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In this week’s Torah portion of Yisro, Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Har Sinai. The entire Torah was embodied in what’s called the Ten Commandments written on the tablets. The first of the mitzvos written on the tablets is: “I am Hashem Your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage” (Shemos 20:2).
The medrish, Tanna Dvei Eliyahu (Eliyahu Rabba, perek 26) dissects each phrase of this mitzvah and teaches us a very novel teaching, which is more than just belief in Hashem but an application of belief in Hashem emboldening us to make a positive impact on the world.: “’G-d spoke all these words, to respond: I am Hashem, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.’ Blessed is The Place Blessed is He who chose the Jews over all the non-Jews and acquired them completely and called them children and servants for His sake. Sometimes He speaks with them in plural form and at other times in singular form and he does this because He loves the Jews and is happy about them. This is what Hashem told the Jews, ‘I was sitting around 974 generations before the world was created whence I carefully thought, deliberated, formed and checked these words of the Torah and from the day the world was created until this time I sit on My Throne of Glory, the third of the day learning Torah, a third of the day I judge the world, and a third of the day I do tzedakah (righteousness) by feeding, supporting and sustaining the entire world. Of all My creations I am the one who put aside the 70 nations in this world and came and clung to you and called you Elohim (powerful being) and associated your name with My Great Name, and I called you My brother My Friend. I was before the world was created, and I am the same One from when the world was created. I am in this world and I am in the World to Come. I will kill and I will make alive, I wounded, and I will heal,’ as it says ‘in order that you know and believe Me, and understand that I am He; before Me no god was formed and after Me none shall be. I am the Lord, and besides Me there is no Savior’ (Yeshayahu 43: 10, 11). It also says, ‘Behold I am Hashem and there is no other god besides Me, a G-d who is righteous and a savior there is no one like Me’ (Yeshayahu 42). It also says, ‘that I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like Me’ (Yeshayau 46:9).”
The Meorei Eish (a great grandson of the Tosfos Yom tov) shows how this ties into the first mitzvah of the Ten Commandments. He says that the point of this medrish is to explain each word of the pasuk: “I am Hashem;” that with the light of His Holy Name He simply creates, lets live and sustains the entire creation from nothing. “Your G-D” who watches over and sustains each individual; we know this because He took us out of Egypt. He created the Celestial Torah before the world was created and through it he created them and now sustains the world with it through His logic of Torah. He feeds the world, which is a general maintenance of everything alive, and supports and sustains everything. This is all derived from the name “Hashem.” Indeed, in explaining “Your G-D,” when the medrish said “I am the one who set aside the 70 nations” Hashem was informing the Jews that he kept special attention and specific maintenance upon them through prophesy, demonstrating for them very lofty and spiritual heights through prophesy. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
When the medrish says, “and called you Elohim (powerful being)” this means we were appointed to control nature, for it to be subjugated by our good actions. Furthermore, the name of G-D as Elokim refers to the fact that G-D is All Powerful, so too within man there are celestial and earthly powers included within us, and man is the pillar of creation, for which the entire world was intended. “And associated your name with My Great Name” refers to the pure soul from on high, that was imbued into every human being. Lastly, “I called you My brother My Friend.” Because through their good deeds they have the power to add the shefa (abundance of holiness), that it will increase in this world, though everything is in the Hand of Hashem nevertheless Hashem decreed that through Mankind’s deeds it will increase. Hashem was the one who said “I am Hashem your G-D” in the Ten Commandments; there were no intermediaries. He is your savior, not an angel, all powerful, who took you out of Egypt.
According to the medrish, why does Hashem let us know that we are also called Elohim, that He imbued us with a soul, a godly element within us, and that He refers to as “My Brother and My Friend?” Wouldn’t this actually detract from Hashem’s greatness and almighty, all powerful existence, which Hashem seems to want to enumerate to us in the first commandment as a complete and true picture of belief and trust in Him?
It would seem that in fact Hashem is charging us with a responsibility to the world which is the purpose and basis for our existence. Hashem has charged us with being “His partner” in sustaining and molding the world for its ultimate good. By knowing and recognizing who we work for, who entrusted us with His precious world to add onto it and mold it into a better place, and that He gave us the power and ability to do so, should empower us to want to live up to the will of our Father in Heaven, our Master, who shares with us His powers and treats us as His brother and friend, a partner in creation. What a responsibility! What an opportunity we have! This is the greatness of man that was specifically charged to the Jewish people when we accepted Hashem’s Torah.
In the First of the Ten Commandments Hashem actually is not just charging us to believe in Him but to believe in ourselves, as an impetus to increase the quality of the world He has created, “though everything is in the Hand of Hashem nevertheless Hashem decreed that through mankind’s deeds the world will upsurge.” This is a very noteworthy introduction and very apropos to our responsibility towards fulfilling and observing the rest of the Torah.