In this week’s parsha, the Jewish Nation finally reaches the climax of its Exodus from Egypt; the divine revelation at Sinai and the receiving of the Torah. This event, where G-d initially speaks to Bnai Yisrael directly, represents a national physical and spiritual high of the Jewish People, a level that we strive to work towards every single day. G-d opens this (literally) awesome revelation with a simple statement of fact “אנכי ה’ אלקיך אשר הוצאתיך מארץ מצרים- I am Hashem your G-d Who took you out of Egypt.” Since this is the first time that any of those who left Egypt, with the exception of Moshe, heard directly from G-d, it seems appropriate that He would introduce Himself to them before he began the Ten Commandments. However, it is curious that G-d, the all-mighty creator of the universe would, so to speak, introduce himself as the one who took the Jewish Nation out of Egypt, when He had already done much greater and miraculous things. Why did He specifically introduce himself as “אשר הוצאתיך מארץ מצרים”?
While it is very difficult to even begin to comprehend what happened at Mt. Sinai let alone explain seeming difficulties in G-d’s monologue, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi tries to answer our question through a parable in his extremely figurative Sefer Hakuzari. He teaches that when an average uninformed Joe Shmoe hears of how great the king of a foreign country is, it won’t mean that much to him, and he won’t be so impressed. He definitely wouldn’t be interested in meeting this leader, nor would he feel the need to share praise of that king with others. However, if that foreign king greats him personally and sends him gifts and money, Joe will feel much closer to the king and will want to share stories of the greatness of the king with the world. Since the king now has personal significance to Joe, Joe will feel more obligated and closer to the king. Rabbi Yehuda Halevi teaches from this that that G-d as the Ribono Shel Olam (Master of the World) has a distant connection with every single person in the world. However, G-d’s role as “ה’ אלקיך אשר הוצאתיך מארץ מצרים,” the Guardian of Israel, has a much closer significance to the Jewish People, and a result, G-d introduced Himself to us as this- to make it all the more significant to us that our personal Savior was giving us these mitzvot. This helps explain why G-d’s introduced Himself in such a specific way- because it helped us even better understand our bond to Him.
In the Sefer Hamitzvot Hakatan, a shortened compilation and explanation of the mitzvot, Rav Yitzchak ben Yosef of Corbeil writes that the first and most important mitzva of Judaism is to believe and know that G-d created the world and He alone rules it. The Sma”k explains that most thirteenth century philosophers (modern philosophers of his time) believed in mazalot and the world running by itself. We, as Jews, must believe that G-d constantly controls the world and causes everything that we see every day. Rav Yitzchak takes this a step further by quoting a Gemara (Shabbat 31a) which teaches that among the questions that one will be asked by the Bet Din Shel Ma’alah (heavenly courts) when after 120 years he passes away, is “צפית לישעוה- Have you [properly] anticipated the geula?” Just as we must believe that G-d took us out of Egypt in the first geulah, we must also believe that He will take us out of galut edom, our current exile, in the final גאולה. This, he concludes, is the lesson of “אנכי ה’ אלקיך” and “אשר הצאתיך מארץ מצרים”- by reminding us that He took us out of Egypt, G-d is also telling us that one day He will also take us out of the final galut. In order to properly fulfill this First Commandment, we must first believe in G-d’s future redemption, that He will soon grant us theגאולה.
The Nusach Sefarad siddur, while very similar to the Nusach Ashkenaz one, has a few major differences in its text. One of the more interesting ones is located in the Kedusha prayer for Shabbat Mussaf, which concludes: “והוא יושיענו ויגאלנו שנית וישמיענו ברחמיו שנית לעיני כל חי לאמר: הן גאלתי אתכם אחרית כראשית להיות לכם לאלקים”- He will save and redeem you with mercy a second time as it says ‘they will be redeemed a second time as the first and I will be for them a G-d.’” This text echoes the idea of the Sma”k, that in the future redemption, the people will accept G-d again as they did at Har Sinai with “אנכי ה’ אלקיך.” This equation of הר סיני and the גאולה also tells us that in Yemot Hamashiach, the Jewish People will be on a similarly high level as they were at Sinai, a very exciting and hopeful thought for our future.
It has been noted by Rav Jonathan Sacks, professor of Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University and New York University, that the Jewish people for the most part are a very auditory people who are cautioned against physical manifestations of G-d (see the Second Commandment). Nevertheless, one of the spiritual highs of the Jewish people started with the world’s biggest sound and light show, and another involved witnessing the Sea unnaturally splitting down the middle. Why would it be that a nation of the word would have such important visual events?
Rabbi Sacks answers that even though we are mostly a people of the book, of spirituality,Ma’amad Har Sinai was G-d giving us a message that sometimes we must open our eyes, look out the window of the Bet Midrash for a minute, and appreciate what is going on in the physical world. By doing this, the Jewish people were able to appreciate the miracles that G-d did for them at מעמד הר סיני, and I believe that this lesson applies equally, if not more so, now.
While many might not recognize and appreciate it, when looking at the Land of Israel in the year 5774, we can we can see the beginning of the unfolding of the geulah. The State of Israel, the first Jewish sovereign state since the ancient Jewish Kingdoms of Judea and Israel in biblical times, is thriving. Lashon Hakodesh, once a dead language, is now spoken throughout the country and has very fittingly replaced Yiddish as the official international language of the Jewish people. While the government may not be 100% religious and the laws not at the perfect ideal, the increase in religious awareness and respect in Israel has increased significantly since 1948, and legislation is now in the works to provide army exemptions for many more yeshiva students than the original 500 set aside by David Ben Gurion. The land itself, once desolate, is blooming and back to life, as can be witnessed by the homegrown Jaffa oranges exported throughout the world. If the people of Israel take an honest look at themselves, they can realize that the Jewish country is not only the אתחלתא דגאולה, but also a beginning of the intrinsic promise of the first commandment, as explained by the Sma”k. G-d has begun to return us from our galut just as He took our ancestors out from their exile so many years ago. All that the rest of us, the Jews of the galut, need to do now is take an honest look at ourselves and ask the question that G-d will ask us after 120 years: “ציפית לישועה- Did you truly anticipate the גאולה?”