Awareness - Acceptance - Attachment

 Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Bnei Yisroel were finally out of Egypt. They had arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai where they were destined to receive the Torah. Although Hashem had obviously interacted with them before and had acted on their behalf, Hashem now instructs Moshe to make a “formal introduction”. In this introduction, Hashem is reminding Bnei Yisroel that He is not a stranger to them.; “You have seen what I did to Egypt, and that I have borne you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me.” This introduction is then followed by the terms of the covenant Hashem is now establishing with Bnei Yisroel. Our Sages see three stages of our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu in this introduction. Each stage is interpreted by Rashi and then expounded upon by other commentators.

The first stage, Rashi points out, is that Hashem is not really a stranger to Bnei Yisroel. You personally have seen what I have done to Egypt. It was not told to you by your parents. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch adds, Bnei Yisroel’s awareness of Hashem is not a matter of faith, but of actual experience. It is this same language, “You [yourselves] have seen...” that Hashem later uses to remind Bnei Yisroel of how He spoke to us personally at Har Sinai. In this way, our salvation from Egypt and our accepting the Torah are forever linked, by our personal awareness and witness to both. In both of these experiences, adds Rabbi Beyfus in Yalkut Lekach Tov, we saw the hand of God involved in our lives. This is knowledge we carry deep within our core and is the cornerstone of our religion. Therefore, it is commanded that we teach our children and all future generations about both these events, our leaving Egypt and our stand at Sinai, and mentioning both daily in our prayers. Both these events were part of the process of granting Heavenly existence to Klal Yisroel, adds Rabbi Schmeltzer in Heart of Emunah.

Rabbi Schmelzter continues by discussing the work of Ramban who lists remembering yetziat Mitzrayim/redemption from Egypt as more than a standard mitzvah, but as one of the ikrim/fundamental mitzvoth of our faith. Why? Because through this experience we were able to recognize that the world is controlled through Hashem’s Divine providence, not through nature. While we may see miracles throughout our history, they are not a revelation of the Divine presence as they occur. Often, we are unaware of the Divine intervention until much later. [Perhaps the best example is the Purim Saga, and today that the Palestinians keep firing missiles from Gaza into Israel, and yet they continue to fall on open fields or on empty classrooms, B”H. CKS] But the plagues brought upon Egypt were open miracles where we saw Hashem’s hand in changing and controlling nature itself. It is this awareness of Hashem’s intervention and revelation, level by level, completely revealed in the death of the firstborn of Egypt and culminating at Sinai, that inculcates within us that Hashem is involved in the physical world of our existence, not just in the upper realms.

When we are aware of this relationship, writes Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein z”l in Ohr Yechezkel, our mitzvah performance changes from one of rote performance to one of mindful and grateful involvement. It is for these reasons, adds Rabbi Friedlander z”l in Rinat Chaim, that we remember yetziat Mitzrayim on every one of our holidays, including those that are not directly related to yetziat Mitzrayim, like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, for our accepting the Torah was not an isolated event, but part of the growth of a continuing relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

While there is no doubt that we are obligated to keep the mitzvoth, obligation often breeds resentment.  How can we instill within ourselves and retain the joy of mitzvah observance of our own free will, much as a baal teshuvah feels the joy of having chosen to observe mitzvoth? Rabbi Zvi Bochovsky in Beatzotcha Tancheni suggests that we can re-frame our obligation as our choice simply by engaging in a personal dialogue. We can ask ourselves if we enjoyed the food (or anything else), and if so, should we not thank He Who provided the food for us? As an analogy, a parent may be exhausted from waking up several times a night to feed her crying baby, but is she not thankful for the opportunity when she observes a childless couple? Will she not view it as an opportunity to bond with her child? When we recognize all that Hashem did for us, we understand that He loves us, and our mitzvoth are transformed from obligations out of fear of punishment to acts of reciprocal love.

Our prayers are meant to bring us closer to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, for, as Chazal tell us, the words in our liturgical prayer are mostly in the present, reminding us of what Hashem is continuing to do for us now, not only in the past, writes Rabbi Elyah Lopian z”l in Lev Eliyahu. Both to men and women, the words of Torah must be spoken with love and sweetness that balance out the fear and awe, adds Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz in Tiv Hatorah. Hashem took us out of Egypt, and He continues to give us that same love. When we remain aware that we are His children, our service is not that of a servant afraid of losing a job and a paycheck, but as one who serves another out of love.

