A Turning Point in the World’s Spiritual History

As has been mentioned on several occasions, the giving of the Torah is associated with the uniting of the spiritual and physical realms. Before the giving of the Torah, there was a decree separating the physical from the spiritual as reflected by the verse,1 “The heavens are the heavens of G‑d, and the earth He gave to man.” There was no medium through which the two could be brought together.

At the giving of the Torah, this changed. The decree was nullified; G‑d began by descending to Mount Sinai, and His descent gave the Jewish people the potential, through observance of the mitzvos, to elevate material reality heavenward, and bring it into contact with the spiritual.

For this reason, the mitzvos which our Patriarchs observed before the giving of the Torah, although performed with material objects, did not have the power to infuse holiness into those objects. For in that era, there was no connection between spirituality and material entities.

The objective of the Patriarchs’ performance of mitzvos was primarily to draw G‑dliness into the spiritual realms. The bodies of each one served as “a chariot for G‑dliness.”2 To explain the analogy: The Patriarchs were totally given over to G‑dliness, to the extent that they did not regard themselves as independent entities, just as a chariot is totally given over to the will of its driver.

As they lived within this material world, their spiritual service permeated their existence. And so it was also expressed in the observance of mitzvos on this material plane. Nevertheless, the intent was not to affect the material realm. The physical activities were merely a manifestation of spiritual advancement.

For this reason, although the Patriarchs’ spiritual service involved material entities, the identity of the object used for a particular service was not important. For example, it is explained3 that by setting out staves of poplar, hazel, and plane trees before Lavan’s sheep,4 Yaakov drew down the same spiritual influences that we after the giving of the Torah draw down through the observance of the mitzvah of tefillin. Similar concepts apply with regard to the observance of other mitzvos.

The giving of the Torah began a new phase. The mitzvos we perform have the potential to infuse holiness into the physical entities with which they are performed, to the extent that the entities themselves become holy. Therefore, with regard to the overwhelming majority of mitzvos, the physical entity with which the mitzvah is performed is significant, and must have certain features that make it possible for it to be used for that purpose.5

True Transcendence

The potential for the mitzvos performed after the giving of the Torah to infuse holiness into material entities stems from a level of G‑dliness which transcends the divisions between the physical and spiritual. Because this level is truly transcendent, restricted by neither material nor spiritual limitations,6 it can make a fusion of the two realms possible.

From this, we can appreciate that the innovation brought about by the observance of mitzvos after the giving of the Torah affects not only the material plane allowing for the infusion of holiness into that level but also reflects a higher level within the mitzvos themselves. Mitzvos performed before the giving of the Torah were limited to the spiritual plane; they did not have a connection with G‑d’s essence. This is why they could not develop an internalized connection with the material world.

The mitzvos performed after the giving of the Torah, by contrast, derive their power from G‑d’s essence.7 Since He is not bound by either the physical or spiritual planes, He is able to unite the spiritual with the material.

G‑dliness Penetrating Mortal Wisdom

The above-mentioned change which accompanied the giving of the Torah is alluded to in the Ten Commandments, which include two types of mitzvos at seemingly opposite poles.8 The first commandments: “I am G‑d your L-rd,” “You shall not have any other gods before Me,”9 reflect the deepest levels of G‑d’s unity. On the other hand, this same revelation included the most elementary of commands:10 “Do not kill;… do not steal,” which invoke moral maxims understood and accepted by mankind as a whole.

The inclusion of both types of mandates in the Ten Commandments points to the fusion of the physical and the spiritual mentioned above. As indicated by the Midrash cited previously, the giving of the Torah wrought a two-fold change: the spiritual descended to the material, and the material ascended to the spiritual.

This process is reflected in the relationship between the two types of commandments mentioned above. Those involving spiritual matters: “I am G‑d…” and “You shall not have any other gods,” must descend and affect the realm of conduct that relates more directly to the commandments: “Do not kill” and “Do not steal.” Conversely, even within the observance of the mitzvos already mandated by human wisdom, the fundamental G‑dliness which lies at their core must be felt, as reflected in the command “I am G‑d your L-rd.” These mitzvos should not be observed merely because human logic requires it, but because they were commanded by G‑d Himself.11 This commitment to G‑d’s will must be the fundamental reason for observing the prohibitions against murder, theft and the like.

We cannot separate the commandments “Do not kill” or “Do not steal” from the commandment “I am G‑d your L-rd,” and leave the observance of those which appear as moral imperatives to the dictates of human logic. Firstly, self-love can cause a person to rationalize his conduct, and interpret the violation of one of these prohibitions as a mitzvah, as implied by the verse:12 “Love covers up all transgressions.” Certainly, such a person will not be on guard against violating the finer nuances of these prohibitions. For example, embarrassing a colleague in public is an extension of murder,13 and deception is an extension of theft.

