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The Gift of Torah & Personal Redemption

“I am Hashem, your God, who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2).  This simple verse requires some explanation. 

As written in its original Hebrew form, the verse addresses “you” the single individual as opposed to “you” the collective nation.  Why does God address us individually instead of speaking to the nation as a whole?


Also, why does God state that he took us out “from the house of slavery” and not say more simply “from slavery?”


In the human condition there are two types of slavery.  The first is the slave, in fact, who is physically subjugated to another individual and has no jurisdiction over himself whatsoever.  All of his work product and acquisitions belong to his master and he can be forced to toil day and night.


The second type of slave isn’t actually owned by anyone but is, nevertheless, constructively enslaved to others.  While this individual might adequately provide for his sustenance through a few short hours of work per week, he feels compelled to “slave” away for many hours, in effect, sacrificing his personal freedom for the sole purpose of impressing others with his success and wealth.  This form of slavery can be far more insidious than the first; robbing the individual of precious time he might otherwise spend together with his family.  It also causes envy and depression and leads to all manner of evil impulse.


Both types of slavery existed in ancient Egypt.  While the Jews were physically enslaved to the Egyptians, the Egyptians themselves were, ironically, even greater slaves.  When they said, “Come let us wisen unto them” (Exodus 1:10) and thus, conspired to subjugate the Jews, they demonstrated their enslavement to avarice, greed and the desperate urge to control their fellow man.  Indeed, the Egyptians were known to be a nation of the lowliest character and most licentious disposition.

And so, when God introduces the Torah to the Jewish people at Sinai, He explains that in addition to freeing them from physical slavery to the Egyptians, He is now giving them the most precious gift which will forever free them from slavery to their own worst selves, for “there is no freer person than one who toils in the study of Torah.”


The Torah transforms the individual into one who has complete mastery over his talents and personal resources and trains him to utilize them for his own best self interest.  As Rabbi Meir expounds in Chapters of the Fathers, “Whoever studies Torah for its own sake (lishma),” that is, in order to learn what to do and for what purpose, “he will merit many things; he will come to love God and love all people; he will bring joy to God and to all people” (through the upstanding lifestyle it teaches and engenders.) “It will clothe him with humility …and raise him up and provide him mastery over all things.”  The Torah will help a person achieve his highest potential, free from the base desires that would impede his growth as an individual.


This is the meaning of being taken out from the “house of slavery.”  As explained, in Egypt all types of slavery prevailed.  The Torah provides the tools for civil and productive behavior both at the individual and societal levels, free from the ravages of the impulses to kill, commit adultery, steal, swear falsely and covet one’s neighbor’s possessions.  It also inculcates the importance of honoring one’s parents to reinforce the lessons that have been transmitted from generation to generation.  And the Torah also instructs us to observe the Shabbos, a day which gives us the opportunity to rejuvenate ourselves both physically and spiritually and allows us to experience true joy.  The Zohar states that the Shabbos is the day God gave to the Jews to desist from material labor and elevate oneself to eternal spiritual life.

God, therefore addressed Himself to every individual Jew.  His message is that each and every Jew is capable of studying Torah and observing its mitzvos.  God tells us that He created each and every one of us with the capacity to achieve the highest levels of human perfection and closeness to God through the study of His holy Torah and keeping its precious mitzvos. 


On this holiday of Shavuos, (editors note: and all year ‘round) which celebrates the giving of the Torah, let us appreciate the great gift of Torah God has given to each and every one of us as we recognize that it is truly the key to our personal redemption.


This message was received from the personal attendant of the Kalever Rebbe. He can be reached via their website at www.kaalov.org.  



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