Among the mitzvot, the Ten Commandments carry a special significance, because they were revealed to the entire assembled people of Israel at the foothills of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-19).  It is also indicated that the two stone Tablets, given to Moses later as a testimony to the Covenant between God and Israel, had the Ten Commandments engraved on them (Exodus 34:27-28).  The Torah portions of this month include the revelations at Mount Sinai.


The first commandment “I am HaShem your God...” is the foundation of our monotheistic religion.  In simple reading, it is only a statement of the existence and uniqueness of God, but to the Jewish people it is a declaration of faith.  This statement is a mitzvah because without it, the other 612 mitzvot are rootless.  One must accept the first in order to recognize God’s authority.  And when you accept the first, the rest are natural obligations, divinely commanded.  It is a test of faith which is as logically simple as a line in a computer program:  <<If the statement is false then stop;  else continue to a life of mitzvot>>.


There is no doubt that God knew that being a Jew will not be easy and simple.  Indeed, God required acceptance of the commandments before revealing to the Israelites what the commandments were (Exodus 19:7-8, 24:7).  The idea of uninformed consent may cause shivering and tremble among legal minds, but then those who reject the preamble - the first commandment - are not obliged.  Sadly, but maybe predictably, about 150 generations after the Sinai generation, the Jewish population is not even ten times what it was then.  The losses are not only due to persecutions.  Many have dropped out due to lack of commitment and faith.


The first commandment is also very private: “I am your God”.  Not the Creator and Ruler of the universe, but the God “who saved you from bondage in Egypt”.  While the rest of the world was still and quiet (Shemot Rabah 29:9), the revelation at Mount Sinai was a special moment between God, who had chosen the Covenant People, and his People, who committed to follow God’s mitzvot even before they heard them.

Judah Ari-Gur


For more columns: http://homepages.wmich.edu/~arigurj