The Ten Commandments begin “I am G‑d your L‑rd Who took you out of Egypt.” The Rabbis ask: Why does it not say: “Who created heaven and earth”? Seemingly, the creation of existence from absolute nothingness is a more telling miracle. After all, for nothing to exist — not a vacuum, but absolute nothingness — and then for existence to be brought into being is something beyond our understanding entirely. Indeed, creation is something truly G‑dly, beyond mortal potential entirely. Why then is it not mentioned in the Ten Commandments?

Among the answers given:

a) In creation, G‑d made a world out of nothingness. That involves a change from one gestalt to another. When G‑d took the Jews out of Egypt with miracles and wonders, however, He did not merely break the prevailing gestalt. He performed wonders within it. The Jews left Egypt as souls in physical bodies. They were a nation made up of families: husbands, wives, and children. And they were bearing great wealth. Thus, the world as it existed previously continued to exist and yet, its natural pattern was superseded by miracles. This — the combination of the natural and the above natural — represents a fusion of opposites which is an even greater miracle than creating a new reality.

Moreover, it also points to the purpose of the Giving of the Torah. For the ultimate goal of the Torah is to combine the physical and the spiritual, not to favor one over the other. In other worlds, the Torah does not want a person to abandon the material for an ascetic spiritual experience. Nor does it desire that man invest himself primarily in material existence. Instead, the two must be harmonized and fused together.

b) Creation was an all-encompassing act involving existence as a whole. But for the people who stood at Sinai, it was something far off and impersonal. The exodus, by contrast, was very real to them on an individual level. Were it not for the exodus, they would have still have been slaves in Egypt. The exodus taught them how their relationship with G‑d affected their lives in the here and now. Instead of a removed Creator, they felt the presence of a G‑d Who takes care of them.

Even for subsequent generations for whom the exodus is also a historical and not a personal event, it is still G‑d caring for our ancestors. He is involved with man and not an abstract Watcher, withdrawn from our lives.

c) The relationship between man and G‑d is “measure for measure.” If the Ten Commandments would highlight G‑d as the Creator of nature, that would imply that our service of Him could also be confined within our natural limits, what comes easily to us. Recalling the exodus indicates that our commitment to Him must transcend those and indeed, all limits. Just like the exodus revealed a pattern of Divine Providence beyond all mortal conception, so too, we must show an unbounded commitment and a willingness to serve Him in any and all ways.

Looking to the Horizon

The revelation at Sinai represented a turning point in the world’s spiritual history. When G‑d descended on Mount Sinai, the nature of the world changed. As the Midrash states, at that time, G‑d said: “I came into My garden.” G‑dliness returned to the world and the world became His garden, the place where He luxuriates and from which He receives pleasure and satisfaction.

True, directly afterwards, the people sinned — they made a Golden Calf and, in that way, prevented G‑dliness from being revealed in our ordinary material framework of reference. Nevertheless, the essential bond, the fundamental connection between G‑d and this world remained. The issue is that at Sinai, the connection was open and apparent. Mankind could appreciate G‑dliness. After the sin, He was hidden from man’s consciousness and the challenge of relating to Him became man’s responsibility and mission.

But that is precisely the advantage of this phase of our existence. G‑d is waiting for man to make Him part of his life and it is all dependent on man. There are no restraints from Above. If we truly desire, we can make Him part of our lives and make the age of Mashiach a tangible reality.