By: Rabbi Dovid Markel
Undoubtedly, the defining moment in Jewish history was the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, to the Jewish people. The Jewish people leave Egypt for the purpose of accepting the Torah, and 49 days later they stand together as one nation to receive the Torah from HaShem.
In the opening verse of the giving of the Ten Commandments, the following declaration is made: (Shemos 20:2) “I am HaShem, your G-d, who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
Commentators are bothered by why the verse chooses to use the exodus from Egypt as the opening statement and why this is the primary reason that the Israelites were compelled to accept the Torah.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to state the far greater act of G-d, in that He is our Creator and the Creator of heaven and earth, and therefore we must submit to His Will?
The following are some of the answers given by the classic commentators, as well as the novel approach that Chassidus brings to this fundamental question:
The Even Ezra answers the difficulty by saying that using the exodus from Egypt rather than the creation of the world is in fact more advantageous. The creation of the world by G-d is not something that is readily apparent. In fact, even the idea of the world being considered a creation of at all, is something that was a point of contention among the greatest of philosophers.
If G-d were to have said that I am the G-d that created the heaven and the earth, it would take a lengthy theological discussion to explain that indeed G-d created the world, and it would not necessarily be understood by all. G-d therefore said, “I am the G-d that took you out of Egypt,” as this is something that needs no explanation, and one can easily understand that one must follow the edicts of a G-d that made great miracles for them and released them from bondage.
The Kuzari explains that HaShem is explaining why the mitzvos and the Torah are directed towards the Jewish people and not towards the rest of civilization. In this opening verse to the Commandments, G-d tells the Jewish people that he wishes to develop a relationship with them in a manner that He does not wish to do with the other nations. He therefore begins the Commandments with a statement that expresses his exclusive relationship with the Jewish people.
In a similar vein, the Maharal explains that this verse illustrates that there is a difference between the way that G-d is Master over the rest of the world, and the way that He is the G-d of the Jewish people.
Over the rest of the world, Hashem is the ruler by virtue of the fact that He created them. However, He does not relate to them per say. Regarding the Jewish people though, He relates to them directly, and associates His Name with them. He isn’t just G-d, He is their G-d. He isn’t only the Master of the world, but the One who individually took them out of Egypt. At that point the Jewish people chose G-d as their specific G-d, and G-d chose to relate to them on a personal level. In order to bring this out, G-d says that I am G-d, your G-d, who took you out of Egypt, and not merely the G-d that created the world.
In Chassidus, a new dimension to this answer is brought. The giving of Torah was not merely a transmission of laws to the Jewish people, but rather primarily about a revelation of G-dliness that previously had not been revealed in the world.
Until the giving of the Torah, G-d had only been revealed in a way that was relatable to the world through His Name, “Sha-dai,” meaning, “that my Divinity is sufficient for every creature.” When G-d came to Avraham He did not say, “I am HaShem” using the Tetragrammaton, rather He said, “E-l Sha-dai.” This expressed, that although G-dliness was revealed to Avraham, it was only revealed in a limited manner which was within the confines of the world.
By the giving of the Torah though, G-d reveals himself using the Tetragrammaton, a name meaning that He was, He is and He will be, all at once. It encompasses past, present and future and expresses the way G-d is above nature.
In order to appreciate such a revelation of G-dliness there must be an exodus from Mitzrayim. Mitzrayim is not merely a geographical location, but it comes from the word “meitzarim” which connotes limitations. In order to perceive G-dliness that is not constricted to the world, one must leave his personal limitations as well as all physical and spiritual limitations. Only then can the person conceive G-dliness on such a level.
It is for this reason that the verse says “I am HaShem, your G-d, who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” and not, “I am the G-d who created heaven and earth.” Although the creation of heaven and earth is a tremendous accomplishment, the receiving of the Torah is about leaving the confines of the world, not the creation of it and the way that G-d brings himself into it. For that we must first preface the exodus that we all must leave our limitations to be able to attain the level of G-dliness.