The Children of Israel marched out of Egypt among a myriad of miracles. They were finally free after many years of bitter slavery. But that is hardly the end of the story. Freedom is, by itself, not a goal. It merely allows one the opportunity to define and strive towards a goal. For our mission, we proceeded to Sinai and the Revelation — our public encounter with G-d.
Our sages expound homiletically on the verse “And the script was the script of G-d, engraved [charut] on the Tablets.”
“Don’t read it ‘engraved,’ rather read it ‘freedom’ [cheirut].”
Embedded within the words that were engraved on the Tablets, the charge that was assigned to us, was freedom. That seems counterintuitive. How is a list of commands freedom? Is awesome responsibility what marks freedom?
What our sages are telling us is that the commitment to the Torah is freedom — that our travel to receive the Torah is the climax of the freedom that began when we left Egypt. Without a higher cause, we remain locked within our world. We struggle to assign meaning to our lives and wonder what purpose our lives have.
We may accomplish great things or champion causes we deem worthy. But it ultimately remains within the realm of the mortal. Our soul, coming from a Higher Source, is not content with eating to live and living to eat. It demands something more of us. It is only by accepting Divine commandments that we can lift ourselves above the mundane.
When we experienced the giving of the Ten Commandments, we were introduced, with the very first words, to our Creator: “I am G-d, Your Lord, Who took you out of the land of Egypt…” That was surely a tremendous feat,
but couldn’t He have taken it to a higher magnitude? Wouldn’t it have been more powerful had G-d declared, “I am the G-d who created the entire universe; the heavens above and the earth below”?
Nachmanides explains that impressive as it may be, not one of the people assembled at the foot of the mountain had witnessed the Creation. They would not be able to relate to it at a visceral level. They had, however, all experienced the backbreaking work and toil, the beatings and cruelty at the hands of the Egyptians. They related to the relief and the jubilation of the Exodus.
G-d wanted to convey the message that despite His omnipotence, He is interested and involved in our lives. He is not simply a high and mighty judge, but He loves us and is concerned with every facet of our lives. The conjugation of the sentence is in the singular. G-d talked with us and said, “I didn’t just take my nation out of Egypt. I took out every individual. I know you and feel with your difficulties.”
This was the same message G-d conveyed by first appearing to Moses in a thornbush. It is a lowly plant as opposed to a regal tree, to symbolize that
G-d was Himself “lowered” by our subjugation and in a state of “pain” as long as we were in bondage. As expressed in the words of our sages, “I am with you in your affliction.” He is not “too busy” to notice us, to provide for us.
“He opens His hand and satisfies every living creature according to His will” (Psalm 145).
G-d yearns, as it were, to have a direct relationship with every one of His children. He is ever patient and waits for us. Waits for the recognition that He is leading each of us on a path. Waits for the recognition that His laws are relevant, meaningful and immutable. And mostly, waits for the recognition that His love for us is so overwhelming that there is nothing we can do to sever that connection. JN
Rabbi Sholom Twerski is the assistant rabbi of Beth Joseph Congregation and the rabbinic administrator at the Greater Phoenix Vaad HaKashruth.