You are here

Vaetchanan 2006

Dvar Torah

Vaetchanan

The Asseret Ha-dibberot are one of the best known passages in the Torah. Most of us who are older will have learned them in English by rote at our primary schools from the text in the Book of Exodus which contains, so to speak, the classical recitation of the Ten Commandments. But as we also know, there is a second statement of the Commandments in today's sedra - with some significant differences between the two versions. It is on those differences that I should like to focus my comments today.

"Most of us who are older will have learned them in English ..."

The discrepancies between the Asseret Ha-dibberot (Ten Commandments) as presented in parashat Yitro and in parashat Va-etchanan raise several issues for us. First, there are what we might call the contextual issues. Second, there are the internal textual issues. In other words, let us try first to assess the context applying to the second set of Ten Commandments, and then let us focus more specifically on the actual texts. But before doing so, let us just point out what are the most salient differences.

 

Seven Discrepancies

1. In the earlier version, we are commanded to "Remember the Shabbat," while in the later version we are commanded to "Guard the Shabbat."
2. In the first account, the rationale for Shabbat is to remember the Divine creation; in the second, to commemorate the exodus from Egypt.
3. In the second account, the mitzvot of Shabbat and honoring parents include the phrase, "as the Lord your God has commanded you," which is absent from the first account.
4. The designation of a person who offers improper testimony changes from "eid sheker" (false testimony) to "eid shav" (vain testimony).
5. The prohibition against coveting a friend's possessions employs the phrase "lo tachmod" twice in Yitro but shifts once to "lo titaveh" in Va-etchanan.
6. In the earlier version, not coveting your neighbour's house comes first, while in the latter version, not coveting his wife appears first.
7. In the earlier version, the last five commandments are distinct and independent commandments, whereas in the later version they are each linked with the conjunction 'and'.

Given the two texts, and these discrepancies, we are faced with two obvious questions: What message did God give Moshe on that momentous day at Sinai, a few months after the exodus from Egypt? Did He teach the first version, the second version, or some type of combination? And which version was actually inscribed on the tablets?

 

Status of the two versions

Of all the differences, it is probably the one that I mentioned third that holds the key to the correct interpretation of this conundrum. The phrase "ka'asher tzivkha Hashem Elokekha" ("as the Lord your God has commanded you") implies that God is teaching mitzvot that were taught previously. If one assumes that the account in Va-etchanan represents the very message given on Sinai, then the mitzvot of Shabbat and honouring parents must have been commanded before that point in time. On the other hand, the phrase may reveal that the version from Va-etchanan reflects an event occurring later than the first teaching of the dibberot. Indeed, Rashi and Ibn Ezra disagree about this very point.


Rashi  explains that both Shabbat and honouring parents were taught at Mara before the revelation at Sinai. The Torah there refers to God establishing "chok u-mishpat" (statute and ordinance, Shemot 15:25), which can plausibly be understood to include the mitzvot of Shabbat and honouring parents. If so, Rashi clearly understands that the account of the dibberot in Devarim refers to the initial event and not something that occurred later.


Ibn Ezra understands that the version in Yitro is the exclusive message given on Har Sinai. The account in Va-etchanan is Moshe's explanation and interpretation of the dibberot, which takes place some forty years later. The fact that the phrase "as the Lord your God has commanded you" appears only in Va-etchanan supports Ibn Ezra's explanation. If we were to accept Rashi?s view that both versions occurred simultaneously, there seems to be no logical reason why that phrase should appear in the second version and not the first.


According to Ibn Ezra, Moshe was not freely innovating new material, but rather teasing out the implications of G-d's message as a way of uncovering the implicit message of an earlier Divine commandment. He thus holds that the message given to Moshe at Sinai and written on the tablets was the version in Yitro. The account in Va-etchanan is Moshe's later version, which adds his interpretations and elaborations. In contrast, Rashi views both versions as stemming from the same historical event.

 

The tablets of stone

Can we take this further by considering what was written on the tablets of stone that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai?
Ibn Ezra cites Rav Saadia Gaon's opinion that each tablet contained one version of the dibberot. We usually assume that five dibberot appeared on each tablet, but Rav Saadia maintains that the version in Yitro appeared on one tablet and the version in Va-etchanan appeared on the other. His view removes all distinctions between the status of the two versions. Both versions were spoken and written at the same point in Jewish history.

