And so the explanation of why the Exodus is given as the reason for G-d becoming the G-d of the Jewish people is obvious – G-d’s liberation of the Jews from slavery is what made it possible for Him to give us His Torah and mitzvos on Sinai.
Moreover, the fact that G-d took the Jews out of Egypt in order for them to serve Him was already mentioned several times in the Torah; in none of those places did Rashi find it necessary to explain that this “is sufficient reason for you to be subservient to Me.” What difficulty is there in this particular verse?
The difficulty which Rashi addresses is related to this very issue: Since the Jews were already well aware that the ultimate goal of the Exodus was the receipt of the Torah and submission to G-d, what was the need to mention yet again that G-d’s declaration: “I am G-d your L-rd” is the consequence of His being the One “who brought you out of the land of Egypt”?
Rashi therefore explains that “who brought you out of the land of Egypt” is neither a reason nor an explanation for “I am G-d your L-rd.,” Rather, it is a wholly distinct matter – “Taking you out of Egypt is sufficient reason for you to be subservient to Me.”
“I am G-d your L-rd” implies the acceptance of G-d’s reign. The Jews accepted G-d as their king and ruler, and thereby obligated themselves to obey all His commands. G-d then added an additional matter – merely accepting G-d as king does not suffice; Jews must be wholly subservient to Him.
Accepting a king’s dominion does not preclude the possibility of a private life; it only means doing what the king commands and avoiding those things which the king prohibits. However, being “subservient to Me” means a Jew has no personal freedom; all his actions and possessions are subservient to G-d.
Performing Torah and mitzvos is unlike heeding the commands of a flesh-and-blood king, since it is done in a state of complete subservience. Every moment of a Jew’s life involves some aspect of Torah and mitzvos.
On the third day, as morning dawned, there was thunder, and lightning, and a dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the horn; and all the people who were in the camp trembled. Moses led the people out of the camp toward God, and they took their places at the foot of the mountain.
Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke, for the Lord had come down upon it in fire; the smoke rose like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled violently. The blare of the horn grew louder and louder. As Moses spoke, God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain, and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain and Moses went up. The Lord said to Moses, “Go down, warn the people not to break through to the Lord to gaze, lest many of them perish. The priests also, who come near the Lord, must stay pure, lest the Lord break out against them.” But Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and sanctify it.'” So the Lord said to him, “Go down, and come back together with Aaron; but let not the priests or the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest He break out against them.” And Moses went down to the people and spoke to them.
God spoke all these words, saying… –Exodus 19:16-20:1 (JPS Tanakh)
I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to stand at the foot of Mount Sinai and to be a part of this amazing, awesome, terrifying, wonderful experience of standing in the physical presence of the manifestation of God. Just to glimpse it from afar would have been an honor beyond imagination. This was and is truly the pivotal moment in all of Jewish history: the giving of the Torah. Nothing else would so uniquely define the Jews as a people and as the chosen nation of God. No other people have any experience that could compare to this pinnacle moment in the history of Israel. Or do we? I’ll get to that.
In the Chabad commentary I quoted from above, we see that there is an interesting comparison between serving a human King and serving the King of the Universe. As the Rabbis point out, serving an earthly King entails only obeying the specific orders of your monarch. Except for rare individuals, a subject of a King would still have a private life and individual pursuits that were apart from the King’s commands and laws.
This is not so when serving the King of Kings.
The Torah defines every single aspect of a Jew’s life, how he prays, how he works, how he eats, how he is to treat his wife, his neighbors, his animals, everything…every little detail. When the Children of Israel said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do,” (Exodus 19:8), they were pledging their very lives to God down to the tiniest action and thought. Yes, I know someone out there is going to tell me that according to the record in the Tanakh, the Hebrews were not always very successful in obeying God, but what’s important is the amazing scope of the promise, of the commandments, of having a God who so cared for you and your people that we was involved in every aspect of your existence, not just what you did in synagogue on Shabbat (or church on Sunday). You gave everything you were, are, and ever will be to God.
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” –Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)
But that brings me to an interesting question. Every Jew who has ever lived can point to Sinai and say, “that’s where we began…that’s who we are as a people forever.” In fact, each Jew is to behave not just as an inheritor of the Sinai covenant, but as if he or she had personally stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and accepted the Torah!
