like a sale, 4 for the price of 1.

Actually, the four cups we drink on Passover night are hinted to in the dream of Pharaoh's Royal Butler (Yerushalmi, ibid, Rebbi Yehoshuah ben Levi). In that dream, Pharaoh's cup is mentioned four times (Gn. 40:11-13). The four cups in that dream were Hashem's way of communicating to Yosef that He was prepared to take the Jews out of Egypt four "kosos" before the appointed time.

Hashem revealed this to Yosef because He knew that Yosef would be instrumental in helping the Jews leave Egypt even though they did not slave 4/5 of the time that they were supposed to.

We find Yosef's assistance in this area during the years of famine. After the Egyptians spent all of their money to buy food from Yosef, they had start paying for food with their animals. When the animals ran out, they paid for food by selling their land to Yosef. After Yosef acquired the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, Yosef gave the populace government seeds and told them to sow produce. Yosef instructed them to give 1/5 of the produce to Pharaoh and they could keep the other 4/5 for themselves (Gn. 47:20-26).

Yosef insisted on making an amendment to the Egyptian Constitution. In it he said that whenever a person owes a debt to Pharaoh, he can pay 1/5 and forget about the other 4/5.

Yosef took this bill to Capitol Hill and made it a law. Yosef got this law approved by both the Senate and Congress. Why was this so important to him?

It is because Yosef realized that Hashem had communicated to him, via the Royal Butler's dream, that God planned on taking the Jews out of Egypt only after 86 years. That's only 1/5 of the time. We still owed Pharaoh a debt of 4/5. Therefore, Yosef wisely made it part of Egyptian law that one can pay Pharaoh only 1/5 of a debt owed to him, and forget about the other 4/5.

Although this law was not good for Egyptian economy, Yosef's allegiance was to the Jewish people, not to Egypt. Therefore, Yosef instituted a law which enabled the Jews to legally leave Egypt before the appointed time.

This explains the Midrash Pliah (51) that elucidates a verse which says, "The sea saw and fled." (Psa. 114:3) What did the Sea of Reeds see? Yosef's coffin."

The meaning behind this is as follows. At first, the sea or the angel appointed over the sea, did not want to part before the Jewish people because it was not yet time. The sea was only willing to split after 430 years, not after a measly 86.

But, when the sea saw Yosef's coffin, it was reminded of Yosef's amendment to the Egyptian Constitution which allows a person to pay just 1/5 of a debt owed. The law of the land is law (the opinion of Shmuel, Nedarim, chap. 3, "Arba'a Nedarim"). Since the Jews paid 1/5, the sea had no choice but to split.

We will also be able to understand why the four cups on Passover night are supposed to be specifically of wine. As we mentioned above, Egyptian bondage was meant to cleanse their souls from the sin of the Tree of Knowledge.

According to Rebbi Meir (Berachos, chap. 6, "Keitzad Mivarchin", pg. 40a), the Tree of Knowledge was actually a grapevine. Therefore, each "kos" of wine on Passover night thanks God for being taken out of Egypt another 86 years before we were supposed to leave and it also thanks Hashem for forgiving us for the sin of the Tree of Knowledge represented by the wine inside of the "kos."

The Megaleh Amukos (Vaeschanan) adds that although God let 344 years slide, it was only a temporary leniency. We still have that debt to pay and we are paying that debt over the four exiles that we have had to endure.

Although the four exiles have lasted much longer than 344 years, it still takes all of these years to pay back the debt of 344 Egyptian years. This is because the Egyptian exile is considered to be the most intense of all the exiles. After the Jews slaved for the Egyptians for 86 years, God weighed the pain and suffering the Jews had to endure during those 86 years, and multiplied it by 4. Hashem then spread out the pain and suffering of 344 years of Egyptian exile over the other four exiles. In the end, it all evens out, not quantitatively, but qualitatively.

Based on all of this, we will appreciate the connection between the four opinions in the Yerushalmi (ibid) for why we drink four cups of wine on Passover night. First let us see the four opinions.

1) Rebbi Yochanan cites Rebbi Benaya who says that the four cups correspond to the four redemptions.

2) Rebbi Yehoshuah ben Levi says that the four cups correspond to Pharaoh's four cups in the Royal Butler's dream.

3) Rebbi Levi says that the four cups represent the four kingdoms. (Babylonian, Median, Greek, and Roman)

4) The Rabanan say that the four cups represent the four 'cups' of tragedy that God will serve the nations of the world, which also correspond the four 'cups' of comfort that God will serve the Jewish people.

All four opinions complement each other. Together, they teach us about the flow of events.

1) The four cups represent the four redemptions that happened simultaneously during the exodus. Therefore, we drink four "kosos" (4 x 86 = 344) thanking Hashem for redeeming us 344 years prior to the appointed time.

But, this early redemption was already hinted to Yosef through the butler's dream which moved Yosef to create a law that would help the Jews leave Egypt lawfully only after 1/5 of the time. This brings us to the second reason for the four cups...

2) The four cups represent Pharoh's four cups that the Royal Butler dreamt about. This motivated Yosef to create a law stating that only 1/5 of a debt to Pharaoh had to be paid. This allowed the Jews to leave. Egypt legitimately after only doing 1/5 of the time expected.

However, we still had to make up the 4/5. This leads us right into the third reason...

3) The four cups represent the four kingdoms to teach us that we still had to pay our debt of suffering over the span of the four exiles. Drinking the four cups of wine encourages us with a message that says that just like we left Egypt after fixing just one Name of Elokim, we will also leave our current fourth exile after we complete the fixing of the remaining four Names of Elokim.

But, don't think for even a moment that the nations will get away with all the torturous pain they inflicted upon us, which leads us into the fourth reason...

4) The four cups represent the four 'cups' of destruction that God will give those nations to drink. Those four cups of destruction will simultaneously serve as four cups of comfort to the Jewish people. After we removed just one Elokim of harshness from upon us in Egypt, Hashem took that Name and turned it against the Egyptians by using it to bring about the plagues and the splitting of the sea. Imagine what will happen when we finish removing the other four Elokims from upon us. God will turn them on the nations who are committed to our annihilation and destroy them with punishments the world has never seen. If we think that the miracles of Yetziyas Mitzrayim were amazing, well, we ain't seen nothin' yet!

This week's practical application is an exercise to be implemented on Passover night. Therefore, it would be a good idea to save this article, and put it in our pet Haggados in order to have them handy when Pesach rolls around.

To make our Passover Seders even more meaningful, before drinking each cup of wine, say or think, "With this "kos" (86) we thank 'Elokim' (86) for taking us out of Egypt another 86 years before we were supposed to come out. May Hashem also rescue us from our current exile before the appointed time, and give the nations who hurt us an overflowing cup of retribution."

So, my dream and prayer is that we all be blessed, four times over, to drink the 5th "kos" of wine indicating the arrival of Eliyahu Hanavi bringing us the news about "Elokim" redeeming us from our current exile even before the appointed time, ridding the world of all harshness, going back to bask under the Tree of Life, immersed in the ecstasy of Torah study.