3,326 years ago, our ancestors stood arrayed around Mount Sinai breathlessly awaiting the very voice of God. Amidst thunder and lightning the word went forth as Hashem introduced Himself to His chosen nation, “Anochi Hashem Elokecha Asher Hotzeisicha MeEretz Mitzrayim MiBeis Avadim,” – ” I am Hashem, your God, who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of slavery.” Many ask the question, why didn’t Hashem introduce Himself as God, Creator of the world, which seemingly imposes a greater responsibility to heed His commandments?
At this time, as the world marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, we can offer an answer to this question based on an important, Torah-true perspective on that darkest of periods in our nation’s history.
Some 250 years ago in Germany, Moses Mendelssohn, known as the father of the Jewish “Enlightenment” movement, coined the slogan, “Be a Jew at home and a man on the street.” Mendelssohn and his cohorts formulated this approach as a perceived solution to the anti-Semitism that had plagued our people from time immemorial. They felt that hiding our Judaism and acting more like the native populace would eliminate the hatred and derision we had previously suffered. This misguided approach is rooted in a basic lack of faith in Hashem and His providence over all aspects of our lives.
Indeed, the Holocaust tragically demonstrated the folly of Mendelssohn’s departure from our holy Torah’s path, as the very country in which he launched his “innovation” turned on the Jews and initiated a campaign of genocide against them, religious and secular alike. In sad incident that drives home this point, several Nazis, of cursed memory, were ruthlessly beating a group of Jews in Poland. One of the Jews, better dressed than the others, protested, “I am not a Polish Jew, I am a Swiss Jew!” To which the Nazis replied, Polish Jew, Swiss Jew, no matter; you are a duty Jew!”
At the outset of our becoming Hashem’s holy people, Hashem wanted to inculcate into our national psyche the message that we are a nation apart and should never compromise on our steadfast observance of His holy Torah and Mitzvos. He did this by instructing us, before we left Egypt, to publicly offer the very symbol of Egypt’s idolatrous deity, the lamb, as a sacrifice to Hashem. This was the paschal lamb from which the Children of Israel took of its blood and marked their doorposts to demonstrate, without fear, their Jewishness and their fealty to the One Almighty God, amidst the most hostile environment possible. Indeed, it was this very demonstration of fearless faith that led to their redemption.
This then is the critical lesson that Hashem wanted to reinforce at the moment He gave us His holy Torah on Mount Sinai. Know that I am your God who has taken you out of Egypt. Never compromise on your commitment to keep the Torah, no matter the seeming challenges that face you. Torah is your lifeblood and your essential identity. Following its tenets will bring you a life of spiritual and material blessing.
As we welcome Shavuos, the festival of our receiving the Torah, may we renew our dedication to living our lives in accordance with Hashem’s highest purposes for our national and individual welfare. Wishing you a joyous and uplifting Yom Tov.
Special thanks to Rabbi Avraham Shalom Farber and Yehudah Leib Meth for transcribing the translation.