Learning Torah overlooking Shechem
Learning Torah overlooking ShechemSipzner /

Seven weeks after leaving Egypt, the Children of Israel stood around Mount Sinai and received the Torah from G-d. That day was the climax of Creation:

“No bird sang, no fowl flew, no ox lowed, the angels did not ascend, the fiery angels did not proclaim ‘Holy, Holy,’ the sea did not churn, the creatures did not speak; rather, the entire world was silent and dumb” (Shemot Rabbah 29:9).

2,448 years earlier G-d had completed the creation of the physical universe, and the Talmudic sage Reish Lakish said:

“G-d made all the works of Creation conditional. He told them: If Israel will accept the Torah… – well and good; and if not – then I will return you all to תֹּהוּ וָבֹהוּ, to primordial chaos and non-existence” (Tanhuma, Bereishit 1; compare Shemot Rabbah 47:4, Shabbat 88a, Avodah Zara 3a et al).

Israel’s acceptance of the Torah was the purpose for which the world had been created: the first word of the Torah, בְּרֵאשִׁית (in the beginning), connotes בִּשְׁבִיל רֵאשִׁית (for the sake of the beginning): the world was created “for the sake of the Torah which is called ‘the רֵאשִׁית (beginning) of His way’ (Proverbs 8:22), and for the sake of Israel which is called ‘the רֵאשִׁית (beginning) of His harvest’ (Jeremiah 2:3)” (Rashi on Genesis 1:1, also Rashi on Sanhedrin 91b, s.v. מששת ימי בראשית, following Bereishit Rabbah 1:1 and 1:4).

At this pivotal moment of history, G-d revealed Himself to His nation, beginning with the words:

אָֽנֹכִי ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים

“I am Hashem your G-d, Who brought you out from Egypt, the slave-house” (Exodus 20:2).

As many of our Sages have noted, G-d could have introduced Himself as the Creator of Heaven and earth, which is far more impressive as the One Who brought us out from Egypt.

However, the Jews who stood around Mount Sinai had been immediate and direct witnesses to the Exodus, so G-d’s appellation as “Hashem your G-d, Who brought you out from Egypt, the slave-house” was both undeniable, and also created a far more intimate and personal connexion (vide Mechilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochay, Kuzari 1:25, et al.)

The Ba’al ha-Turim (Rabbi Ya’akov ben Asher, Germany and Spain, c.1275-1343) notes that the word הוֹצֵאתִיךָ (I brought you out) only appears three times in the Tanach. The first time was when G-d told Abraham:

“I am Hashem your G-d הוֹצֵאתִיךָ, Who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldees to give you this Land to inherit” (Genesis 15:7).

The other two times are in this first Commandment: “I am Hashem your G-d הוֹצֵאתִיךָ, Who brought you out from Egypt, the slave-house”, which appears in our Parashah and is repeated verbatim in Deuteronomy 5:6.

The Ba’al ha-Turim deduces from this “that He brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees in order to give his descendants the Torah” (commentary to Exodus 20:2).

Now this is puzzling: G-d told Abraham explicitly that He brought him out of Ur of the Chaldees to give him the Land of Israel to inherit. So how could the Ba’al ha-Turim state that He brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees in order to give his descendants the Torah?!

There can only be one possible answer:

Giving Abraham’s descendants the Land of Israel and giving them the Torah amounts to the same thing. In Talmudic idiom, הָא בְּהָא תַּלְיָא: The one depends upon the other.

It is just as impossible to inherit the Land of Israel without the Torah as it is to inherit the Torah without the Land of Israel.

The word מוֹרָשָׁה, morashah, meaning “heritage”, appears only twice in the Torah:

“I will bring you to the Land on which I have placed My hand, to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I have given it to you as a מוֹרָשָׁה, heritage I, Hashem” (Exodus 6:8).

“The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the מוֹרָשָׁה, heritage of the Congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4).

Two things are defined as מוֹרָשָׁה, heritage: the Land of Israel and the Torah. Both are equally the heritage of the Jewish nation, and הָא בְּהָא תַּלְיָא, inheriting one depends upon inheriting the other.