Yisro-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
… and Israel camped there opposite the mountain
וַיִחַן[the singular form, the pasuk does not say that the Israelites camped there. This indicates that they camped there] “as one man with one heart”, but all the other encampments were [on bad terms] with complaints and strife. — [from Mechilta]
I am HaShem your Elokim who brought you out of Mitzrayim, from the place of slavery.
Sleep is one 60th of death.
Many meforshim – commentaries address this question: why is HaShem’s calling card in the 10 commandments so provincial? Why does He introduce Himself as “the One who brought you out of Egypt” rather than as “the One Who created the cosmos”?
Conventional wisdom views sleep as, at worst, a benign activity. When sleeping we recharge our batteries, no more and no less. But the Izhbitzer school takes a much less sanguine approach to slumber than we do.
The Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer, explains that that when one is asleep there is a kind of disintegration and dissolution at work. It is only the wakeful, conscious mind that integrates a human being into an organic whole. Under the sovereign direction of the mind and soul all of the body’s organs, limbs and digits work towards the attainment of the common goals that are mutually beneficial to the person as a whole.
Asleep and in a horizontal position the human head is on the same plane and level as all the other limbs and organs of his body. This is true both literally and metaphorically. The position of the recumbent sleeper is that of the proverbial level playing field. It is an egalitarian posture in which no one member of the body has any pre-eminence or dominance over any other.
Then, the soul begins to stir the body into wakefulness and the human being transitions from a horizontal position to a vertical one. The life-giving soul stands the person up and, by doing so, establishes a hierarchy (a shiur komah) in which the feet scrape the floor and the head, containing the mind and soul, is at the very top of the pecking order.
Our sages teach us that we don’t wake up merely because, when our batteries are fully recharged, so to speak, we are “done” sleeping. Instead it is because our souls, mostly absent during slumber, have been restored to our bodies. This concept underpins the first words we utter upon waking “I admit to You, O living and eternal King that You have compassionately returned my soul within me, Your trustworthiness is abundant” and the morning blessing that is part of our daily liturgy that begins with the phrase “my L-rd, the soul that You put into me is pure etc.” It is only when we are awake and vertical that our diverse limbs, organs and faculties become truly incorporated into a united whole.
In stark contrast; death does not merely render the body inert and motionless. Death initiates the dissolution of the human being. In death, anatomical connections begin loosening and the body breaks apart. The teaching of our sages can now be understood to mean that the disintegration of sleep is 1/60 of the decomposition, and utter disintegration, of death.
The unity that K’lal Yisrael – the Jewish People, achieved prior to the Revelation at Sinai was more than preparatory, it was anticipatory. As HaShem’s Shechinah –Divine Indwelling, began shining forth from Sinai, it was the macro-soul beginning to enter the slumbering body of K’lal Yisrael that blended the various tribes and the conflicting interest groups of Israel into an integrated organism “as one man with one heart.” A plural, multiplicity of “Israelites” fused together to become “Israel” in the singular.
Rav Gershon Henoch, the Radzyner Rebbe spells out his father’s Torah more explicitly:
The aseres hadibros are most commonly translated as the 10 commandments. However this translation is both literally and factually inaccurate. The translation is erroneous on a literal level, because dibros, a plural form of dibur, translates as “sayings” or “pronouncements.” Factually imprecise, because only the last nine dibros are expressed as mitzvos-commands, the first one is not. The opening of the Decalogue is a statement of fact, a presentation of credentials, as it were.
On the macrocosmic level the head and soul of the cosmos is HaShem Himself. The Radzyner explains that it was K’lal Yisrael ‘s clear, expanded consciousness of HaShem’s Oneness and Omnipresence, that nothing and no one but He truly exists – ein od m’Lvado, that exerted an irresistible tug on them to follow the Head, the Mind and the Soul and, as such, to coalesce and form an organic whole. With this clarity of G-d consciousness a command to believe in G-d was not only unnecessary, it was inconceivable. It would have been as if a person’s two legs began walking in opposite directions or if his respiratory system began hyperventilating without any physical exertion and the mind would suddenly need to verbalize a command saying “hey YOU pay attention, I’m in charge here!
This explains why the first of the aseres hadibros ends with the limited “the One who took you out of Egypt” rather than with the universal “the One Who created the cosmos.” For if HaShem is the Omnipresent Soul that animates everything and all, what is it that is unique about K’lal Yisrael in particular? The answer to this question is contained in the exodus experience. The letters that spell the word Egypt, Mitzrayim, also spell the word constraints, metzarim.
When HaShem brought K’lal Yisrael out of Egypt He was also unshackling them of all the narrow-minded constraints that conceal and camouflage His control and management of the cosmos. The balance of humanity was never liberated from these. HaShem’s control and management of the cosmos is beyond their comprehension. When “introducing” Himself to, and into, K’lal Yisrael HaShem informs them that it is only because I brought you, in particular, out of Mitzrayim /metzarim that you were uniquely capable of integrating and uniting to sense my Divinity, the Mind and Soul that directs and animates all.
There is a minhag Yisrael kedoshim – Jewish custom, of staying awake throughout the first night of Shavuos. The Magen Avraham–494 bases this minhag on the midrash that says that the Jews “overslept” the Revelation at Sinai and that kivyachol – so to speak, HaShem had to awaken them. We stay awake in order to be metaken – put right, the negativity generated by those who overslept.
I would add that the Izhbitzer insight adds richness and complexity to this custom. Oversleeping the Revelation was much worse than a breach of etiquette or an extremely poorly timed slothful self-indulgence. It was antithetical to the entire experience and to the first of the dibros in particular. At the foot of Mount Sinai, organic unity for K’lal Yisrael was both the prerequisite for, and the direct response to, HaShems Revelation. The souls (re HaShems) return to the body (re K’lal Yisrael ) requires one that is awake, alert and able to coalesce and integrate, not one that is disintegrated through death-like slumber.