Joel Hoffman
Rabbi, Teacher, Columnist

Why Do The 10 Commandments Begin With an Egyptian Word?

An interesting facet of the Ten Commandments is that it begins with an Egyptian word, Anochi. The word Anochi means “I,” as in “I am the Lord your God…”. (The word Anochi also means “I” Hebrew.)

Since the Ten Commandments epitomize all the mitzvot in the Torah, it can be asked why the first word of the Ten Commandments was written in the language of the most corrupt and immoral civilization of the time?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe answered this question with the following statement: “[This is because] …the Torah is not a ‘synagogue religion,’ but a living faith, affecting all areas of the mundane world.”

Let me elaborate on this answer. In practical terms, a Jew is supposed to follow King Solomon’s adage: ”Know Him in all your ways.” This means that in seemingly mundane act such as conducting business transactions, handling mindless tasks one occasionally does at work, and in eating, we can actually worship, or serve God. But how is this concretized? For example, by being honest in business dealing we are fulfilling God’s will, just as much as it is God’s will for us to study Torah twice daily, to perform ritualistic mitzvot, and to perform interpersonal mitzvot such as loving fellow Jews.

Every time we do what God wants us to do in a particular situation it is a Kiddush HaShem, a “sanctification of God.” Specific examples of mundane tasks that are Kiddush HaShem include cleaning up our crumbs in the lunch room, putting white paper back in the copy machine when we are finished making our copies on colored paper, and making sure that after using the bathroom the toilet is as clean as it was before we used it. Contrary to popular miss-conception, even if such an action is done without anyone else knowing it, it is still a Kiddush HaShem. Every time we perform a Kiddush HaShem it should inculcate a feeling of pleasure in us and strengthen our connection to God because we are doing God’s will.

Insights from the Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism) reveal another layer of depth to this discussion. In using the example of serving God through eating, the Kabbalah teaches that we should not eat just for the pleasure of taste nor just to fulfill our hunger. When eating we should have the intention that the energy we derive from the food is going to go to serve God. This is, because according to the Kabbalah, when we perform a mitzvah the food that was processed by our body is converted from material energy to spiritual energy; and it is as if the food was a sacrifice offered on the alter in the Holy Temple.

Furthermore, the Kabbalah teaches that all the actions of the people and materials used in the food preparation process (e.g., driving the delivery truck, running the food processing machinery, etc.) are retroactively elevated from being neutral to being spiritual. A consequence of this is that the world becomes one step closer to the ultimate purpose of creation, which is a world where Godliness is openly manifest and can be seen and experienced by everyone.

Thus, we should now have better understand The Rebbe’s answer “…the Torah is not a ‘synagogue religion,’ but a living faith, affecting all areas of the mundane world.” And thanks to the Kabbalah, we now have exposure to how our positive actions spiritually transform the world for the better. Conversely, by the way, our negative actions do the opposite.

It is my b’racha (blessing) that we internalize these teachings and in business dealings, while eating, and even in the bathroom(!), we do what God wants us to do. That is, making Kiddush HaShem and with the proper intention. And by doing so, these actions will help bring the world one step closer to its ultimate purpose – a world that permeates with revealed Godliness. It is up to us to complete God’s creation and to make this world, as the Midrash states, “adwelling place for God.”

(This d’var Torah was based on a talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Lukuttei Sichos, Vol. 3, pp. 892)

About the Author
Joel E. Hoffman is ordained as a rabbi, but works as a special education teacher, and in his free-time he teaches and writes about Judaism.