One little finger, held close to the eye, can obscure a person’s view of the entire world. Similarly, because a person is preoccupied by self-concern,14 his self-love will cover all faults, even willful transgressions.15

Moreover, even when a Jew’s mortal intellect alone would obligate him to observe the mitzvos scrupulously, the fundamental thrust of his Divine service should be to connect all his affairs, even the most simple, with G‑d’s essence. The proclamation: “I am G‑d your L-rd” must permeate every action. Even good deeds mandated by human wisdom should be imbued with G‑dliness.

Our Sages taught:16 “If, Heaven forbid,17 the Torah had not been given, we would have learnt modesty from a cat, and [the prohibition against] theft from an ant,” i.e., we could have learned the bare minimums of the moral imperatives by observing the patterns of conduct with which G‑d imbued animals. But were it not for the giving of the Torah, the spiritual import of these mitzvos would have been lacking; they would have been merely natural deeds. For without the giving of the Torah, it would have been impossible to connect G‑dliness with lowly material matters.

When the Torah was given, the potential was granted to unify the spiritual with the material. Accordingly, even the positive tendencies reflected in the animal kingdom must be emulated, not because they are part of nature’s pattern, but because they are permeated with the Torah’s holiness. These mitzvos must be performed in response to G‑d’s command, accepting the yoke of His Kingship.

This will “elevate the material to the spiritual.” Part of the purpose for the lightning, fire, smoke and thunder which accompanied the giving of the Torah was to impress and dissuade those individuals who by virtue of their natural tendencies might otherwise either kill or steal.

This, however, does not convey the whole reason for which the Torah was given. These phenomena were also intended to elevate these individuals and enable them to comprehend G‑dliness, introducing them to the highest form of wisdom. As the Rambam writes in the Introduction to The Guide for the Perplexed, the knowledge of G‑dly wisdom must be preceded by an awareness of all the lower forms of wisdom. This indicates that the comprehension of G‑dliness is the most elevated level of knowledge.

Similarly, these individuals are asked to comprehend the highest levels within the realm of G‑dliness itself: not only the level associated with the name E-lohim, nor even that associated with the name Havayah, but also G‑d’s essence, the level associated with the word Anochi, as will be explained.

Three Dimensions of G‑dliness

The concept mentioned above that the fusion of the material and the spiritual was made possible by the power granted the Jewish people at the giving of the Torah is alluded to in the first three words of the Ten Commandments: Anochi Havayah E-lohecha, “I am G‑d, your L-rd.”

These three names represent three levels within the revelation of G‑dliness. The name E-lohim refers to the G‑dly power invested within created beings. For within every created being is enclothed a different aspect of G‑dly power, one which is expressed according to the particular nature of that being.18 For this reason, a plural modifier is used for the name E-lohim, as it is written:19 א-להים קדושים. For the name E-lohim alludes to the fact that every created entity is infused with an aspect of G‑dliness appropriate for it. This is also reflected in the numerical equivalence of the word E-lohim (א-להים) and the word hateva (הטבע), meaning “nature.”20 For this aspect of G‑dliness is enclothed within those created beings which G‑d governs by natural law.

This is also alluded to by the possessive form used in the above verse: E-lohecha, “your G‑d.” Indeed, E-lohim is the only name of G‑d that is used with a possessive form. Since this dimension of G‑dliness undergoes a process of self-contraction to suit the levels of the various created beings, it can be appreciated by human intellect. This is the intent of the possessive form, “your G‑d,” i.e., the G‑dliness which you can appreciate.21

The name Havayah, by contrast, refers to the dimension of G‑dliness which transcends nature. This is reflected in the interpretation of the name Havayah as היה הוה ויהיה כאחד , “past, present, and future as one.”22 Within the limits of nature, the past, the present, and the future reflect different tenses. The name Havayah, however, transcends these limits, fusing the three tenses together.

This is the difference between the faith of the Jews and the faith of the pious among the gentiles. The gentile nations are aware only of E-lohim, the G‑dliness enclothed within nature. Therefore Yosef told Pharaoh:23 “E-lohim will provide an answer regarding Pharaoh’s fortune.” This is a dimension of G‑dliness to which Pharaoh can relate. With regard to the name Havayah, by contrast, Pharaoh states:24 “Who is Havayah that I should listen to him?… I do not know Havayah. ” He has no comprehension of those levels of G‑dliness which transcend nature.

