Thursday, 9 February, 2023 - 6:58 pm

Math Teacher: "If I have 5 bottles in one hand and 6 in the other hand, what do I have?"  Student: "A drinking problem."

Teacher: "Which book has helped you the most in your life?"

Student: "My father's checkbook!"

It is one of those astounding enigmas, loaded with symbolism.

The cardinal event of Judaism happens in this week’s portion, Yitro, the event we call Matan Torah the giving of the Torah, or the Revelation at Mt. Sinai when G-d revealed Himself to an entire people and gave them the Ten Commandments. All of Judaism, from its most central tenets down to its most intricate laws, is based on that single event. If this event happened, all the Torah is true, if not—it is all myth.

What is the opening of the Ten Commandments?

G-d spoke all of these words, saying: "I am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

The first word of the Ten Commandments is “Anochei,” which means “I.” The word refers to G-d: “I, the Lord Your G-d, took you out of Egypt.” But “Ani” is the common Hebrew pronoun for “I,” used most often in the Tanach.

Comes the Midrash and shares with us the opening word of the Ten Commandments, Anochei, is not a Hebrew word. It is an Egyptian pronoun.

Why is G-d using an Egyptian pronoun to introduce Himself at the most important moment of Jewish history? Didn’t you just took us out of there?!

We can fairly say that this word Anochi is, in many ways, the most central and pivotal word in the Torah—the axis upon which all else revolves, the focal point of it all.

Yet, for this essential pronoun—G-d introducing Himself to the Jewish people and the world, the opening of the entire giving of the Torah—he could find no better language than Egyptian.

The Rebbe explained the deeper meaning.

The Jews have left Egypt, but a part of Egypt remained with them—and within each of us. I have parts in me which are wholesome, beautiful, and idealistic; but I also have parts in me that are broken, gloomy, and depressing. There is a part of me that makes me feel deeply restricted, frustrated, angry, resentful, and sad.

So, G-d opens all of the revelations—and the entire giving of the Torah—with an Egyptian word. One of the greatest mistakes is the thought that G-d does not relate, and cannot be found, within our “Egyptian” constructs, modalities, and realities.

G-d is not afraid of my Egypt, I must not be afraid either. A part of us has been abducted by trauma and pain, or by addiction and depression, or some other unconscious venom or bias. So, G-d says, I know that language, and I want to speak to you in that language. I want to connect to you in that dialect. Don’t give up on yourself and don’t run away from yourself.

This Egyptian pronoun is the opening of the entire giving of the Torah because this captures the ultimate objective of the Torah. All of the Torah is intended to be able to find G-d within your Egyptian consciousness.

G-d says, I—Anochi—came down on this mountain. Why? Not to help you ascend to the mountain to heaven, but rather to live with My truth on earth—in all its complexities, frustrations, and concealment. Even as you think you are in the dumps of Egypt; I am here with you.

It goes yet deeper. G-d identifies Himself in this verse through three pronouns: 1) Anochi; 2) Hashem; 3) Elokecha. I am the Lord your G-d. The last two are in Hebrew; the first I—is in Egyptian.

G-d has “names,” the way He is “known” and experienced by others. But then there is Anochi—the very I, the essence of it all. How do we touch the Anochi—the Divine I, G-d’s essence, G-d in His innermost core, beyond all names and experiences? It is not through spiritual segregation, but only through having the courage to bring the Divine light into our inner and outer Egypt.

G-d is telling us something very profound. The I of Anochi, the I of G-d Himself, you can only grab onto if you are ready to go down into “Egypt,” into the psychology and environment of “Egypt” and bring light, clarity, holiness, morality, values, and G-dliness into that seemingly depraved space.

There was a famous Jew called Reb Mendel, a man who spent ten years of his life in a Russian gulag for saving Jews and teaching Judaism. One of the prisoners in Reb Mendel's camp was an old Cossack imprisoned because of his loyalty to the Czar. He reminisced with Reb Mednel about the Cossack horse.

You see, the Cossack horse was different than all other horses, incomparably different! A Cossack’s horse—he said—had a different heart. Not only would it do anything for its master; jump into the fire, over trees, and even houses. Anything. And it was stronger, faster, and braver than anything alive. But most of all, it had a different heart.

I will explain," continued the Cossack, “How did they catch a Cossack horse? Do you know? Well, I will tell you, this is a story!"

"The Cossacks were experts at this. There was a special group that would wander the mountains and fields on horseback looking for herds of wild horses. Then, if they were lucky, and found a large herd, say of a thousand, or two thousand horses. They would stampede them and get them all running in the direction of the nearest river. Then they would start screaming and shooting their guns in the air and force the herd into the widest, deepest part of the river. You see, most horses can swim, and so they had to get over, through the current to the other side, or die.

Now, on the other side was waiting for another group of Cossacks. The whole thing was planned from the beginning, and they would watch to see what the horses did.

There were always two types of horses; some horses would make it to the other side and run away to live their lives. Then there were the young horses, that didn't have the strength to cross over, so they just floundered in the middle of the river."

His voice became serious, and he said: "But sometimes... Not always, but sometimes, there was a third type; maybe only one or two at the most, that was sort of crazy horses.

“They would make it across, but instead of running away, they would turn around, look back into the river to see if there were horses in trouble, and then jump BACK in to save them."

"They would swim to the young horses, grab them with their teeth and start dragging them in. They just couldn't stand to see their fellow horses in danger.”

The Cossacks would throw some paint on these special horses and chase them for days until they caught them. They would claim them as their Cossack horses.

It would take several months of hard work until they trained them. But the main thing was the heart; it was a horse with a heart.”

And Reb Mendel would say: From an old Cossack in the Soviet Gulag, I learned the meaning of Ahavat Yisrael—of loving another Jew. We may be horses or bulls, but we need to have the heart! Never let of those who may be drowning in ignorance, confusion, or pain. Go out and help them!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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