By Carol Steinberg
The parasha this week relates the last monologues Moshe has with the children of Israel before his death and their entrance into the land. Its center is the retelling of the Ten Commandments, which vary slightly from the original commandments given at Mount Sinai. I think the differences reflect the differences in the people at these two significant times of the exodus, and also reflect something about Moshe's state of mind. I also think the parasha reflects the constant tension in Judaism between the letter of the law and the importance of kavvanah. I think the last commandment, which focuses on our internal state is proof of the importance of the heart in Judaism. Although there is a great emphasis on precepts of deed, the prophets are right when they remind us that these are not sufficient.
In Exodus we have the original telling of the giving of the 10 commandments, to the people who came out of Egypt, but who then sinned at Baal Peor. All those who were adult at the time had to die and could not enter the promised land. In this week's portion, Moshe is now repeating the telling, but he is talking to the children, the ones born in the desert. He has reviewed history and he emphasized it was not with our fathers, but with us the living, every one of us who is here today. He is telling them not to forget the history. In response, we all remember at the Pesach Seder. Moshe needs to say things differently because he is reminding them of history and because they are just about to enter the land.. Both times he begins I am the god who brought you singular) out of Egypt . To the parents this was self-evident but for the children it is a reminder - you should think of this as happening to yourselves.
The first difference occurs in commandment 4 - It begins shamor et yom ha shabbat instead of zachor. and ends with a different explanation - originally because God made the world in 6 days. This time you shall remember that you were slaves and the Lord took you out. One could argue that the children did not need to remember the Shabbat, they had been experiencing it in the desert - being given double mannah, but they might need to be exorted to keep it once they enter the land. One might argue that they needed to be reminded that God took them out of Egypt, because they had not experienced the flight themselves. Some commentators also say that they are being reminded here to extend the Shabbat rest to all who are in their households - let them rest because you were slaves.
The fifth commandment - says to honor your parents so your days will be long but adds and you will fare well yitav lach . Again this could reflect the sense of imminence. The last commandments are all connected - lo tirtzach vlo tinaf, vlo tignov, vlo tachmod. Some commentators say they are now connected because doing any one leads to the doing of any one of the others. They can also reflect the sense of urgency. Titaveh (crave) instead of tachmod (covet) puts wife first before house and adds or his field.
I think these differences might reflect two things - urgency of Moshe's sense of urgency and the imminence of the entrance into the land. It's as if he's rushing to telling all the social ordinances in one breath – don’t do this and don't do that. I also imagine him polishing up the details - like when your kids move out for the first time - I told you to be careful, did I also tell you to lock the door? The reality is closer - they will no longer be beduoins - they will have land, they will have servants and he is adding the bit about fields. At the beginning of the reading, Moshe had, seemingly out of context, selected the cities of refuge. This now can be seen as another practical precautionary plan (I've set up 911 for you).
The tenth commandment - I see partly as an extension of the social laws - and many commentators discuss them that way. Coveting inevitably leads to action and therefore one should not covet. You might steal, you might kill, you might bear false witness,. You might pressure or harass people to get what you want. But it still seemed strange to me that it is the last of the commandments. Ibn Ezra says it is a precept of the heart, and therefore more important than the formalistic, observable commandments of doing. He said there are three types of precepts:
· Precepts of the heart,
· precepts of the tongue, and
· precepts of doing.
Ibn Ezra says the precepts of the heart are the most important of all, citing many quotes from torah
· the Lord shows favor to those who are upright in heart,
· I the Lord search the heart, etc.
In this parasha –
· in chapter 29 But from thence ye will seek the Lord thy God and thou shalt find Him if thou search after Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. and
· in the sh'ma which is in Chapter VI
By putting the tenth last, God is saying that the precepts concerning social justice are not sufficient if they signify nothing more than strict observance of the law quoting the Psalms - who shall abide in the tabernacle, he that speakes the truth in his heart.
Ibn Ezra cites a parable that a peasant wouldn't covet possessing a princess because he knows it would be impossible to have her. So, we should rejoice in our portion and not turn our attention to coveting anything else.
Ha-ketav Veha-kabbalah asks why the commandment says to love God with all your heart and answers- your heart should be completely full of the love for God - there should be no room for love of the world. If one loves God fully, ones heart is overflowing with the consciousness of the holiness of God - and it will be impossible to covet the things of this world.
Man can achieve proper observance of the prohibition, by concentrating his desires on the values that God would have him cherish.
The chasidic commentators say that if the Torah commands it, then the power of love is imbedded in man's soul and is possible to achieve.
In closing, although much of this parasha seems to be legalistic - follow the commandments, it is also a reminder to see oneself as the people of the covenant and it is a reflection of Moshe's love for the people, and it's final message is the importance of our love for Hashem.