By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Taken For Granted
Mattan Torah - Revelation was the most significant event in history. It was
the one and only time that G-d, through prophecy, revealed Himself to an
entire nation. All other instances of recorded prophecies were to
individuals or to smaller groups of people. (eg. The 70 Elders - Bamid.
11.:17 and Shaul before he became king - Shmuel 1.10:10). In fact, it is the
single most telling difference between Judaism and all other religions. All
other religions allege that their religions began with an individual claiming
to have personally experienced a divine revelation. The individual then
shared his personal experience with others. If they believed him, they would
join him in promoting his agenda and help him gather a following. Judaism,
on the other hand, references the verse in this week's Parsha which clearly
states that the entire nation of 3,000,000 collectively experienced hearing
G-d speak to them. (20.19) "G-d said to Moshe, So shall you say to the
Children of Israel, You have seen that I have spoken to you."
G-d's introduction to the Bnai Yisroel at the time of Revelation was His
opening line, "I am the G-d Who brought you out of Egypt" Rabbi Yehudah
Halevi in the Kuzari points out that we learn a basic educational truth from
this introduction. In order for people to accept direction from a teacher,
parent, or anyone else, they must first trust that person. Trust occurs when
there is a personal and beneficial relationship between the two parties.
Once trust has been established, the one is able to accept direction and
criticism from the other. That is why G-d introduced Himself as the
architect of the Exodus rather than the Creator of the universe. The Exodus
was a personal experience that benefited each and every Jew. It was a clear
expression of G-d's love and concern and it generated within the nation a
sense of trust and gratitude. On the other hand, introducing Himself as the
Creator would have required of the Jews a much greater degree of
sophistication. It would have demanded that the Jews recognize the constancy
of G-d's caring in the ongoing maintenance of nature, and accept that caring
as a personal display of His love. However, accepting the G-d who created
and maintains nature as a G-d Who personally cares for the individual is more
difficult that one might think.
Let us consider the difficulties of G-d establishing a personal relationship
with 3,000,000 people. Using the example of a family, consider the
following. Parents cook, clean, and care for their children. How many
children consider the clean clothes, hot meals, years of education, medical
attention, and general caring as indicative of their parent's personal
attention? I would think very few. The norms of family life are taken for
granted by most of us as our due. "Of course my parents feed and clothe me.
That is their responsibility. Not only that, but they do it for all of my
siblings no differently than they do it for me!" It is the special occasions
such as birthdays, etc. that show a child that he or she is unique and
special to the parents. However, in truth, the constant caring is a far
greater indication of the parent's love and caring than the occasional
present. The irony of it is that a child will more readily feel and express
appreciation for the occasional present given to him by a relative or
stranger than say thank you to a parent for a hot meal or a clean pair of
socks. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that we often do not recognize the
profundity of our parent's caring until it is too late. Then, the void left
by the parent's absence forces us to recognize and appreciate what had been
the constancy of their presence in our lives.
Aside from the death of a parent, there is another instance when a child
realizes that he should not be taking the norms of parental love and caring
for granted. That is when he is faced by a contrasting relationship that
does not have those same norms and expectations. For example, if a person
spends time with children or adults who have been abused. Observing what the
absence of the norm does challenges the individual to realize how very lucky
he or she is to have loving and caring parents, regardless of how many other
siblings he must share that love with. All of a sudden the clean socks and
warm bowl of soup enjoyed by every member of the family is a magnificent
testimony to the trusting and personal relationship he enjoys with his
When the Jews left Egypt it was clear to them that G-d loved them. The
miracles of the Exodus were like the occasional present that focuses the
child on his unique place in the hearts of his parents. On the other hand,
the Creator of the universe loves all of His children, Jew and non-Jew alike.
The world that G-d maintains and that we take for granted benefits every
living creature. Therefore, it is difficult for us to see and feel the
expression of G-d's personal love for us in the normal functioning of nature.
All the miracles which are with us "morning, afternoon, and evening" should
be for us the greatest expression of G-d's personal love. However, because
all living things share nature, we do not acknowledge it as such.
The times that we do acknowledge the norms of nature as the most majestic
expression of G-d's love is unfortunately when we can no longer enjoy the
expected norms of health and life due to illness or accident. Therefore,
when G-d introduced Himself to the Jews at Revelation, He specifically chose
that moment when we had recognized His personal love, rather than His more
general caring and concern as the Creator.
The miracles of the Exodus still required another factor for the Jews to
acknowledge and feel G-d's personal love. Let us remember that G-d's display
of affection and caring benefited 3,000,000 people. That is one very large
family! How was the individual Jew supposed to feel that G-d loved him
The most surface analysis of the Exodus focuses us on the contrast between
the Jew and the Egyptian. It was the Egyptian who suffered each of the
plagues while the Jew was untouched. It was the death of Egypt's first born
and not our own that made each of our homes safe. It was the dead Egyptian
washed up on the shores of the sea in contrast to the Jew singing the praises
of G-d that awed the people. It was in contrast to the Egyptian that we were
able to see the consequences of a life lived for or against G-d.
At the time of the splitting of the sea, each and every Jew felt a personal
connection to G-d. "This is my G-d and I will glorify Him!" The spectacle
of G-d's justice clearly brought home to the Jews, "There but for the grace
of G-d go I." It forced each and every Jew to wonder why he was being saved
and why the Egyptian was being punished. As the Medresh says, "These (the
Jews) serve idols and these (the Egyptians) serve idols! Why save the Jew
and punish the Egyptian?" As we say in the Hagadah, "If G-d had not taken us
out of Egypt, I and my children would still be slaves to Pharaoh." Why then
were the Jews saved? The answer is that we were the chosen ones and
therefore G-d had a special interest in each and every one of us. In
contrast to the Egyptian, the Jew might not have known why he was special,
but he certainly knew that he didn't want to be treated like the Egyptian!
By contrast to the Egyptian, the Jew knew that G-d loved him.
However, G-d's love and caring is far more profound and personal than that.
At the same time that He is caring for the entire nation, He also loves each
and every single member of the nation. At the same time that He is caring
for the entire universe, He also loves each and every human being. The
experiences following Kriyas Yam Suf, as well as the giving of the Torah,
were designed to reveal G-d's personal caring within the magnificence of the
1. The Incident at Marah. The Ramban explains that the bitter water turning
sweet was not an overt miracle. It did not require any change in the laws of
nature. It was simply G-d revealing to Moshe the laws of chemistry. It was
no more than the miracle of nature itself.
2. The Manna, and Moshe hitting the rock. G-d showed the Jews that He could
care for them in the wilderness with the same ease that He cares for all
living creatures. "He gives sustenance to all beings, because He is
abundantly kind." (Birkat Hamazon).
3. Protecting the Jews from Amalek. The G-d of nature is the same G-d who
saves us from our enemies. G-d not only maintains the universe but is also
directly involved in the affairs of nations.
4. The Ten Commandments. Eg. The Mitzvos of Shabbos and Honoring Parents.
a. Shabbos reminds us of both Creation and the Exodus. As the Creator, G-d
is the G-d of nature. As the architect of the Exodus G-d is the personal G-d
Who controls nature for our sake. After a week of taking G-d for granted,
Shabbos refocuses us on seeing and appreciating G-d.
b. The Mitzvah of Honoring Parents. Parents, like G-d, are always taken for
granted. The commandment to honor and revere our parents challenges that
tendency and refocuses us on not taking them, or G-d, for granted.
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.