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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Yitro


Rabbi Stewart WeissShvat 18 5777
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The 10 Commandments comprise the most famous list of "Do’s and Don’t’s" in history; they are the foundation-stone, the basis of law for all civilizations. But the first commandment, "Anochi Hashem Elokecha – I am Hashem, your G-d" (who took you out of slavery in Egypt), is somewhat puzzling.

What is it doing here? Does it tell us how to act, or how not to act? Should it even be counted among the 10, or is it more of an introduction to what follows?

There are those who see this sentence as a kind of preamble; that Hashem is "announcing," right from the get-go, that all the succeeding commands emanate from a Divine source, and as such are direct, immutable laws that come straight from G-d and so cannot be altered. Others see this intro as Hashem, in a sense, "justifying" the code of behavior He is imposing on us, as if to say: "I took you out of Egypt and saved you from certain destruction, in order for you to fulfill meaningful, holy lives, which these very commandments will guarantee."

I want to suggest another idea.

I think the key word here is "Anochi." While the word can indeed mean, "I," it also is an actual name of G-d (as in "HaShomer Achi Anochi" – "G-d is my brother’s keeper"). Of all the names that could have been used here, at this special moment, Hashem chose to employ "Anochi." Why?

"Anochi" establishes a personal relationship with Hashem. It tells us that He is not a detached, distant deity that may run the universe, yet has no interest or awareness of all His subjects. Instead, He is part of the lives of each and every one of us; He sees us, hears us, cares about us and relates to us on a one-to-one basis. True, He has many shluchim - messengers to bring His will into fruition, and many diverse vehicles to effect His plan for the world. But He is always "in on the conversation" and never absent.

I grew up in Chicago in an era "ruled" by legendary Mayor R. J. Daley, whose Democratic machine tightly controlled city politics for decades. My political science professor, Milton Rakove, who was once a precinct captain for the Democrats, explained how Daley held on to power for so long. The precinct captain reported to the committeeman, who reported to the alderman, who reported to the mayor. After each election, the "lieutenants" had to sit before "General" Daley and report exactly how many votes their area brought in for the party. When it came his turn, the professor proudly told the mayor that in his precinct, only 1 single person had voted Republican. The
mayor commended him, but just before he got up to leave, said to him, "Hang on there, you; let’s discuss that one vote!"

Al achat kama v’kama, in Hashem’s precinct, every single vote – and voter – counts. G-d’s "I" is always on us.

Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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