Anochi refers to G‑d’s essence, as it is said:25 “I am (Anochi) who I am; I cannot be alluded to either with a letter or a point [within a letter].” Not only is this level above the name E-lohim which is associated with the laws of nature, it is above the name Havayah, which transcends nature.

G‑d is not limited by any constraints, neither by those of nature, nor by those above nature. And for this reason, this level can fuse the natural and the transcendent.

This level was revealed within the Holy of Holies, of which it was said:26 “The place of the ark was not included in the measure.” From east to west, the Holy of Holies was 20 cubits long. And yet there were 10 cubits from the paroches (the dividing curtain) to the ark, the ark itself was 2.5 cubits long,27 and there were 10 cubits from the ark to the western wall. All the measurements of the ark had to be precise, and yet, the entire span was not effected by its length. Here we saw a fusion of finiteness and infinity.

By saying “I (Anochi) am G‑d (Havayah), your L-rd (E-lohecha),” G‑d told the Jews that at the giving of the Torah, the boundless power of Anochi was bringing about fusion between Havayah and E-lohim (i.e., between the levels of G‑dliness which transcend nature, intellectual comprehension, and indeed, the entire creation, with those levels which can be grasped by the human mind).

This is the reason for coupling those mitzvos which can be grasped by human logic, “Do not kill” and “Do not steal” with the infinitely profound mitzvos “I am G‑d” and “You shall have no other gods,” which communicate the deepest dimensions of G‑d’s unity.

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Mishpatim, 5723)

Calling G‑d by an Egyptian Name

On the verse, “I am G‑d, your L-rd,” the Midrash28 notes that Anochi, “I,” is an Egyptian word. This raises a question: The Ten Commandments are “general principles including the entire Torah.” As stated in the Azharos of Rav Saadia Gaon,29 all the mitzvos are included within the Ten Commandments. This is alluded to in the fact that the Ten Commandments contain 620 letters, symbolizing the 613 mitzvos of the Torah and the seven mitzvos prescribed by the Rabbis.30

Within the Ten Commandments themselves, the commandment “I am G‑d,” includes all the positive commandments, and “You shall have no other gods” includes all the negative commandments.31 That is why the entire nation heard these two seminal commandments from G‑d Himself.32

“I am G‑d” precedes “You shall have no other gods.” The implication is that “I am G‑d” conveys the most fundamental concept.

This can be appreciated from the content of the two commandments. The very fact that the second commandment forbids acceptance of other gods implies that there is a possibility of doing so. The first commandment, by contrast, is a direct statement which does not recognize any other possibility; there is no consideration of the false notion of other gods.

Within the first command itself, Anochi is the first word. As such, it is said33 that Anochi includes within it the entire Torah. And as mentioned before, Anochi refers to G‑d’s essence, which “cannot be alluded to either with a letter or a point [within a letter].”

Why was Anochi, an Egyptian word, used to refer to G‑d’s essence? With regard to the levels of G‑dliness which are described by names, Hebrew names which are used. Why then is an Egyptian term, Anochi, used to refer to G‑d’s essence itself?

The Effect of the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge

The difficulty mentioned above is reinforced by contrasting Lashon HaKodesh, the Holy Tongue, with other languages. One of the reasons given for calling the language in which the Torah is written is called “the Holy Tongue” is that it does not contain any terms for the sexual organs.34

From a mystical perspective, there is a difficulty with this interpretation, for every created thing derives its life energy from the name by which it is known in Lashon HaKodesh. The letters of the entity’s name are a medium through which passes the G‑dly life energy expressed through the Ten Utterances of Creation.35 Thus every part of creation must have a name in Lashon HaKodesh. How is it possible that there are certain entities, e.g., the sexual organs, for which there is no name in Hebrew?

This question can be resolved as follows: There is a name for these entities in Lashon HaKodesh. This name, however, embodies a holiness far different from the ordinary conception of sexuality. It is only when the matter is dealt with in the terminology used by secular tongues that the ordinary conceptions of sexuality prevail.

To cite a parallel: In Chassidus,36 an explanation is given for the effects of the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge, based on the verse:37 “And they understood that they were naked.”

Why was it that only after the sin did Adam and Chavah realize they were naked? Did the sin increase their understanding?!

Before the sin, Adam and Chavah were unaware of material desire. Every organ in their bodies was dedicated to serving G‑d. Therefore, despite the fact that “they were both naked,” “they were not ashamed.”38 Their nakedness was necessary in order to fulfill the charge to “be fruitful and multiply,”39 and in that there was nothing to be ashamed of. Just as a person is not ashamed when performing the mitzvah of wearing tefillin, there was nothing to be ashamed of in performing the mitzvah of reproduction. Indeed, this was the very first mitzvah given to mankind.

