We read the Ten Commandments this Shabbat. We usually call them the Ten Commandments, but in Hebrew they are referred to as “aseret ha’dibrot,” the Ten Utterances.
While most of those “utterances” begin with a grammatical imperative (or command), the very first begins with a statement: “I am the Lord your God who took you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Exodus 20,2).
Since antiquity commentators have debated the precise division of the commandments. Some, for instance, count “You shall have no others gods before Me” (Exodus 20,3) as part of the first commandment; others count it as the beginning of the second commandment.
I prefer to keep the first commandment as a simple statement of fact: “I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” It is as if God is reminding us, without commanding us, of a simple fact: “I am the Lord your God, people, and you are not.”
We often place ourselves at the center of everything – we are the sun, the stars, and the moon of our own universes. Our tradition teaches us – from this very first utterance at Mt Sinai – to place not ourselves at the center of the universe, but God.
Go outside, take a walk, and look up. Pray this little prayer: “You are God; I am not.” That’s a good first step to understanding that first commandment.
Rabbi Jeffrey Weill