Yitro—Awareness of God

“I am YHVH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Exodus 20:2)

Yitro is one of two parshas containing the Ten Commandments (the other is Vaetchannan in Deuteronomy).  This verse, the first commandment, seems at first not be a commandment all.  It is God’s self-declaration to all of Israel at Sinai.

In accounting this as a separate, positive command, the Rabbis differ not only from all of the various enumerations of the Ten Commandments found in Christian traditions but from other ancient Jewish writers such as Philo and Josephus. The Rabbis understand these words not merely as a preamble to the commandments, but as a commandment itself, according to which we are responsible for awareness of God.

Our awareness of God is often obscured by routine.  Perhaps this routine is necessary to get things done, to prevent us from being continually stupefied by the fact that we are capable of thought, of appreciating beauty . . . , in short, that we ARE.   But we must not let such practical considerations cut us off essentially from wonder, which is the root of awareness of God.

“The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted.  Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of all sin.”  So writes Abraham Joshua Heschel, an unsurpassed exponent of wonder.  For Rabbi Heschel wonder, or “radical amazement,” is essential for “an authentic awareness of that which is; it refers not only to what we see but also to the very act of seeing, as well as to our own selves, to the selves that see and are amazed at their ability to see.”

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2 Comments to “Yitro—Awareness of God”

  1. Will, Thanks for these notes and insights. I usually get something good from what you send out; but these two were particularly helpful and encouraging.

  2. Hello out there! Good to hear from you. You always did have a soft spot for Heschel. Hope this finds you well.

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