Vort from the Rav: Yisro

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Ex. 20:2

אָֽנֹכִי ה’ אֱלֹ-הֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הֽוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִֽים
I am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Rashi, quoting Mechilta, comments: Taking you out of Egypt is sufficient reason for you to be subject to Me. Apparently, Rashi and Mechilta were bothered by the question of why the Almighty did not introduce Himself as the creator of heaven and earth.

Chumash Mesoras HaRav on Shemos is now available for purchase: OUPress.org

Since God is creator and sustainer of everything—from the outskirts of the universe to the blossoming rose in one’s backyard—man is always confronted with Him. God is omnipresent and watches over everything and everybody. It was Abraham who discovered His relationship with the universe. Abraham discovered God who created the world, heaven and earth, the empty stretches of the uncharted spaces, every insect and every flower. Chazal say that Abraham looked upon the world and saw it illumined by intelligence and order, and he asked, “How can this world have no ruler?”

Abraham chose to enter into a covenant with God, signaling a unique relationship with a specific nation. From the metaphysical viewpoint, there is a difference between His relationship with the universe and the relationship with Israel. Within creation, God is the ruler, God is the master, God is the lawmaker, God is the architect, God is the king. Man surrenders to God. However, within the covenantal community, God is not only the ruler and creator, but also teacher, comrade, friend and counselor. This singular relationship which binds God with man within one fellowship is a result not of creation, but of the Exodus from Egypt. Had God said, “I am the Lord your God who created heaven and earth,” there would be no explanation for the revelation at Sinai, for the establishment of a new relationship between Him and His people.

Chazal commented that the phraseאֲשֶׁר הֽוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם can be read אֲשֶׁר הוּצֵאתִי מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם אִתְּךָ I was taken out with you from the land of Egypt. We both were oppressed. We both were in bondage. We both gained freedom.

At the cosmic level of the God-man confrontation, God owns everything; man owns nothing. Within the covenantal community, however, the relationship is a mutual one. God owns man, but man also owns God. In the Amidah prayer, we invoke the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—our forefathers each had a kinyan, an acquisition in God, as it were. This verse of the Decalogue represents the first time that God took His name, changed it into a possessive noun, and said: I am your God. You own Me; I am your property. I own you as creator; you own Me as a member of the covenantal community. אָֽנֹכִי ה’ אֱלֹ-הֶיךָ, I will be your God in a very private, unique way. My presence in your historical drama will differ from My intervention in universal history. This involves an act of tzimtzum, a contraction of God’s presence. The same God whom the universe cannot contain descends from His transcendental recesses into a small, weak, slave community, joins it, and introduces Himself as אֱלֹ-הֶיךָ ָ. (Noraos Harav, Vol. 5, pp. 46-50)

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

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