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LESSONS OF “ANI HASHEM ELOKEICHEM”

By: Rav Dov Lipman

 

When reading this week’s Parsha, one is struck by a peculiarity. The Torah repeats the words “I am Hashem your God” ten times and “I am Hashem” fourteen times. Why?
 
Rav Saadya Gaon is the only classic commentator who expounds upon the function of these words in many of the various contexts in which they are used. He explains them to mean either “I am Hashem Who will reward you with good (verses 2, 10, and 18), “I am Hashem your one God” (verse 4), “I am Hashem Who punishes (verse 12), and “I am Hashem Who knows the hidden things (verses 16 and 31).
 
The Meshech Chachma comments on these extra words on verse 19. There, the Torah reiterates the responsibility of a farmer to leave various crops for the poor and concludes by stating “I am Hashem.” He suggests that the compiler of the Mishna, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, placed the tractate of Peiah which deals with a farmers gifts to the poor, right after Masechet Berachos because of this verse. How so?
 
The Gemara in Rosh Hashana (32a) learns that we recite Malchuyos - verses about God’s Kingship – on Rosh Hashana from the fact that the words “I am Hashem your God” and the laws of Rosh Hashana are placed one after the other. (See Vayikra 23:22, 24). Thus, we see that the words “I am Hashem your God” proclaim God’s Kingship or as Rashi on the verse there puts it, God being our “master.” The Meshech Chachma understands that the placement in our Parsha of those same words of God’s Kinship which we re-affirm daily in Shema next to the laws of the farmers crops, served as the basis for Maseches Peiah following Maseches Berachos which primarily deals with Shema.  
 
Thus, according to the Meshech Chachma, the words “I am Hashem” relate to God’s being King and His mastery over the world and His subjects. The Netziv has a similar understanding. He explains (19:3) that these words relate to G-d’s “Hashgacha” – His control over things in the world. 
 
Using these commentaries we can develop an understanding regarding why these words are repeated so many times throughout the parsha. 
 
The parsha has four primary themes. Prohibited and immoral relationships form one theme (see 19:20-22, 29 and 20:10-21), straying after “foreign” powers the second (see 19:4, 26-28, 31 and 20:1-6, 27), food is the third theme (see 19:23-25 and 20:9, 25-26), and the fourth deals with laws between man and his fellow man (see 19:9-18, 32-37). Simply following even the basic Torah laws captured by these themes is extremely difficult. In the areas of food, immorality, and idolatry (until this last temptation was removed from the world) we have natural desires and drives which can easily lead us to violate those laws. In the laws between man and man dealing with honesty and measures, we have a natural desire for accumulating money which works against us. Even regarding the non-monetary laws, we are naturally inclined to be selfish and notas nice as the Torah demands that we be towards others.
 
The Torah, therefore, addresses these natural barriers to observing the laws in these four areas with the many meanings of the words “I am Hashem.”  First of all, recognize that God is the King as the Meshech Chachma drew from these words. Because he is the King we are bound to his laws regardless of how difficult they may be. In addition, as Rav Saadya Gaon pointed out from these words, God is aware of the hidden things so we cannot hide our actions from him and He also punishes us for our sins. At the same time, as Rav Saadya Gaon sees in these words, we will be rewarded for overcoming our natural inclinations towards sin. We also recognize that while the personal benefits of these laws are not always immediately recognizable, God is telling us that their observance makes us more Godly. That, alone, should serve as a motivation. 
 
God, Himself, has given us the motivation and inspiration that we can successfully observe these very important laws and even reach great levels of holiness through their performance. May all of us find the strength to take the initial steps towards fulfilling these laws properly by using these strategies and thinking about these ideas. Once we do that, God will undoubtedly help us complete the job.