A Partner in Covenant Parashat Yitro Exodus 18:1-20:23 18 Shevat 5778
שמות פרק יט:ג
...וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי:
I just wanted to share a Torah thought with you before Shabbat from this week's Torah portion. In preparation for God's revelation at Sinai and the receiving of the Ten Commandments, the Holy One Blessed be He asks Moses to remind the people that they themselves have just seen and experienced the redemption from Egypt. God instructs Moses to say this to them in quite a vivid, powerful, even poetic way:"I carried you on Eagle's wings and brought you to me." On the surface, this verse seems to express the divine protection the Children of Israel experienced as they came out of Egypt. But what does the part of the verse, "And I brought you to Me," add or tell us? Perhaps "to Me" alludes to what we are just about to read, that is, revelation and encounter with God at Sinai and the receiving of the Ten Commandments?
Addressing this verse as a reflection of two levels of a relationship, the Kli Yakar, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz (16th-century commentator), offers the following interpretation:
Kli Yakar: First it says, "I carried you on eagle's wings" -- this is in the manner of a nurse carrying and suckling a baby. There God is at the level of a father (mother/parent) and Israel is at the level of a son (daughter/child). Then it says, "I brought you to Me," indicating that you will be My equals, and we will be as brothers, on the same level.
It may seem surprising to hear a classic commentator indicating that when we get to a certain point in the evolution of our relationship with God, we will be on the same level! How can we understand this?
At this point in the narrative, the People of Israel are just about to experience God's revelation and hear the Ten Commandments. Remember that when we speak about the tablets that contained these Ten Commandments, they are referred to as לוחות הברית or the Tablets of the Covenant. The commandments in the covenantal sense can be thought of as ten basic conditions that reflect some of the basic understandings that define this covenantal relationship with God; a relationship of love, honor and respect. They are a set of expectations that reflect mutual faithfulness. The covenant at Sinai between God and Israel is often compared to another covenantal relationship, that is, marriage. In this sense, Revelation at Sinai can be likened to a huppah or wedding ceremony between God and Israel. In that light, let's look at these next verses:
שמות פרק יט
(ה) וְעַתָּה אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת בְּרִיתִי וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים...
And now -- if you will heed my voice and keep my covenant, you will be a treasured People to Me.
How does Israel respond to this proposal?
שמות פרק יט
(ח) וַיַּעֲנוּ כָל הָעָם יַחְדָּו וַיֹּאמְרוּ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְקֹוָק נַעֲשֶׂה...
The entire Nation answered in unison, all that the Lord has spoken we shall do...
Sounds a little bit like the People answered God's covenantal proposal by saying -- "I Do!"
I want to bring this back to the Kli Yakar's idea about the Children of Israel becoming simply "Israel" (adults) and coming to be on the same level with God in the sense of a mature covenantal relationship with God. We have come to expect this in our intimate relationships with our partners and that is an evolution. God also tells us that we will evolve to be God's partners, bringing God's Torah into the world in order to לתקן עולם במלכות שדי, that is, to be a Partner with God guided by Torah, which informs us how to make this a better world, helping God fill this world with divine holiness.