During the past weeks in Torah time we have at last achieved our freedom from Egyptian slavery. But Moses’ demand was to let the people go so that they could worship YHVH in the wilderness. In other words, our freedom wasn’t for its own sake; we could now freely choose to serve God rather than be slaves to Pharaoh.
Serving God takes a specific form at Sinai: the basic laws of our new nation are transmitted from their Divine source through Moses to all the people at the base of the mountain. This is the moment when — through thunder, lightning, and the blast of a shofar — what we call the Ten Commandments are presented to the people.
The Ten Commandments are like chapter headings that we should not take too literally. In fact, the rest of the Torah makes this clear. After describing the revelation at Sinai, Torah immediately turns its attention to the creation of an entire society. Although we may miss the family dynamics of Genesis and the early drama of Exodus, we now enter the Torah’s main objective: building a nation dedicated to God.
We are in for a bumpy ride: the Golden Calf, complaints, and even a rebellion. But overshadowing these is the Torah’s main objective: establishing a calendar, civil and criminal laws, rituals for worship, and the creation of holy space. Freedom is not easy or simple, but the reward is the forging of the Jewish people, beginning now in the Book of Exodus.