On September 18, 1985, David Letterman introduced the world to what would become a
household staple for the next 25 years. That night on he presented his first list, "The Top Ten
Things That Almost Rhyme With Peas" What began as a spoof on a local New York top eligible
bachelors tuned the world into a notion as old as time: If you put something into a list of ten
items then people will pay attention to it.
We see in last week’s parsha Yitro that Hashem gives the granddaddy of all top ten lists: The 10
Utterances. However, unlike Letterman who structures his list as a countdown starting with 10 to
present the least exciting and counting down to 1 which would be the climax, the Torah reverses
it. The first statement we read is ”אָֽנֹכִ֖י֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֧ר הוֹצֵאתִ֛יךָ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם מִבֵּ֣֥ית עֲבָדִֽ֑ים”
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Now it should come as a
surprise for those of us that are reading this for the first time that what I am considering the most
important part of the Decalogue is not even what we consider as a “commandment”. Whereas for
the rest of them we have the formula Do Not Do X or Do Y, it seems that the first one is an
aberration. Lucky for us, Sesame Street has ingrained the idea that because one of these things is
not like the others then there must be something about it that is special.
The Spanish commentator Nachmanides points out that the first the word "I am Hashem your
God:" is more than just a statement it is actually a positive commandment. He posits the idea that
the words are just a shortened idea, where the full concept would be "I am Hashem, who teaches
and commands you that you should know and believe that there is a Hashem, and He is your
God." If we see this first phrase as the topic sentence that is laying the foundation for the rest of
the commandments then have created the prime reason for the 10 commandments. The
affirmation of faith is the glue that holds the rest of the statues together. It is no coincidence that
Maimonides 13 article of faith begins with the acceptance of Hashem.
It is rare to find something that will just follow laws without rhyme or reason. It is with this in
mind that the rabbis create the spiritualist answer of Hashem being center for performing laws.
However, what about all those that have difficulty with the first commandment. Does not getting
past the first hurdle mean you cannot even try and finish the race. Saadia Gaon in his Book of the
Articles of Faith and Doctrines of Dogma, points out that there is another approach to belief that
lies more in the realm of reason. He points out the after the Decalogue it may not be enough that
the Jews will have faith in God and commit to his new laws. He points out that the in the verse:
וְכָל־הָעָם֩ רֹאִ֨ים אֶת־הַקּוֹלֹ֜ת וְאֶת־הַלַּפִּידִ֗ם וְאֵת֙ ק֣וֹל הַשֹּׁפָ֔ר וְאֶת־הָהָ֖ר עָשֵׁ֑ן וַיַּ֤רְא הָעָם֙ וַיָּנֻ֔עוּ וַיַּֽעַמְד֖וּ מֵֽרָחֹֽק
“And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and
the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off,” Hashem
makes the point of putting fear into the hearts of his followers to help them perform.
It seems an ever constant challenge for our young children to just accept things as they are given.
Call it obstinate, rebellious, precocious, or even normal, regardless we are faced with the
opportunity to not only help them grow but also refine our own beliefs. There is a point in
everyone’s life when he/she decides that connecting to something bigger is good enough for
them to follow suit. Alternatively, we often need to have the threat of punishment hanging over
us to get us to commit to following. The lesson in the Torah is trying to teach us that maybe the
key to finding ourselves in the former camp is time. The Jews leaving Egypt took 3 months
before getting to Sinai, after that it took them 40 years to get to the Promised Land. There is no
shortcut for finding the connection; it is just something that comes when ready.
It is my hope and blessing that we all find ourselves coming closer to that fundamental call to
connect ourselves to something bigger. The opportunity that our tradition grants us to find our
own way to join the legacy is an open ended gift. Each day we move forward is another day that
is not lost. May we all hear the voice of the horn calling us to come together.