The Sin of the Tree of Knowledge changed this. It introduced material desire into the world, and thus attached undesirable connotations to certain dimensions of our behavior. It was such a connotation that caused Adam and Chavah to believe they should be ashamed. The fulfillment of the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply remained a holy act; only man’s conception of it was affected.

Similar concepts apply with regard to the 70 languages. The 70 possess several levels of refinement,40 of which the lowest is expressed by the Egyptian language. For Egypt is referred to as “the nakedness of the land,”41 and its inhabitants were reputed to be both decadent and wanton.42 Thus the Egyptian language was the direct opposite of Lashon HaKodesh. Nevertheless, when it was necessary to refer to G‑d’s essence, the Torah used an Egyptian word.

Where G‑d Manifests Himself

The apparent difficulty can be resolved as follows: With the first word G‑d uttered at Mount Sinai, He communicated the purpose of the giving of the Torah. Why was the level represented by Anochi i.e., not just a ray of G‑dliness, but G‑d’s essence revealed? To permeate the Egyptian language and the level of existence associated with it.

The ultimate purpose of the Torah is not merely to draw down holiness into matters associated with Lashon HaKodesh for that, the new empowerment granted the Jews at the giving of the Torah was not required. Instead, the purpose was to infuse holiness into the lowly realms dominated by the 70 languages, including Egyptian.

For that reason, when Moshe ascended to receive the Torah and the angels asked of G‑d: “Bestow Your glory upon the heavens,”43 Moshe responded: “Did you descend to Egypt?”, and this response was accepted by G‑d.44

The purpose of the giving of the Torah was twofold: not only to reveal G‑dliness from above, but also to elevate the material realm through the Jews’ Divine service. Accordingly, the use of an Egyptian term for G‑d’s essence has implications regarding that service.

How is it possible to appreciate Anochi, G‑d’s essence? When one is involved with matters related to Egypt. As long as one remains aloof from worldly involvement the transformation of “Egyptian” concerns into mediums for G‑dliness one’s Divine service is restricted. Even though one is involved with Torah study and prayer, one’s Divine service, (no matter how great) and one’s spiritual level (no matter how high) is limited.

Yes, through Divine service that follows the dictates of reason, one becomes a medium for the revelation of the name E-lohim (the dimension of G‑dliness contracted within the limits of reason and nature). And through Divine service which transcends reason, one becomes a medium for the revelation of the name Havayah (the dimension of G‑dliness that combines the past, present, and future as one).

But this is not the way to relate to G‑d’s essence. For even the highest levels are not appropriate mediums for His essence, as it is written:45 “The heavens and the celestial heights cannot contain You; can this house?” Yet it is a structure in this material world, the world of Asiyah of which it is said: “even I Have made it”46 which G‑d has chosen as His dwelling. For it is only through involvement with lowly, material entities “Egyptian” matters that a connection can be established with G‑d’s essence.

Our Sages47 interpret the word Anochi as an acronym for an Aramaic phrase meaning: “I wrote down and gave over Myself.” And in which language did G‑d communicate Himself, His essence? In Egyptian. And therefore the argument “Did you descend to Egypt?” was successful in securing the Torah for the Jewish people.

A Bond Within Our Lives

From the above, we see that we cannot content ourselves with individual endeavors in the realm of holiness. We have to involve ourselves with the world at large. This involvement has two aspects: a) Not to sequester oneself, but to endeavor to make the world a vessel for G‑dliness; b) With regard to one’s Divine service, not to devote oneself merely to Torah study, prayer, and the observance of mitzvos , but to “Know Him in all your ways,”48 and bring spirituality into one’s ordinary activities.

It is not enough to observe the mitzvos mandated by Scriptural or Rabbinic law, even if one adds the stringencies and practices ordained by the sages. (These practices are also contained within the Torah, of which it is said: “Its measure exceeds the earth.”49) One must “know G‑d” (and knowledge connotes connection)50 in all one’s worldly affairs.

This is not a light matter. On the contrary, our Sages have described51 the mandate to “Know Him in all your ways” as “a small passage on which is dependent the entire Torah.” For a person who does not so “know” G‑d, even though he conducts every aspect of his life according to Jewish law, may be building a house of holiness on sand. To cite a parallel, our Sages declare: 52Jerusalem was destroyed only because they regulated their conduct according to the law,” i.e., without adopting positive attributes beyond the measure of the law.

Conversely, when a person knows G‑d in all his ways, he at once acquires the body of the Torah. He has formed a relationship with Enochi, Havayah, and E-lohecha indeed, with the entire Ten Commandments, which include all of the mitzvos.

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Va’eira, 5722)