Nachmanides suggests a different possibility. Although the commandments as spoken may have contained both accounts, the written tablets incorporated only the version in Yitro, and Moshe explained to the people that an oral tradition (the version in Va-etchanan) accompanied the written message. If so, the two versions do in fact differ in status: the first is written Torah, while the latter constitutes a kind of oral Torah. Of course, the latter oral tradition became written Torah when it was incorporated into sefer Devarim. Yet its initial status was oral Torah in relation to the written word on the tablets.

Employing a different model, R. Yaakov Kaminetsky (Emet Le-Yaakov, Va-etchanan) views the relationship between the two versions as "keri u-ketiv:" one version presents what was written in the tablets, and the other presents the way it was pronounced. His position lies somewhere between that of Rav Saadia and that of Nachmanides. He differs from Nachmanides in opining that both accounts are in some way part of the written text, and he differs from Rav Saadia in maintaining that only one version actually appeared on the tablets.

The Netziv (Devarim 5:19) offers one last explanation. He agrees with Nachmanides that Moshe heard both versions and that only the Yitro version appeared on the tablets when first given. However, he argues that the after Moshe broke the first tablets, the second set of tablets contained the version appearing in Va-etchanan. He proves his thesis from a gemara in Bava Kama (55a). The gemara explains that the word "tov" appears in the dibberot in Va-etchanan and not in the dibberot in Yitro because the first tablets were destined to break. This gemara clearly identifies the account in Va-etchanan with the second set of tablets.

 

The Oral Law

A common theme emerges from the approaches of Nachmanides, Netziv and Ibn Ezra: Torah she-be'al peh, the Oral Law. They indicate their belief that already at the time of the first giving of the tablets, the process of creating the Oral Law had begun. If we recall the fact that G-d makes the former set of tablets, while Moshe personally carves out the latter, then the choice to write the original oral message on the second tablets is perfect: one of the original components of oral law is inscribed on the tablets that represent the oral law.

Finally, the placement of the second version in sefer Devarim is entirely consistent with this line of reasoning, since the whole book of Devarim is Moshe's explanations and elaborations of earlier parts of Torah. So it is clear that the second version of the dibberot is placed exactly where it belongs: in the section of Chumash which most reflects the human component of the oral law. And it serves to underline the centrality of the Oral Law in Judaism. Even before God had finished teaching the Torah, the Oral Law was a necessary part of the Halakha. The Asseret Ha-dibberot came with their own oral tradition, and also generated the human search for comprehension and understanding.

Textual differences

Now let us have a look at the actual textual differences, and comment upon each in turn. Among the commentators who adopt this approach there are two sub-categories. One school seeks to diminish the significance of the differences between the Ten Commandments in Shemot and those in Devarim. An outstanding representative of this school is Ibn Ezra.  For example, he writes there: "'Vain' and 'false' mean the same thing, likewise 'covet' and 'desire' are twins." In other words, one should not be so fussy about the changes that Moshe introduces; what we have is the same message in different words. The other school maintains that the reason for each and every one of the differences should be sought. I believe that this approach is the correct one, and would like to attempt to explore - as far as we are able - the reason for the changes.

 

YOU SHALL NOT COVET

Let us begin with the discrepancies in the commandment, "You shall not covet." Concerning the reversed order of the wife and the house, Ibn Ezra writes:

God said: "You shall not covet your neighbour's house" - because wise people first purchase a  house, then marry a wife, then acquire a manservant and maidservant, and an ox and a donkey to plough his field; thus, they are listed in this order in this parasha. But Moshe lists them in a different order, for young men first desire a wife, and only afterwards a home. In Ibn Ezra's view, the list as it appears in Shemot reflects the proper order, while the list in Moshe's speech reflects the reality.  In other words, God's words relate to the ideal situation, while Moshe describes the practical situation as it is. We have already noted that Ibn Ezra attributes no significance to the difference between "coveting" and "desiring."

