By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
July 20, 2002
Moshe, the great teacher of Israel, now imparts to his people
the Torah’s quintessential statement of faith:
Hear, O Israel, Hashem, our God is Hashem the only one. And you
shall love Hashem, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and
with all your possessions. And these words which I command you today shall be on
your heart. And you shall teach them diligently (V’SHINNANTAM) to your children
and you shall speak about them (V’DIBBARTA BAM) when you sit in your house and
when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. (Devarim
Israel is instructed to know and to meditate on their awareness of the oneness
of Hashem. They are commanded to love Him unreservedly. And, in order never to
forget this unbreakable connection to Hashem, they are commanded to study and to
teach these words of faith.
Not only are the people of Israel commanded to repeat these words; they are also
commanded to make the entire Torah the focus of their speech and thoughts. We
find this in the Sifri (Halachic Midrash on Bamidbar and Devarim, 9):
“And you shall speak about them (V’DIBBARTA BAM): Make them the
main thing and do not make them secondary; that your give-and-take (discussions)
be on nothing but them; that you must not mingle (other) things with them; that
you must not say, “I have learned the wisdom of the Israel, now I will go and
learn the wisdom of the nations of the world.”
It is possible to understand the first part of this comment as
referring to the obligation that one must not be distracted during the
recitation of Shema. This is the interpretation of the Talmud (Yoma 19a) and the
Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 63:6,7).
However, the latter part of the Sifri indicates that the words of the Shema are
a paradigm for the entire Torah, that the focus of all of one’s speech indeed,
the focus of one’s entire consciousness should be the Torah. As a result,
V’DIBBARTA BAM becomes an all-encompassing statement, as though it said, and you
shall speak (only) about them.
Rashi follows this approach to the Sifri, although he restates only the first
part: and you shall speak of them that the main part of your speech shall be
only about them; do not make them secondary rather make them the main thing.
It is true that Rashi here “tones down” the connotation somewhat, making the
words of Torah the primary, albeit not the exclusive, focus of one’s speech
(qualitatively). However, even according to Rashi’s reading, V’DIBBARTA BAM
obligates constant involvement with Torah.
But, why? Why is it not valid to understand V’DIBBARTA BAM as “and you shall
mention them”? What is there in these words that would motivate our sages to
understand V’DIBBARTA BAM as such a total, sweeping command?
The answer lies in the Torah’s use of the verb D-B-R and its combination with
the preposition BAM.
In his commentary to Vayikra 1:1, Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michal,
1809-1897) explains the differences between the various Hebrew words for speech,
including A-M-R, S-P-R and D-B-R. D-B-R, he writes, refers to the human capacity
for speech, and thus is the most all-inclusive term for speaking. Furthermore,
D-B-R is used when “one explains in detail and elaborates all one’s
considerations.” Consequently, V’DIBBARTA must refer to ongoing, expansive
speech. Had the Torah wished to require a mere mention of Torah during the
course of one’s day, it might have said V’AMARTA.
Mizrachi (Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi, c.1450-1526), in his supercommentary on Rashi,
further compares the phrase V’DIBBARTA bam with V’SHINNANTAM. Both of these
contain a verb V’SHINNANTAM. Both of these contain a verb and an object; however
V’SHINNANTAM combines the verb V’SHINNANTA (and you shall teach diligently) with
the direct object OTAM (them), while BAM is the equivalent of a prepositional
phrase, meaning “in them, about them.” The difference, says Mizrachi, is as
V’SHINNANTAM whatever words of Torah you teach your children or students, do
so diligently and thoroughly;
V’DIBBARTA BAM and make all your discussions only about them.
BAM, it would seem, obligates total immersion: remain in the words of Torah at
The verb D-B-R is combined with the preposition B’ in the Tanach in a number of
different contexts. Often it means “to speak against, to complain”, as in:
• And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moshe…(Bamidbar 12:1)
• You sit and speak against your brother…(Tehillim 50:20)
This combination can also mean “to speak through (in prophesy),” as in:
• And they said, “Is it only through Moshe that Hashem has spoken? Has He not
spoken also through us?” (Bamidbar 12:2).
• Mouth to mouth do I speak through him… (ibid,8).
It also has the connotation “to speak for (especially for marriage),” as in:
• And David sent, and he spoke for Avigayil, to take her to him to wife (Shmuel
• What shall we do for our sister on the day that she will be spoken for? (Shir
Hirsh (Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsh, 1808-1888) states that, in all of these
usages, D-B-R B’ “Designates either the person to whom or to which the speech
refers…V’DIBBARTA BAM does not mean ‘and speak to them,’ but, speak about them
explain them… impress (them) by conversing and debating on (them).”
In this connection we might cite the incident which Yonatan son of Shaul wanted
to investigate, so as to determine his father’s attitude towards David:
And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where
you are, and I will speak with my father about you…(Shmuel I 19:3).
Yonatan’s plan was to turn the conversation to focus on the subject of Dovid,
and then to observe the king’s reaction. Similarly, V’DIBBARTA BAM commands us
to keep our speech and consciousness always focused on Torah.
The story is told of a time management expert who delivered a lecture before the
executives of a company. Before him was a large glass fishbowl.
“Is the bowl full?” he asked.
“Yes,” answered the executives, upon which he poured pebbles
into the bowl until it was full.
“Now is the bowl full?”
“Yes.” but the expert them poured water into the bowl and filled
“Now, the bowl is full,” said the expert. “And what have you learned from this
demonstration about managing time?”
The CEO spoke up: “This shows that there is always time to get
more things done.”
“No!” insisted the expert. “If I had not put those large stones
in at first, then there would not have been room for them later. What you should
learn is that if you do not schedule the most important tasks first, you will
not find time for them at all. This has been a lesson in setting priorities.”
Every day, both during the night and in the morning, as we recite the Shema, we
remind ourselves V’DIBBARTA BAM, and you shall speak of them. In this way we
recall that the Torah should be our first and central priority.