Every parsha in the
Torah could afford a person a lifetime's worth of study on its own. The
truth is, every single verse could probably do so as well. If I'm not
mistaken, I think I read somewhere once that there exists a work (from the
medieval period, I believe) that gives 613 interpretations of the first
verse of the Torah…or something like that. And there is the
well-known comment of the 18th century giant, the Vilna
Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer), that if it hadn't been for the obligation
to know the totality of the Torah (!), he would have spent his entire life
explicating one single mishna (paragraph of the Oral Law). Such is the
endless, unfathomable depth of Torah.
I. "And G-d spoke all these statements saying…"
Rashi comments on this seemingly superfluous introduction to the body of the 10 Commandments: "This teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, said the 10 statements in one utterance, something which it is impossible for a human being to do." In other words, it seems that Rashi (citing a Midrash) is telling us that before Hashem spoke the 10 commandments one by one, He uttered them all simultaneously.
Pretty impressive…but what exactly was Hashem's purpose in doing this stunt?
According to Rabbi Eli Munk in The Call of the Torah, an important lesson was being conveyed: the 10 Commandments should be viewed as a unit, a "single entity." As many commentators explain, the 10 Commandments themselves, while in no way constituting the totality of the Jewish people's obligations to man and G-d (add the number 603 to arrive at that total), nonetheless represent broad "general headings of chapters" to the rest of the Law (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch). Therefore, G-d's initial single utterance reminds us that ALL of the Torah is a single entity, and any attempt to bifurcate it into, say, social laws on the one hand, and ritual laws and observances on the other, is ultimately a distortion of the truth. It's not too big a step from there to attempt to classify one portion of the Torah's laws as more "eternal" or "essential," and another part as "secondary" in importance or relevance.
NO. The Torah (like its Author) is One. As Rabbi Munk concludes:
"The fundamental laws which are the basis of social life [such as prohibiting murder, adultery and robbery] were proclaimed together with the 'religious' laws [such as prohibiting idolatry and mandating Sabbath observance]. In Judaic philosophy, both types of law are essential. Religion and ethics blend together in a powerful unity." (Call of the Torah: II, p. 264)
It's true that when it comes to any particular individual increasing his or her observance, a step-by-step approach is normal and even quite possibly--from a psychological point of view--desirable: "I keep this mitzvah right now, but I don't feel up to that other one just yet." We understand that very well. But what's dangerous (and just plain wrong) is any philosophy that teaches that the Torah and mitzvos can be divided up into different portions for the purpose of designating some as more binding than others. "G-d spoke all these statements."
II. Here's a bird's-eye view of the 10 Commandments:
The first two commandments ("I am Hashem, your G-d" and "You shall have no other gods before Me") call on us to sanctify our minds. Although it's true that #2 also includes a prohibition on physically fashioning idols, Rambam teaches that even thinking that another deity exists along with Hashem is a violation of this commandment. The acknowledgment of G-d as the Supreme Being ("I am Hashem") and the Director of history ("Who took you out of the land of Egypt"), and the concomitant denial of any heavenly partner to G-d begin training us in the need for holiness of thought.
The third commandment ("You shall not take the name of Hashem, your G-d, in vain…") calls on us to sanctify our speech, while the fourth ("Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it") is meant to consecrate human activity. Number 5 ("Honor your mother and father") also deals with activity, bringing G-d's law into the sphere of intimate sphere of family.
6, 7 and 8 are the classic "thou shalt nots" (murder, steal and commit adultery), and along with # 9 ("You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor"), form the core of the Torah's civil law--G-d's call to sanctify our behavior in society at large, if you will.
What's strange is that #10--perhaps the least known of the bunch--goes back to our own minds (and hearts), back to the arena where this revealed legislation began. "You shall not covet your fellow's house. You shall not covet your fellow's wife…nor anything that belongs to your fellow." As Rabbi Munk points out, we conclude here with a very lofty level, a commandment that only a Divine Lawgiver could give--for it goes beyond the realm of proscribed action (where human laws are directed) to enter the wellsprings of such action in man's heart. And as some commentators have pointed out, this commandment is profoundly linked to #1 in a conceptual sense as well: the best way to eradicate feelings of envy and covetousness (or, better, prevent them from arising in the first place) is to strengthen one's emunah (faith), to internalize the idea that Hashem gives to each individual exactly what he needs to fulfill his mission in life. "I am Hashem, your G-d," says the first commandment, and like the whole set, it is couched in the singular: Hashem is the Creator, Sustainer and Guide of each one of us, Who knows us (far) better than we know ourselves. If so, where is there room for hankering after the portion allotted to somebody else? It's absolutely irrelevant to our own life-task.
Note the pattern in the 10 Commandments: from thought to speech to action, then back to speech (#9) and, finally, thought (#10). As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch beautifully points out, it is (once again) the unity of the Torah that is being conveyed--in this case the fusion of Spirit and Letter:
"All 'religion,' all so-called 'honoring G-d in spirit' is worthless, if the thought, the idea of G-d, is not strong enough to exercise its power practically in the control of our words and doings, of our family and social life. Our deeds, our way of life must first prove that our 'religion,' our 'honoring of G-d' is genuine. And on the other hand, all social virtue is worthless and crumbles at the first test, as long as it only aims at letter, at outward correctness… but refuses inner loyalty, does not depend on…that pure conscience that only G-d sees and G-d judges, and which has its root and finds its nourishment only in quiet but constant looking up to G-d." (Hirsch: Commentary to Exodus, p. 281)
If only the world would realize that the prescription for a just society and for human fulfillment, the blueprint for a happy and peaceable planet, is not far off in the heavens (to be discovered by some billion-dollar space probe)--the secret of some extraterrestrial species. It is right here in our Torah; in capsule form, it is right here in this week's parsha.
May we all be worthy to study and live these 10 Commandments (and the remaining 603), b'emes (in truth, wholeheartedly), and then we will surely experience the blessing of G-d's closeness and the ultimate salvation.
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923; e-mail address: Yosef18@aol.com
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