Where do we Christians find such a moment in our lives? Do we have a “Sinai?”
When the day of the festival of Shavuot arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. –Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)
Note: I substituted “day of the festival of Shavuot” for the actual text which reads “day of Pentecost” to preserve the perspective of the Jewish Apostles.
Since Pentecost and Shavuot are essentially parallel occurrences, it’s not surprising that the empowering of the Holy Spirit came upon the Jewish Apostles on the same day as the anniversary of the Sinai event.
I have to admit to being somewhat let down. Christians are not encouraged to consider the Pentecost experience as literally their own (I suppose because Christians see salvation as an individual “accomplishment” rather than becoming part of the “body of Christ” and the “commonwealth of Israel”), as if they (we) were “all together in one place” with the Apostles as the “mighty rushing wind…filled the entire house where they were sitting.” We are to consider (sort of) the moment when we accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives as the moment when we have out Acts 2 experience, although no Christian I have ever met has described that moment in terms of “tongues of fire” appearing from heaven and resting upon them. Some people have described being able to suddenly “speak in tongues”, but I do know a person who, at an altar call at a local church some years ago, was encouraged by the Elder with him to “make something up” if the ability to speak in an “angelic language” didn’t manifest itself in him.
So much for majesty and awe.
For that matter, we don’t really know how Peter could tell that “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” while he was visiting the Roman God-fearer Cornelius in the Centurion’s home? (Acts 10:44)
However, this is as close to a “Sinai event” as we who are the non-Jewish disciples of the Master can achieve in the modern era. I don’t know what it means or doesn’t mean and maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I don’t think things have been explained to us very well. I don’t think we’ve been told that one of the responsibilities we have in common with our Jewish brothers and sisters is the command to surrender our entire lives, every action, every word, every thought, to God, our King.
It’s not like we should be ignorant of this responsibility, since it’s all over the New Testament.
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… –2 Corinthians 10:5 (ESV)
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. –James 3:1-5 (ESV)
If we look at the words of the Master as recorded by Matthew and add the letters from Paul and James, we see that we too must surrender all that we are to God in everything, including our words and our very thoughts. How like the covenant at Sinai in this one very important dimension in the lives of we Christians.
Christianity prizes Grace over the commandments of the Law, but we tend to miss the fact that we have serious responsibilities and that freedom from sin doesn’t mean we can literally do whatever we want with our lives, pursuing the same matters in practically the same way as the secular people around us. We must be more in our actions, which we aren’t always taught matter as much as faith and having a “warm and fuzzy” feeling inside for Jesus. We are servants. With almost no exceptions, the original Jewish Apostles suffered for a long time and eventually died terrible deaths as the commitment to the Messiah required. This is the lesson they learned, not just as disciples of the Master, but as Jews who, like all of their people, personally stood at the foot of Sinai as the fire and the thunder and the sound of the great shofar sounded, and before their King declared, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!”
Can there be peace between the people who stood at Sinai and we who inherit the Spirit of Pentecost? We are disciples of the Master, but where is the unity? Where is peace?
Peace refers to harmony between opposites. In an ultimate sense, it refers to a resolution of the dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual, the forward movement enabling a world in which G-d’s presence is not outwardly evident to recognize and be permeated by the truth of His Being.
Moreover, true peace involves more than the mere negation of opposition. The intent is that forces which were previously at odds should recognize a common ground and join together in positive activity. Similarly, the peace which the Torah fosters does not merely involve a revelation of G-dliness so great that the material world is forced to acknowledge it. Instead, the Torah’s intent is to bring about an awareness of G-d within the context of the world itself.
There is G-dliness in every element of existence. At every moment Creation is being renewed; were G-d’s creative energy to be lacking, the world would return to absolute nothingness. The Torah allows us to appreciate this inner G-dliness, and enables us to live in harmony with it.
-Rabbi Eli Touger
In the Garden of the Torah
“Ripples of Inner Movement”
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XI, p. 74ff; Vol. XV, p. 379ff;
Vol. XVI, p. 198; Sichos Shabbos Pashas Yisro, 5751
The portion of the Torah event we who are grafted in may take away with us, is that there is a path to peace, not only between Christian and Jew, but for all of mankind. We aren’t there yet. There is not even peace between all Christians or between all Jews. But someday, “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.” (Micah 4:4 [ESV]).