Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Two Version of the Fourth Commandment: to “Remember,” “Keep” Shabbat

This Dvar Torah appears in the Washington Jewish Week, August 7, 2014

In this week’s parsha, V’etchanan Moshe begins the second recitation and teaching of the Ten Commandments.  There are slight differences in the two versions of the Decalogue presented in Exodus and Deuteronomy. I want to highlight the differences between versions of the fourth commandment, to keep the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15). 

The best known difference is found in the first line of the commandment. Exodus 20:8 states: Zachor et haShabbat l’kodsho/Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy and Deuteronomy 5:12 states: Shamor et haShabbat l’kodsho /Observe or Keep the Sabbath to keep it holy.  

Why two different words? There are many explanations but I prefer the simplest one. The first time we learn the Ten Commandments we are a newly formed people receiving the basics about how to become the Jewish people. The term zachor is a big picture term to be understood as saying “remember to observe” the Sabbath.  The term shamor/observe in our parsha reminds us that there are specific ways to observe the Sabbath and we are to remember them. Midrash says that the people heard both of these words at the exact same time. The midrash makes sense if both words contain each other’s meanings within them. 

The final difference occurs in the last lines of the commandment. In both versions we are told that the Sabbath is the seventh day and not to do any work; the difference is in who this commandment applies to and why. The people commanded to obseve the Sabbath in both verses include you, one’s son, daughter, male and female slaves, cattle and stranger within your gates.  Deut 5:14 reads:   But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male slave, nor your female slave, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is inside your gates; so that your male slave and your female slave may rest as well as you.”

We find the ox and ass added to cattle as a way of reinforcing the need to be kind to animals. Tending to animals and strangers are both things that a slave should have respite from on the Sabbath. The addition in this version is clearly one that speaks to us about how to run our household and by extension our community with respect and fairness (at least according to those times). 

There is one final line in each version of the commandments – the “why” of it all. 

Exodus 20:11:  “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and made it holy.” 

Deuteronomy 5:15: “And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and with a stretched out arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.” 

We are reminded here of the two core narratives of our people – Creation and the Exodus from Egypt. Why do we do what we do as Jews? Because God created our world and everything in it and that we are to remember that we were once slaves that that same God rescued from Egypt.  Now as the people are about to enter the Holy Land, it is fitting to remind them not only of all that God has done to help transform them from slaves to a free people ready to enter the promised land but also to teach them the specifics of how to behave as free people. 

I’ve just returned from spending the summer in Israel. Given the current state of affairs I cannot think of a better time to be reminded of where we come from and what/who we need to become.  This week’s Torah portion reminds us that knowing the right thing to do is not the same as actually doing it. It also reminds us that all people are created in God’s image and are deserving of rest, of freedom and of peace. May peace come quickly and speedily in our time. 

Table Topics:
  1. What do the differences in these commandments mean to you?
  2. Make a comparison of the rest of the commandments and see what differences you can find.  Note especially Commandments 5 and 10. 
  3.  If you were to add an Eleventh Commandment, what would it be? 

Thank you to Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb for reminding me of the differences between these two commandments in his class "Torah in Action" at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem this summer. The idea for this d'var came from that class.