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Parshas Yisro

We Were There!

By Rabbi Label Lam

This week's parshah sheet is dedicated to the refuah shlaimah of Rafael Avraham ben Orah Yuta.

The foundation of foundations and the pillar of all wisdom is to know that there is a prime source of reality…The knowing of this matter is a Positive Mitzvah as it says, “I am HASHEM your G-d …(Shemos 20:2) (Rambam Hilchos Yesode’ HaTorah 1:1-6)

It is worth noting that the Rambam uses the term - “knowledge” as opposed to -“belief”. We might ask how one achieves the certainty associated with “knowledge” on this most important subject. The Rambam gives a key. “I am HASHEM your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt. How is “knowledge” implied in that verse?

The Kuzari asks why The Almighty makes such a small claim!? “I am the HASHEM your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage!” He could have said, “I created the heavens and the earth!” Why focus on Egypt?

Imagine if you will, I own the GM building in Mid Town Manhattan. I lock an employee in the 46th Floor wash room over a three day holiday weekend. Monday morning I unlock the door and remind him that I am the one who let him out of that room. He looks at me and wonders aloud, “Why did you lock me in there in the first place? And, “Since you own the whole building, why do you need to claim control over one small water closet in the entire complex?” He’s right! Why?

The Kuzari explains the intent of the verse. The knowledge G-d is reinforced by the entire process of the exodus. It was something that we experienced unlike the inception of the world. Who was there, then? In Egypt, we, as a people, witnessed the whole drama of Egypt’s miraculous collapse and our emergence as a nation. It was an historical revelation not a hysterical revolution. Therefore The Almighty commands us to know the reality of His existence and not just to believe abstractly or philosophically. Since that time, way back when, a year has never lapsed without Pesach or a week without Shabbos- “In memory of leaving Egypt…” …Or a day without Tefillin or Tzitsis, both being reminders of having left Egypt. The echo of that experience is captured forever in our continuous loyalty to those observances and many more for more than 3300 years. And so says the prophet about our people- “You are my witnesses, so says HASHEM and I am your G-d!” (Isaiah 43:12)

I was on a plane from St. Louis to Seattle and one seat away was a middle aged woman that worked up the courage to ask me about half way into the flight, “Are you Amish?” (Not Heimishe). I told her, “No, I am not! I don’t think Amish people fly on planes.” “I‘m sorry!” she said showing great care and sensitivity. I told her that she need not apologize. I went back to my reading and she returned to her book until she got up the courage again, “What are you then?” she asked. I told her, “I’m a Jew!” There was an awkward silence.

After some moments she inquired again, “What do you people believe?” I told her, showing the Hebrew Text of the Tanach (The Bible) I held in my hands, “We are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that stood by Mount Sinai with Moses and heard The Almighty declare, “I am The Lord your G-d that took you out of the Land of Egypt…That’s who I am and that’s who we are!” The conversation ended but I could tell she was overawed by the realization that this fellow who walked onto the plane is part of a living group that stepped right out of the Bible. I too was flying high on the grandness of that fact for the rest of the flight.

Our presence as a people is a living extension of and active testimony to that national experience when we all heard what we heard. The world might yet accept what we have known not because of what we say but rather because we were there!


Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.


 
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