The very first of the Ten Commandments proclaims “I am the Lord your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2). Would it not have made more sense to reference the creation of the world? Why reference an event that G-d put us in to begin with?
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that the answer lies in the epic difference between Paroh and Moshe’s approaches to building an enduring nation that defeats mortality. While Paroh built monuments that stood the test of time, Moshe’s approach was reflected in his first address to his people, the night before the last plague, the night of Pesach: On no less than 3 occasions, Moshe spoke about children, and our duty to pass on memory to generations to come. The Jews were told that they were to become a nation of educators. As Rabbi Sacks beautifully explains, “to defend a land you need an army, but to defend freedom you need education.”
The exodus is mentioned in the very first commandment because it gave us the perspective of having once been weak. While G-d is served by protecting the dignity of the orphan, the stranger and the neglected, that perspective comes from having once been an underdog. Egypt was a reminder of what society can become when people worship human constructs rather than caring for their fellow man. This is a crucial lesson every parent imparts to their child as we “build” their empathy through Torah values, and transmit the tradition of those before us by encouraging thoughtful questions and responsive answers.