The Divine Grammarian

Posted on February 8, 2023

By Hazzan Jenna Greenberg.


One of the highlights of Parashat Yitro is the revelation at Mount Sinai, the receiving of Aseret haDibrot, the Ten Commandments, or better translated, Statements/Utterances– to B’nai Israel from God.

I’d like to take a closer look at the first Statement: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.” (Ex. 20:2)

This is a Statement of God presenting God’s self to B’nai Israel in this extraordinary and grand moment with the entirety of every single member of B’nai Israel gathered at the base of the mountain.

And yet, looking at the Hebrew within this first of the 10 Dibrot, “I am the Lord YOUR God” is worded in the singular YOUR, not the plural YOUR which has a different Hebrew suffix to differentiate it, unlike in English where YOUR is one and the same, whether singular or plural.

The 13th century French commentator, Chizkuni, explains this word choice: “God appeared to the Israelites as if a multifaceted portrait visible to a thousand people at the same time. The people each heard God’s voice in a similar manner. In this way every Israelite was able to claim that God had spoken to him individually, saying: “I am the Lord your God, etc.” This is the reason that God had not said: אלוקיכם “your God (plural)” but אלוקיך, “your God, (singular)”. He had addressed all of them in the order in which they stood assembled around the mountain. This corresponded exactly to God’s commandment to Moses in 19:12: והגבלת את העם סביב לאמור, “you are to set bounds to the people around.” Do not be surprised – as to each person the manna tasted according to his nature, and if this is so for the manna, all the more so with the 10 Dibrot.

I find this interpretation quite lovely, and yet, while in effect this is understood as God speaking to each of us as individuals, I’d like to think that perhaps the singular YOUR might simultaneously refer to B’nai Israel as one unit, one people. For earlier in the parsha, God referred to our ancestors here as Mamlechet Kohanim v’Goi Kadosh, a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy People. This is one of those great instances of a group of many things, people in this case, being referred to as a singular group. 

Perhaps when we stand together this coming Shabbat morning to hear and receive Aseret haDibrot, we can feel both the unique pronouncement to each of us as individuals but also the grand statement to the entire Jewish people. We are the descendants of B’nai Israel on that day at Har Sinai. May we continue to celebrate this special brit, the divine covenant that we have with God, both as unique individuals and also as the community of us standing in that moment as if at Har Sinai, reenacting the grandeur, recommitting ourselves each day to recognize God in our lives and our holy covenant we have with the Divine.