Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Foundation Commandment

“I am the Lord your God.” These are the opening words of the first of the Ten Commandments. While these words do seem strange as a “commandment,” they are, in fact, the foundation of all commandments. Indeed, throughout the Torah one finds the words “I am the Lord” as the concluding words following numerous and varied commandments. (“You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”- Leviticus 19:18)

How can a verse such as  “I am the Lord your God” be included in the Ten Commandments if it does not contain an action. Guard Shabbat, Honor your parents, Don’t steal...these are commandments that one can readily understand (even better when reading them on a regular basis). What is it, exactly, that the verse is commanding?

Jewish tradition understands that the words “I am” (Anochi) imply the command “to know.” One is meant to know, in his/her heart and mind, that there is God and that God is the omnipresent Creator of all things in the universe.

It is interesting to note that, according to the Sefer Hachinuch, “I am the Lord your God” is one of only six commandments that can, and should, be performed at all times and in all places.

“I am the Lord your God” is at once one of the easiest and one of the most difficult commandments to fulfill. What makes it difficult is that humankind naturally prefers to credit itself for the good (and bad) found in the world. At its most basic, this mitzvah is fulfilled by simply believing in God. The more desirable way to fulfill this mitzvah, however, is to try and see God’s hand in one’s life all day, every day.

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