A different approach is to suggest that the text in Shemot is constructed in the form of the general and the particular: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house" is the general principle, the details of which are "you shall not covet your neighbor's wife nor his manservant nor his maidservant nor his ox nor his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your neighbour?. The word "house" here does not mean to refer just to the physical dwelling, but rather is an abstract term including all that belongs to one's neighbor: "your neighbor's wife, his manservant and his maidservant, his ox and his donkey, and all that belongs to your neighbor." All of these details, with the wife at the top of the list, together create the concept of "house." Indeed, our Sages teach: "Rabbi Yossi said: I have never called my wife, 'my wife'; rather, I call my wife 'my home'" (Shabbat 118b).

In Sefer Devarim, on the other hand, Moshe divides the commandment into two levels, drawing a distinction between coveting one's neighbour's wife and having a desire for one's neighbour's property. Here the word "house" is mentioned in its simplest sense - a dwelling place. Moshe thereby seeks to make clear that the severity of coveting someone else's wife is immeasurably greater than the severity of coveting property. Property, once taken, may be returned, but the coveting of someone's wife damages the delicate fibres that connect a person's soul to that of his spouse, and undermines the family unit irreparably. There is a big difference between coveting a wife and desiring a house or field, and it is for this reason that Moshe mentions the coveting of the wife before the desire for property. It may also be for the same reason that Moshe uses different terminology: a woman is "coveted," while property is "desired." "Desire" (in Hebrew ? "ta'ava") usually implies something material, while "coveting" (chemda) tends more towards the spiritual and emotional.

 

LINKING LAST FIVE COMMANDMENTS

This difference may also be related to the fact that in Sefer Devarim all of the latter Commandments are joined together, starting with "You shall not murder," using the conjunctive "vav." We may explain that in Shemot, each of these prohibitions is mentioned independently so as to express its power, independence, and wholeness. In Devarim, these prohibitions are presented as a collection - a sort of list of demands and a progression: You shall not murder, nor shall you commit adultery, nor steal, nor give false witness, nor covet, nor desire. These are prohibitions of action, speech, and thought ? from the most severe to the least severe, from the most basic requirement to the requirement that demands a higher moral level. There is a reverse progression here. Whilst a person may be more careful to avoid murder than adultery, or adultery rather than theft, and so on, one can clearly see that there may be many people who would say, 'I would certainly never murder; but where's the harm in desiring my neighbour's house or his donkey?' The Torah teaches us that there is a slippery slope that begins with desiring things that are not ours and can end in murder, and that all these Commandments are inter-related.

 

YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS

Let us now address the difference between "You shall not bear false witness ('ed sheker') against your neighbour" and "You shall not bear vain witness ('ed shav') against your neighbour." As noted previously, Ibn Ezra maintains that there is no difference in meaning between these two terms, and he makes no attempt to explain the reason for the change in formulation. Nachmanides writes: 'The meaning of "You shall not bear vain witness against your neighbour" is to prohibit giving testimony about one's neighbour that is insignificant and that will not render him guilty of anything in court. For instance, a person may not testify that "So-and-so said said to give money to another person, and he did not accept it." For "vain" means something meaningless.'
As for the question why Moshe uses a different term here from the one used in Sefer Shemot, it is possible that by using the word "la-shav," Moshe seeks to connect the Commandment, "You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain ('la-shav')" with the Commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." He wants to teach us that false testimony against one's neighbor is considered as severe a transgression as using God's Name in vain

 

THAT IT MAY BE GOOD FOR YOU

Let us now investigate the addition, "That it may be good for you," mentioned in the Commandment to honour parents. This expression, or similar ones, appears in more than ten places in Sefer Devarim, all of them relating this "good" to reward for fulfilling commandments. Thus the text often emphasizes that the fulfilment of the commandments is the only way to achieve "good." But the commandment of honouring parents is the only one of the Ten Commandments whose reward the text states explicitly - both in Sefer Shemot and in Sefer Devarim: "in order that your days be lengthened." The connection between honouring parents and a long life is clear: a person who honours his parents, who gave him life, will merit to live a long life. Accordingly, we may say that in Sefer Devarim Moshe seeks to add to the individual reward for honouring parents - longevity - also the general reward of a good life for fulfilling all of the commandments. The commandment to honour parents becomes a model for all the commandments, and its reward similarly is the model of the reward for fulfilment of all of the commandments.

