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Shemot/Exodus 20:2 I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves.
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These are the first words thatHaShem spoke to the Children of Israel as they were assembled before Him at Mt. Sinai. It is also the first commandment of the ten commandments, or is it?
TheSefer HaChinuch states firmly that "this is a positive commandment: to believe in the existence of G-d, who brought all existence into being ... and that He brought us out from the land of Egypt and gave the Torah." This sounds similar to one of the Noachide laws: to know that there is a G-d. Rashi suggests that these words are cast in a dialogue. The previous verse - "And G-d spoke all these words, saying" (Shemot 20:1) - ends with 'say' rather than 'speak', he says, so that the Israelites were expected to respond 'yes' after each of the positive commandments and 'no' after each of the negative commandments. We can, perhaps, see a shadow of that in the ceremony of the blessings and curses as the Torah is read, mandated by Moshe (D'varim 11:29) and carried out by Joshua once Israel had started to take possession of the Land (Joshua 8:33). The Ramban too, asserts that, "this Divine utterance constitutes a positive commandment. He said, 'I am the Eternal', thus teaching and commanding them that they should know and believe that the Eternal exists and that He is G-d to them ... who are obligated to worship Him. His taking them out of Egypt was the evidence establishing the existence and will of G-d, for it was with His knowledge and providence that we came out from there."
The text starts with a verbless authority formula: , I am the L-rd your G-d. is the first person singular subject pronoun, 'I'. Gunther Plaut comments, " has the same meaning as the more frequent . It occurs especially in several stories of revelation: Avraham (B'resheet 15:1), Yitz'khak (26:24), Ya'akov (31:13) and Moshe (3:6). It is the semitic version of a first person pronoun common to both Semitic and Hamatic languages (Akkadian, anaku, Ugaritic ’ank, Egyptian ‘ink)." Notice that the last word, "your G-d" ends with a 2ms possessive pronoun, 'your'; however, since G-d is speaking to the nation as a whole, we would have expected to find , your (pl.) G-d. The text deliberately uses a singular pronoun because although HaShem was clearly speaking to the people as a whole, each person heard G-d's words individually, for themselves. Each person who heard was individually responsible for obeying the commandments; they were not just thrown out to the congregation as a whole, each person was personally responsible for obeying them as an individual, as well as doing their bit as a part of the corporate whole. TheBaal HaTurim adds that "the gematria of this word (81) is the same as the word , throne;" suggesting that "this teaches that G-d tore through all the heavens right to the throne of glory." is the relative pronoun; most often 'which' or 'that', which links into the second half of the verse where, once again, the object pronoun - 'you' - is singular. Next, the Ba'al HaTurim points out that the two-word phrase ", who brought you out" appears just three times in the Tanakh: here and its parallel (D'varim 5:6) and in G-d's statement to Avraham, "who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldees" (B'resheet 15:7). He concludes that "G-d took Avraham out in order to give the Torah to his descendants."
On the complete contrary, Umberto Cassuto1 is equally firm that "This verse contains no command, only a proclamation announcing the speaker. Because I brought you out of Egypt, you should serve me out of love and gratitude, not in fear and dread as the other people worship their gods." Richard Elliott Friedman, based on research on Ancient Near East treaties, agrees: "The evidence from ANE documents makes it clear that this is not to be counted as one of the commandments. Introductory statements such as this one are common and fundamental to these documents: stating the name of the one who is dictating the terms and stating the history of what this one has done for the recipient of these terms." The Gentile Christian world has historically taken the line that this is not a commandment. Perhaps they felt uncomfortable with the particular reference to the Exodus, realising that neither they nor their ancestors had been rescued from Egypt; indeed that the Jews were often treated by the church as Pharaoh treated the ancient Israelites. We know that the Ten Words were recited on a daily basis in Second Temple times, but that this had been stopped because of heretics (taken as believers in Messiah) who tried to say that only these ten were given to Moshe at Sinai (y. Berachot 13a, b. Berachot 12a).
Taking a more pietistic approach, RabbiHirsch explains that, "as this verse is not to be taken as a declaration, but as a mitzvah, as one of the commandments, it does not mean 'I am your G-d' but 'I am to be (that is: should be) your G-d.'" He claims that this reading of the text defines the relationship between G-d and His people: "not the fact that there is a G-d, also not that there is only one G-d, but that this One, unique, true G-d, is to be my G-d, that He created me and formed me, placed me where I am, and goes on creating and forming me, keeps me, watches over me, leads and guides me ... that I have to live every present and future second of my life solely in His service. In a word," Hirsch asserts, this mitzvah is not about "the existence of G-d, but the acknowledgement of G-d as my G-d." Ibn Ezra, in rather fewer words, sums up: "It is He whom one must know, love and cleave to, to be ever mindful of His presence, and the fear of Him must never leave one."
Rav Sha'ul must have been aware of these nuances to the text. He writes to the Corinthians, "for us there is one G-d, the Father, from whom all things come and for whom we exist; and one Lord, Yeshua the Messiah, through whom were created all things and through whom we have our being" (1 Corinthians 8:6, CJB). This links the unity of G-d - found in the Sh'ma - with the creating, life-giving aspects of G-d discussed above. A few letters later, this time to the Ephesians, Sha'ul repeats and enlarges his vision: "There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one G-d and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4-6, ESV). The history of what G-d has done for us in Messiah Yeshua and the hope that He has given us in Him demonstrates that He alone is worthy to be G-d and to be served by Jew and Gentile alike. G-d is not just the G-d of Israel, or the G-d of the Jews; He is not just the G-d of Gentile believers in Yeshua. If He is G-d at all, then He must be G-d over everyone, in all places and at all times.
How often do each of us acknowledge G-d in our lives each day? Not, of course, necessarily public acts of ritual for all to see, or even trying to make ourselves witness to everyone we meet; simply being aware of our relationship with and dependence on G-d. An orthodox Jew is supposed to bless G-d at least one hundred times in a day; the three regular prayer services cover the majority of these and by the time blessings have been made when waking and going to sleep, before and after every meal or drink, it isn't difficult to reach that number. But that should make us think. How often do we touch base, in our thoughts, in our plans, around the daily routine of our lives, with G-d? How do we involve Him in what we are doing or invite Him to accompany us in the situations we face in life? Many people will perhaps pray at the start and end of the day, then effectively ignore Him in between, rationalising this on the basis that they committed the day to Him before they left home or started work and will check in again before going to bed. What more could He want? What more could we want?
Sha'ul tells the Colossians, "everything you do or say, do in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks through him to God the Father" (Colossians 3:17, CJB). On the face of it, that would seem to suggest that we shouldn't do or say anything without asking or at least involving Yeshua in it. Given that conversations happen in real time, that's perhaps not always possible. The Corinthians get, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of G-d" (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV), making sure that their motives are right. To another community Sha'ul wrote, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to G-d" (Philippians 4:6, ESV); pray a lot and don't worry too much? This is clearly not a prescriptive list, but a number of ways in which we can engage our daily lives more with G-d, without looking holier-than-thou to everyone else. It isn't an exact science but suggestions that we can adopt. What would you like to do today?
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
Further Study: Proverbs 16:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Application: Think of one single step or technique you could try once or twice today to make a connection with G-d in the midst of your work, rest or play. Ask Him whether that will work for Him too and then go for it - but don't forget!
© Jonathan Allen, 2016
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