The Egyptian Me – Parashat Yitro

February 6, 2015 at 4:26 PM , , ,

“….I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt…” – Shemot 20:2

אָנֹכִי ה’ אֱלֹקֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם  – שמות כ, ב

Our Sages teach that the Ten Commandments that the Jewish nation heard at Mt. Sinai represent the sum total of the entire Torah; all 613 mitzvos are incorporated within these ten. Taking this a step further, the Tanya explains that all mitzvos are, in effect, a means of fulfilling the first two Commandments, and even more generally, the Zohar states that the entire Torah is contained within the very first word, אנכי—”I.” With this word, G-d begins the Ten Commandments by introducing Himself simply as “I,” making known His unfathomable essence that is beyond any name.

How surprising then is the statement of the Midrash (Tanchuma, Yisro) that the word אנכי is actually borrowed from the Egyptian language. (The more common word for “I” in the Torah is אני.)  According to this Midrash, the most important word in G-d’s communication to mankind was spoken in Egyptian, the parlance of the most debased society of its time, “the shame of the earth” (see Beraishis 42:9)!

The Egyptian Me

In truth, however, by using an Egyptian word here, G-d communicated the purpose for which the entire Torah was given: not merely to give depth to our spiritual lives, but to draw G-dly purpose and holiness into the lowest and most mundane aspects of life as well. Therefore, the opening word of the Ten Commandments is not in Hebrew, the Holy Tongue, but in a language utterly removed from holiness, Egyptian.

Similarly, the Talmud (Shabbos 88b) relates that Moshe refuted the angels’ claims to the Torah by asking them, “Did you, too, descend into Egypt?” For the descent into lowly “Egypt” and the struggle to refine the mundane parts of our lives is the purpose for which the Torah was given to us. And therefore this “descent into Egypt” in our personal lives, and similarly our endeavors to reveal G-dliness even in places that are not yet environments of holiness, connects us with אנכי, G-d’s very essence that was revealed at the giving of the Torah.

—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 3, pp. 892-895


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