You're locked up in a room. You're in a foreign land, in a malevolent relationship, in a dispiriting situation.

You need to get out — that's the first thing.

But getting out may not be enough. Often, the enslaving force will continue to exercise its hold on you outside of the walls of the prison cell, outside the boundaries of the land, the bounds of the relationship, or the parameters of the situation. Sometimes it's not enough to get out: you must also battle the oppressor and break its hold on your life.

Yet fighting off the oppressor may not be enough, either. The same enemy — or another like him (or her or it) — may return and lock you back up again. To become free, you must defeat the enemy, nullifying his power so that it can never be regained, and making such an example of him that no one will ever dare repeat the attempt the enslave you.

You've gotten out, broken free, and annihilated the enslaving force. Perhaps you've annihilated or neutralized every force in existence that might possibly enslave you. But you have still only dealt with the external causes of your slavery. You've dealt with the enemy, but you haven't dealt with yourself. What is it about you that allowed you to be imprisoned, exiled, exploited or constricted in the first place? If that does not change, you may be technically free, but essentially a slave.

At the Passover seder, we drink four cups of wine (and listen and respond to the "four questions" posed by the "four sons") in correspondence with the "four expressions of redemption" promised by G‑d to the children of Israel through Moses: "I will take you out from the suffering of Egypt, and I will deliver you from their bondage; I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you to Myself as a nation, and I will be to you a G‑d..." (Exodus 6:6-7)

To make us free, explain the commentaries, G‑d took us out of Egypt. That was the first thing. But Egypt was a superpower; indeed, a week after the Exodus its mighty army was chasing after the Israelites to bring them back. If Pharaoh's choicest troops had not been drowned in the Red Sea, the Children of Israel would have been subject to Egypt's power wherever they might have been.

Nor was being delivered from Egypt's hegemony a long-term guarantee of our freedom. Egypt might rebuild her army, or some other oppressor might rise to take her place. That is why G‑d delivered us from Egypt "with an outstretched arm and with great judgments" inflicting such punishment upon the Egyptians that their spirit was broken, the very basis of their society was discredited, and any future possibility of a "comeback" or a proxy was obliterated.

Still, the people of Israel were not truly free. Even after every force that could possibly enslave us was destroyed, there remained the fact that we were enslavable.

Then G‑d gathered us at the foot of Mount Sinai, betrothed us to His Torah, and took us to Him as his people. In bonding with G‑d, we transcended every human bond. We became inherently, intrinsically free.

In the words of the famed Maharal (Rabbi Judah Lowe, 1525-1609), before the Exodus and the revelation at Sinai, a Jew could be a slave. But by taking us as His people, G‑d created a new type of being, one that had never existed before: a being who is in essence free. After Sinai, the Jew may be exiled, persecuted and oppressed — but these will always be external conditions, affecting only our external selves. The soul of the Jew can never be bent, or even constricted. The soul of the Jew remains forever united with G‑d, and forever free.

Based on the commentaries on Torah by Nachmanides, Soforno and the Maharal, and the teachings of the Chassidic masters.