The next phrase in Hashem’s introduction brings us to a second phase of our relationship. Hashem has borne us on angels’ wings. Rashi explains that the eagle, the loftiest of birds, is unafraid of predator birds above him, but he is afraid of man below who may shoot arrows upward. Therefore, the eagle carries his fledglings on its wings, protected from the danger of man. So too did Hashem protect us from the pursuing Egyptians, and His cloud, traveling behind us, absorbed the arrows the Egyptians shot at us.

Rabbi Scheinerman in Ohel Moshe raises an interesting question about this image. The eagle has no arms with which to lift the fledglings and put them on his back; how do the fledglings get there? While the eagle may squat down and encourage the fledgling, the fledgling himself must take the initiative and climb onto the eagle’s wings so that the eagle can carry it to safety and care for it. We have the same responsibility to lift ourselves up to accept Hashem’s mastery so He can carry us.

In this context, the Sifsei Chaim notes that Moshe added an additional day to Bnei Yisroel’s preparations for receiving the Torah, and Hashem agreed to this addition, for it showed that we wanted  to invest in our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu, we wanted to make the Torah not just Hashem’s Torah, but our own.

There was a progression from the revelation at our redemption from Egypt until the revelation at Sinai, writes Rabbi Miller z”l in Shabbat Shiurim. While Hashem commanded us to count fifty days until He would give us the Torah, it was our responsibility to maintain the spiritual high we felt on the Pesach of our redemption for seven full weeks. It is a process that each individual must follow in the course of his life. We must make the effort to maintain a spiritual high, to maintain our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu, knowing that He supports us in our efforts on all sides. We need to metaphorically “climb up onto His wing”, and Hashem will do the rest.

This brings us to the third phrase and last stage of the relationship, “And I [Hashem] will bring you to Me,” to My service, says Rashi. To this, both Rabbi Hirsch and Rabbi Munk explain that Hashem brought us to that high spiritual level where we actually witnessed Hashem’s presence , understood Hashem’s confidence in our ability to be free not just from the enslavement of Egypt, but also from enslavement to our physical and base desires. Then we could attach ourselves to Him and become His kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

But there was also a physical aspect in how Hashem brought us to Him, notes the Midrash, quoted by Letticha Elyon.  How was it possible to gather all of Bnei Yisroel together in Ramses, a distance of 120 miles from Goshen, so quickly that there was no time to bake the bread? Only because Hashem brought them there so quickly. And why did I bring you to Me? Because I [Hashem] wanted a close relationship with you so you would accept service to Me out of love, writes Rabbi Wolbe z”l. The acceptance of doing Hashem’s will comes through awareness and attachment.

That wonderful closeness with the Ribbono shel olam began with our redemption from Egypt and continued at Har Sinai, explains Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz z”l. This was the entire purpose of yetziat Mitzrayim. Rabbi Sternbach goes even one step further in Taam Vodaath. While Hashem may have coerced us into accepting the Torah, we ourselves wanted to be coerced, for we too want this relationship with Him. There will be times when we may not be ready to accept this responsibility. At those times, Hashem, please coerce us.

In an interesting reversal, Rabbi Pincus z”l gives us a new perspective on this relationship. Hashem tells us that when we were in Egypt, being bullied and oppressed, He stood up for our honor and came to our aid. Are we equally concerned with the honor and glory of Hashem in the world, asks Rabbi Pincus z”l? This is our responsibility if the relationship is to be mutual and reciprocal. Hashem turns to us every day, looking for our investment in this relationship. A mutual and reciprocal relationship is not just a vending machine that dispenses rewards every time one inserts a mitzvah coin.

How do we attach ourselves to Hashem? Through studying His Torah and incorporating it within ourselves. In My Sole Desire, Rabbi Kluger explains that as human beings we each have our personal perspectives on right and wrong, on decency and morality. By studying Torah, we learn the correct perspective, Hashem’s perspective. We absorb this perspective into our physical bodies, and it will then inform all we do with Hashem’s wisdom. We have then attached ourselves to Hashem.

Building and maintaining a relationship with Hashem is not a one - time deal, but a process that continues every day. We experienced this process on a national level from our awareness of Hashem’s presence as He led us out of Egypt, to our acceptance of His Torah at Har Sinai, and finally to our attachment to that Torah so that it became our national legacy. Now it is up to us as individuals to follow that path so that each of us can become mirrors that reflect Hashem’s love for us onto the world and, serving Him, thereby become His kingdom of priests and a holy nation.