“Are You There, Margaret? It’s Me, God”: Vaethanan 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: If you could define yourself using only a few words, what words would you use? Is it easier for you to do so while describing other people that you know?

As Moses recounts the Ten Commandments for the new generation of Israelites, we take note of the words God uses to introduce God’s self:

The Pitch: “I the LORD am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage: You shall have no other gods beside Me.” – Deuteronomy 5:6-7

Swing #1: “The utterance ‘I am’ precedes the utterance ‘You shall not have.’ And upon careful reflection on the ‘I am, the anochi,’ — with sure faith in God’s perfection — one is saved from [violating] ‘You shall not have’ and protected from all kinds of impediments to the service of God. Our sages taught in Midrash Tanhuma that for every commandment one fulfills, there is made for that person a guardian angel. Measure for measure. Israel received all the commandments through Moses, our teacher, an intermediary. And on account of this an angel was assigned to them to watch over them. But the ‘I am’ and the ‘You shall not have’ Israel heard directly from God [without any intermediary, without any guardian]. And for this reason, [as] the reward for fulfilling the ‘I am’ God, God’s Divine Self protects a person from violating the ‘You shall not have.’” – Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin

Swing #2: “The texts of Exodus and Deuteronomy do not speak about a general understanding of community but of the formation of a particular community whose identity as a people is evoked by their relationship to the Lord and is inextricably tied to that relationship. There is a logically prior relationship to those of kingship, geographical proximity, shared experience, and the like — though these are also dimensions of this particular neighborhood as often of others — that constitutes this community. That is the relationship articulated in the initial words of the community-constituting act.” – Patrick D. Miller, The Way of the Lord

Swing #3: “The suffix [referring to your (singular) God, not your (plural) God] refers to Israel collectively, and at the same time to each Israelite individually. The Midrash says: Even as thousands look at a great portrait and each one feels that it looks at him, so every Israelite at Horeb felt that the Divine Voice was addressing him.” – J.H. Hertz

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, why does God choose to start the Ten Commandments this particular way? What kind of “first impression” does God wish to convey? To borrow a line from an old television commercial, should it matter that we never get a second chance to make a first impression? How do we stay open to reevaluating people who genuinely try to be better than a poor first impression?

Summer Training: Surviving Tisha B’Av is usually the toughest health challenge of the year; it doesn’t get much tougher than going without food and water for 25 hours at the peak of summer. Somehow, it wasn’t quite as bad this year as in past years. Maybe drinking more water in the days leading up to it helped?

The Big Inning at the End: Traditional baseball scouts evaluate players based on what they see and hear; statistically-based baseball analysts rely more heavily on numbers from a player’s on-field production. The so-called “statheads” have become more prevalent in recent years. Which approach seems more reasonable for the modern game?

Shabbat Shalom!