 

REASONS FOR SHABBAT

The most striking differences, of course, appear in the commandment of Shabbat. Rambam explains as follows:
Concerning this commandment two different reasons are given, because they have two different purposes: the reason for the sanctification of Shabbat in the first Ten Commandments is, "For in six days God created?," while in Sefer Devarim we read, "You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the Shabbat day." And this is appropriate, since the purpose of the first [version of] the Commandment [i.e., in Shemot] is to honour and sanctify the day, as it is written, "Therefore God blessed the Shabbat day and sanctified it." But the fact that we are commanded to observe it [i.e. "shamor"] is the purpose related to the fact that we were slaves in Egypt. We did not labour as we wanted to and when we wanted to, nor were we able to rest. Therefore we are commanded concerning Shabbat and rest, so as to conjoin the two things: the belief in the creation of the world, which shows that God exists, and the memory of God's kindness in freeing us from the burdens of Egypt. Thus, Shabbat is a general benefit, both in terms of holding correct opinions [regarding God's existence] and in terms of the well-being of the body [in granting us a day of rest]. (Guide to the Perplexed II:31)

In Rambam's view, the text in Sefer Shemot is speaking about the actual sanctity of Shabbat. This sanctity is derived from the fact that "in six days God made the heavens and the earth - and He rested on the seventh day - therefore God blessed the Shabbat day and sanctified it." As a result, man is likewise obligated to sanctify Shabbat. In Sefer Devarim, in contrast, the text relates to the People of Israel and explains why they specifically are required to observe the sanctity of Shabbat: "You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God took you out of there? therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the Shabbat day." The departure from the slavery of Egypt to rest obliges the Jewish people to commemorate this for all generations. In other words, Sefer Shemot provides an objective reason for keeping Shabbat based on Creation, whilst Devarim gives a subjective explanation based on the experience of the   Israelites in Egypt and the Exodus.

It is possible that the change from "Remember" to "observe" should also be linked to this. "Remember" refers to the thing itself: we are obligated to remember the Shabbat day, because of its sanctity. "Observe" refers to man's obligation towards Shabbat, and thus the centre of gravity moves from the sanctity of Shabbat in and of itself to man's obligation in relation to Shabbat.
The addition in Sefer Devarim - "in order that your manservant and maidservant can rest as you do" - could well reflect the same idea. In Devarim, the emphasis is on Israel's exodus from slavery as the background to the commandment of Shabbat; it is only natural, then, that the commandment here also includes the obligation to allow one's manservant and maidservant to rest as well. This may also serve to explain the elaboration, "your ox and your donkey and all your beasts" ? all emphasizing man's obligation to allow everything that he controls to rest, by virtue of having been brought to freedom by God.

In summary, in Sefer Shemot the emphasis is on the actual sanctity of Shabbat, while Sefer Devarim highlights the nation's moral obligation to observe the sanctity of Shabbat.

 

AS THE LORD COMMANDED YOU

A final word about the addition, "As the Lord your God commanded you," which appears twice in the Ten Commandments in Sefer Devarim: in the commandment of Shabbat, and in the commandment of honouring parents. We have already discussed its contextual aspect, but it is also worth noting that it is specifically in those two Commandments in which significant changes were introduced that the text emphasizes "as the Lord your God commanded you." This phrase does not mean to hint at what Moshe left out of his words; on the contrary, it emphasizes that also what is written here - seemingly Moshe's own words - is also included in what "the Lord your God commanded you." The phrase teaches that even though Moshe presents a different aspect of the Ten Commandments in Sefer Devarim, it is nevertheless all part of what "the Lord your God commanded you." This phrase does not mean to refer to the different formulation of the Commandments in Sefer Shemot, but rather to God's words at Mount Sinai. The very fact that the Torah includes the repeat version of the Ten Commandments teaches that Moshe's formulation is to be relied upon.

The first version of the Ten Commandments and the second version of them therefore represent two aspects of the manifestation of the Divine will. Although they are two aspects, they arise from the same source. This embodies the teaching of the Sages:
"Remember" and "observe" were both stated in the same utterance - as it is written (Tehillim 62:12), "One God has spoken; two I have heard." (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Massekhta de-Bachodesh, parasha 7)

Neville Nagler

August 2006

More documents on this Parshah: