Our local mall has a new store called Selfie World. What do they sell? They don’t sell merchandise or even a service. They sell the opportunity for you to pose in front of one of their backdrops to take the best selfies in the world. You can’t make this up. An entire business, indeed a franchise, all designed to profit off the modern urge for selfies.
Our Parsha contains the decalogue, the holy aseres ha’dibros that command us to focus on a different self: אָֽנֹכִ֖י֙ ה׳ אֱלֹק֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֧ר הוֹצֵאתִ֛יךָ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם מִבֵּ֣ית עֲבָדִ֑ים. “I, Hashem, am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.”
Rav Sa’adya Gaon asserts that all six hundred and thirteen mitzvos are contained in these ten, and that these ten are all contained in the opening commandment, and the entire opening commandment is contained within the opening word – anochi, I. All of Halacha, all the mitzvos, the entire system of Torah is a platform to promote an awareness of, and connection with, Hashem.
Our day is regulated by many mitzvos: we wake up and daven, we go to work and are expected to be honest, we are careful with what we eat, to make a beracha before we do, to avoid gossip, to learn Torah, volunteer, give tzedakah, and so on. Our day is filled with countless Jewish activities. But at their core, at the center of it all, is the Ribono Shel Olam waving at us and saying, Anochi – Hi! Here I am! Notice Me, connect with Me, turn to Me, lean on Me, be appreciative to Me, be frustrated with Me, just recognize I am here. I not only know about your life, I am intimately involved and invested in you and in your life.
Later, when Moshe delivers his final monologue to the people and recounts the seminal moments of the people’s short history until that point, of course he reviews the experience of Matan Torah. But before he recounts the iconic words of the Ten Commandments, he reminds the people that he stood between them and Hashem and he was Hashem’s agent to deliver His Torah.
אָ֠נֹכִי עֹמֵ֨ד בֵּין־ה׳ וּבֵֽינֵיכֶם֙ “I stood between Hashem and you. The Ba’al Shem Tov homiletically suggested that we read this pasuk, “anochi omeid,” do you know what stands between a person and Hashem? “Anochi,” the person’s sense of self, their ego, their “I,” their insatiable appetite for literal and metaphorical selfies.
Someone once wrote the Lubavitcher Rebbe a letter that said the following: “I am in a state of sadness. I wake up each morning dreading the day ahead. I find that nothing lifts the clouds of gloom. I try various distractions, but nothing seems to work. I pray, but inspiration does not come. I need the rabbi’s help and advice.”
The Rebbe sent him a brilliant reply without using a single word. He simply circled the first word of each sentence of the letter and sent it back. The word was “I.”
The second of the ten commandments decrees that we must not have any other god. The Gemara (Shabbos 105b) asks which alien, foreign god lives among you that you are instructed to avoid? The Gemara answers, the yetzer ha’rah, the ego, the inflated and distorted sense of self, the urge and drive to only care about our happiness, our pleasure, our material possessions, our honor, to live for selfies. Serving our Anochi gets in the way of serving His Anochi.
Is our life informed by the true and authentic Anochi, Hashem, or the alien Anochi, the foreign god, the idol found inside us? Do we measure our lives by His Anochi, His expectations of us, or by our Anochi, what we want to do, what brings us fleeting pleasure?
The difference of which Anochi we are serving is the difference between meaning and emptiness, happiness and disappointment, serenity and anger, contentment and jealousy. The source of almost every argument we have is the worship of our Anochi, the unchecked ego. It incites our jealousy and envy of others, it inflames our anger, it generates impatience, it fuels lust and desire, it drives us to pursue honor. This Anochi that stands between us and Hashem, while it feels so familiar, so comfortable and catering to it comes so naturally, it is our biggest enemy, it causes us to self-sabotage and to forfeit the joy and meaning that is so available, if only we would turn in one Anochi for another.
Instead of Selfie World, let’s make a world filled with selflessness, love and faith in Hashem.