The pages of history are full of tales of nations that fought fiercely for their freedom. Many were successful in their struggle, and won their independence. In such a case, the entire nation becomes intoxicated with the wine of freedom. They cannot drink enough of its liquors. During the first stages it is often difficult to control the masses, who are intent on celebrating their newfound independence.
In order to function efficiently and successfully as an independent state, a nation must devote a great deal of time and effort to preparing for its new status. A constitution must be drawn up, laws must be instated, and a governing body established and empowered to enforce its regulations. A government which has not done its homework will find anarchy on its hands soon after declaring its independence. The good citizens of the fledgling republic will no doubt seek every way at their disposal to exercise their newfound freedom. Chaos will soon reign supreme if no authority steps in to curb it.
The Exodus from Egypt was different. There was no possibility for pre-planning. There was no advance warning of when the sudden transition from bondage to freedom would take place, and certainly no opportunity to draft laws to serve the newly-formed nation of free men.
Concurrently with the Exodus, Moses our Teacher informed the nation that in a matter of weeks, they would receive their new "constitution" which would govern every aspect of their lives as free men. This body of law would not be delivered to a select group of representatives of the people, as in the case of other liberated nations, but to the entire people of Israel, men, women and children, as one united entity. What was more, it was not a parliamentary body which had drawn it up, but G-d Himself, and it was He who would hand it down to the nation He had brought forth from the bondage of Egypt.
If so, where was the freedom that these former slaves had so longed for? What of their hopes to create their distinctive, national culture of their own?
A constitution handed down by a Divine authority would, by definition, be complete in every detail, and perfect. It would include everything, down to the last by-law. It would cover every aspect of life, including culture, ethics, philosophy, and mystics.
There would be no room for "trial and error" and re-writing the law when experience pointed up an oversight or a mistake. The Manufacturer knows His product, and the instructions He gives are complete the first time He formulates them.
If so, it would appear that the nation had left one House of Bondage only to enter another! How was it, then, that the nation was willing to give up their dreams of independence? No one rushes to exchange a prison cell for a strait jacket.
The explanation will cast a light on the entire process involved.
A person who lives with the feeling that he is fully in control of his fate, that it is he who creates and builds his future, will find it difficult to forego his independence.
Not so the individual whose heart accepts the fact that there is a Higher Authority ruling over the universe. Such an individual will not go looking for freedom, nor will he be disappointed when he does not find it. He realizes that the sensation of being "free" is merely a figment of the human imagination.
The supreme goal of the atheist is the avoidance of any externally imposed restrictions. The believer bases his life on a different set of values. He acknowledges the fact that the reins are not entirely in his hands. His goal in life will be to follow the path Heaven has prescribed for him, thus becoming a partner with G-d in achieving the purpose for which he was created and placed in this world. This partnership finds expression in practical terms within the framework off a life built on the principles of G-d's Torah, the User's Manual for Jewish Living.
Another aspect of a Divinely inspired life is the study of Torah, which affords the most accurate insight into the essence of the universe available to mankind. Helping the Jewish People is also a form of partnership with G-d, one which lends itself to uniting individuals into a consolidated brotherhood of divine service.
During the period that directly preceded the Exodus from Egypt, the Jewish People witnessed one miracle after the other. The wonders of the ten plagues imbued their hearts with profound faith in the omnipotence of the Creator, Ruler of Heaven and Earth. His control of the universe was demonstrated time and again. The laws of nature were obviously in His Hand alone. Equally manifest was His on-going intervention on behalf of His chosen nation. Each time, the plagues affected the Egyptians aversely while leaving the Jews unscathed.
The cruel taskmasters had, until now, held themselves to be free men who wielded considerable power. Suddenly they found themselves subservient to a Power greater than themselves or the gods they worshipped.
Am Israel clearly saw that "no one is free but him who occupies himself with Torah." They realized that true freedom is available only by associating oneself with the Creator, and not whichever of His creations happens to be in control for the moment.
Once they were fully aware of the true meaning of freedom, it was only a short step to accepting the Torah seven weeks later. The newly freed slaves gathered to receive the Torah, the perfect "constitution", which would transform them into a unique nation, free to serve the Creator who ruled over all. Together, with one heart, they declared: "We shall do, and we shall hearken" at the foot of Mount Sinai. The echoes of their voices can be heard yet today.