Author Topic: PARASHAT VA-ET'CHANAN by Daniel Pinner  (Read 1328 times)

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PARASHAT VA-ET'CHANAN by Daniel Pinner
« on: July 26, 2007, 03:39:05 PM »
Shabbat Shalom to Am Yisrael

 

“I [Moshe] stood between Hashem and you at that time, telling you Hashem’s word – for you were frightened of the fire and did not ascend the Mountain – saying: I am Hashem your G-d, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, of the house of slaves” (Deuteronomy 5:5-6).

 

Almost forty years (three months short of 40 years, to be precise) after G-d gave us the Ten Commandments, Moshe, in the final days of his life, declaimed the Ten Commandments to the nation once again. Most of the nation had died out in the desert in the intervening decades, only the men above the age of sixty had heard the original proclamation, and now Moshe was infusing this most central event of Jewish history into the nation’s collective memory.

           

Moshe’s re-statement of the Ten Commandments here is slightly longer than the original in Parashat Yitro: the original spans 172 words, Moshe’s re-statement spans 189 words; the original spans 620 letters, Moshe’s re-statement spans 708 letters.

 

Several writers and commentators have addressed the question of why G-d introduced Himself with the words “I am Hashem your G-d, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” rather than “I am Hashem your G-d, Who created heaven and earth”. Two main answers are given: the first, that the generation that received the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai were personal and direct witnesses to the Exodus, which had happened less than two months earlier, and was therefore an unarguable fact – in direct contrast to the Creation. The second answer is that by introducing Himself as the Creator of heaven and earth, G-d would not have suggested any special connexion between Himself and Israel; after all, He created Midian and Babylon, elephants and whales, as much as He created Israel. But by introducing Himself as “your G-d, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” He was establishing the personal and immediate relationship between Himself and Israel (Ramban; Rabbeinu Bechayeh; Kuzari, 1:28). Indeed, the Midrash expresses this very powerfully: “‘For the sake of My Name I will delay My anger’ (Isaiah 48:9) – these are Israel, with whom G-d unified His Name [by saying] ‘I am Hashem your G-d’” (Numbers Rabbah 5:6).

 

Of course, this personal and immediate relationship, unique to Israel, is the basis for all the subsequent mitzvot. And this leads to an important detail in Moshe’s re-statement of the Ten Commandments. For the most part, Moshe repeated the original Ten Commandments word for word; in several cases he paraphrased, adding a letter or a word here and there (“Honour your father and your mother, as Hashem your G-d has commanded you, in order that your days may be lengthened and in order that in will be good for you on the Land which Hashem your G-d gives you” – the italicised words being Moshe’s additions).

           

But in the Fourth Commandment there is a striking departure: the original in Exodus 20:8-11 reads: “Remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, and the seventh day is Shabbat to Hashem your G-d; you shall do no work – you, and your son and your daughter, your servant and your maidservant and your animal, and your convert who is in your gates. Because in six days Hashem made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is therein; and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, Hashem blessed the Shabbat day and sanctified it”.

           

In his restatement in Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Moshe changed the basic command, the details, and the reason for Shabbat (changes in italics): “Safeguard the day of Shabbat to sanctify it, as Hashem your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, and the seventh day is Shabbat to Hashem your G-d; you shall do no work – you, and your son and your daughter, your servant and your maidservant and your ox and your donkey and your every animal, and your convert who is in your gates, in order that your servant and your maidservant will rest just like you. And you will remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Hashem brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm; therefore Hashem your G-d commanded you to do the Shabbat day.

           

The difference in the basic command (from “remember” in Exodus to “safeguard” in Deuteronomy) is explained by Chazal: “‘Remember’ and ‘safeguard’ were said in one word – something that a [human] mouth cannot say, nor can a [human] ear hear” (Rosh HaShanah 27a; Shevuot 20b; Yerushalmi Nedarim 3:4; Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochay 20:8 et al).

           

Let us address the two different reasons for Shabbat: to remember the Creation and that G-d rested on the seventh day (Exodus), and to remember that we were slaves in Egypt until G-d redeemed us (Deuteronomy). The first of these could have applied to all mankind; after all, G-d created Midian and Babylon as much as He created Israel. It is the second reason that makes Shabbat specifically a Jewish idea: G-d redeemed Israel – and only Israel – from Egypt. The Midianites and the Babylonians were never enslaved in Egypt, and the Shabbat is therefore not relevant to them.

           

It is also supremely important to note which reason was given to which generation. It might have seemed more appropriate to have told the generation that had actually lived through Egyptian slavery that the reason for Shabbat was to “remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Hashem brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm” – a reason that would surely have resonated particularly deeply for them.

           

But G-d, in His infinite wisdom, decided otherwise. Had He told the generation of the Exodus that the reason for Shabbat was that they had been in Egypt, then subsequent generations could have claimed that while Shabbat was necessary for that first generation, it was no longer relevant centuries later. By giving the generation of the Exodus the Creation as the reason for Shabbat, and the generation that entered the Land of Israel the Exodus as the reason for Shabbat, the Torah emphasizes that Shabbat is equally relevant to every generation. Even those generations who did not personally experience Egyptian slavery are nonetheless commanded to memorialize it every week when we rest, and recall “that we used to be slaves to Pharaoh; and You redeemed us, and made us slaves to You instead” (Yalkut Shimoni, Psalms 872).

           

Perhaps this enables us to understand the otherwise puzzling remark of Reish Lakish: “A non-Jew who keeps Shabbat is liable to the death penalty” (Sanhedrin 58b). Of course, the non-Jew is commanded to observe the seven Noahide mitzvot; of course, the non-Jew has his connection with God; of course, the non-Jew can achieve holiness. But Shabbat, the sign that we were slaves to the idolatrous Pharaoh and are now free to be slaves to the Eternal King of Kings, was given specifically to G-d’s eternal nation of Israel.

 

SHABBAT SHALOM