Talking about Hashem, or God, is taboo for most people. To some, the conversation is a nonstarter because our human limitations can never capture Hashem’s essence and, therefore, are innately skewed. To others, the resistance arises because the idea seems “fluffy” and devoid of meaningful substance — perhaps only for the softhearted. Regardless of the approach, the result is the same: Hashem is absent the conversation.
To be fair, the concerns mentioned above are valid and important to acknowledge. If we use the confines of language and our own minds to ascribe objective claims about Hashem, we engage in quasi-idolatrous behavior; similarly, we cannot oversimplify Hashem through analogies and metaphors couched in childish descriptions. There is a middle ground, however: speaking about Hashem in the context of His relationship to us and with the disclaimer that anything we say will inherently be lacking. That said, we turn to Parshat Yitro, where Hashem Himself lends insight into Who He is in His “introduction” to Bnei Yisrael.
“I Hashem am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of slaves” (Shemot 20:2). This pasuk is easy to look past — Hashem is saying that He’s our God and that He took us out of Egypt, nothing new. Many commentaries, however, identify the opening three Hebrew words — Anochi YHVH Elokecha, I am Hashem your God — as a doorway into a newfound understanding about Hashem and our relationship to Him.
“The goal of the entire Torah is to arrive at attaining ‘I am Hashem your God,’” Rav Tzadok HaKohen writes in Divrei Soferim (13). He writes in Pri Tzadik that it is said not as a command but as a promise, a testimony to the reality of what is (Vayechi 15). Clearly, then, when Hashem speaks those three words to Bnei Yisrael at Har Sinai before they receive the Torah, there is an essential idea working in the background that demands our attention.
In Orot HaKodesh 3:, Rav Kook writes, “Our ‘I’ we will seek, our selves we will seek, and we will find. Remove alien gods … And know because I am Hashem your God, the One who took you out of Egypt to be your God, I am Hashem” (3:2:5). The “I” Rav Kook speaks about — the Ani or the Anochi — is Hashem.
There’s a duality through which we perceive Hashem that is encompassed within one unified view. There is Hashem above us, beyond this world, estranged from it, transcendent, and there is Hashem unfolding into the multiplicity of this world, the basis of it, immanent. Both transcendence and immanence, Hashem being beyond and within the world, are, even still, limited. That is where Anochi comes into play. “I” is Hashem, the Highest Shared Self of every single person, every single soul. Our individual “I,” the one of each person, is inherently rooted in and expressed from the Great I, the I that is transcendent and immanent, that animates our very existence and retains the deepest relationship of love and closeness to us.
This, then, is why “I,” Hashem, identifies as the God who freed us from Egypt. Egypt was the epitome of enslavement, the forsaking of Self and isolation of self, to eliminate the purity of our identity. Hashem is known as the Soul of all souls, the “I” of all I’s. The Torah is the guidebook to reclaiming our inner I, the godliness nestled within our selves, covered by the cloak of Egypt that blinds us from meeting “I am Hashem your God.” We serve the Great I — that is our God.