Search

Login Form

The Four Versions of the Ten Commandment in the Torah

Author: Esther Ehrman, Sivan 5765/June 2005

Yithro, Mishpatim, Kedoshim, Ve Etchanan

Someone mentioned an anecdote where a person decoding messages in the war, asked why there were so many repetitions of the same message. He was told 'If you want to ensure that a message gets through, you repeat it'. Well, that is one point of view. You may, of course, want to make changes because there are things that you wish to add or there may be new situations where it is necessary to stress that here, too, the message applies.

We all know about the two versions of the Ten Commandments (TC), about 'shamor ve zachor'. We alo knowo that Shabbat figures in a number of contexts – with the Manna, with the Mishkan. But Shabbat is not the only one of the TC to be reiterated and modified.

We begin with the 'original' version in Yithro, (Ex. Ch. 20), the central, highly dramatic experience of the physical encounter of G-d and Benei Israel, the Children of Israel, ending with the ritual of the covenant, the brit, ratified, as it were, in Mishpatim (Ex.21 ff). The experience is clearly terrifying for the Israelites and one cannot imagine it otherwise. From the thunder and lightning and the blast of the shofar to the ritual of Moses throwing the blood of the brit on the multitude, it had to be unforgettable. Central here is the direct experience of the presence of H as the awesome power (Who took us out of Mizrayim, Who reminds us that He created the heavens and the earth, Who warns us of the consequences of disloyalty and the rewards for loyalty and instructs us not to damage His creation by killing, stealing or defaming His creature, the human being.). Power, authority and the sense of privilege – that we were taken out of slavery, that we are told to rest 'just as H rested' are indelibly stamped on the people.

It should perhaps be noted that H as legislator is not a new experience for the people.

They had not only learnt about Shabbat in the context of the Manna; they had brought every dispute to be judged in accordance with H's dictates to Moshe (as we saw at the beginning of Yithro, the scene of Moses judging the people that Yithro witnesses)

Let us move on to Mishpatim and the conclusion of the brit.

The people are still at Sinai. They ratify, sign, as it were, the brit, with the formal agreement 'naaseh, and naaseh ve nishma', ' we shall do; we shall do and hear' and Moshe erects 12 stones, brings sacrifices and throws half of the blood on the altar and half on the people. But before this ritual takes places, there are a number of important instructions, Mishpatim (which S.R.Hirsch translates as social ordinances) that are to be included in that brit. A number of them take up/repeat the TC they have just ingested.

The opening of the TC in Yithro proclaimed that it was The Almighty who had taken us out of slavery in Egypt (mi beit avadim). The opening of Mishpatim picks up the 'slavery' referred to in the first of the TCs and elaborates on the condition of being slaves. But, if Mishpatim were simply an elaboration of the TC in Yithro, we would now expect to learn how we are to serve the only real Master, details of sacrifices, priestly functions. Instead, we are given social ordinances on how to treat our fellow men if they happen to be slaves – their rights and the master's rights, the limitation of the condition to six years, the status of the slaves' wife and children etc.

Move along the line of the two tablets of theTC, to no.6, LO Tirzach, thou shalt not murder. In Mishpatim (Ex 21,12 f) this becomes a set of instructions for the death penalty. 'Lo tirzach' is not an absolute, we learn; there are occasions when you are to take a life, to kill, for premeditated murder, for striking or cursing your parents, for kidnapping and selling a person etc.

There is a similar elaboration of LO tignov (Ch 22), thou shalt not steal – Is the thief caught in daylight or in the dark, the restitution of double that he has to make etc.

Outstanding are the changes made to TC4, the SHABBAT.

In Yithro, Ex 20, 8-11, the text is zachor et yom ha Shabbat le kadesho, Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it. Its hallmark is 'lekadesho'. We are to sanctify it (beginning) and G-d will sanctify it ..'al ken berach H et yom ha Shabbat ve kadesheihu, therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it. The sanctity is based on the fact that the Almighty rested after His six days of creation. We, who are created in His image, remember that Creation and that rest by resting from our creation/melacha.

If we now look at Mishpatim, Ex 23,12. That is not here the function of the Shabbat. The text reads 'Six days shall you do your tasks (ma'aseicha, not melachteicha) and on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and that the son of your handmaid and your stranger may be refreshed'.

No connection is made here with the Creator resting nor is there mention of the Creation, no mention of your son and daughter, nothing about blessing the day or sanctifying it. We are given a reason for our rest, the practical consideration for the well being, the rest of our fellow human beings and the creatures for whom and for which we are responsible, beginning with the cattle...

LO ta'anei be re'eicha eid sheker, you shall not bear false witness against your neighbour, in Yithro, becomes, in Mishpatim, an injunction to the judges, not to pervert justice, lo tisa shema shav and do not cause someone to be an eid hamas an outrageous witness(ch 23, v.1ff), an injunction to ensure the well being of society by not showing favour, even to the poor, not taking bribes, treating the stranger with equity

Mishpatim does not, of course, only speak about the TCs. It deals with shmita, chagim, avoda zara, the Sabbatical year, holy days, idolatry as well as damages, property, the kind of issues that Moses was busy resolving when Yithro found him.

We saw that the context, as it were, of the TC in Yithro was the opening statement, Anochi H ..asher hotziticha etechem mi eretz Mitzrayim, I am the Lord your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt. That is how The Almighty introduces Himself to us...There is no mention of this particular relationship of the Lord and Benei Israel in Mishpatim. The only aspect of G-d here is given in connection with the injunction not to fail to return the garment that a poor man may have given you as a pledge , since he needs it at night. (Ex 22,v.25,6). His distress will be heard 'shamati, ki chanun ani' I shall hear, because I am merciful.

Clearly it is this 'chanun', merciful, that gives the key to the 'version of the TC in Mishpatim. Both 'versions' are given before the ritual of the brit is formally ratified.

There is something else that needs, perhaps, to be said here. I once wondered what I might have expected to find in the TC that I didn't....and I wondered about kedusha, sanctity. The word appears in the commandment of Shabbat in Yithro – not in Mishpatim. We are 'to sanctify' and H will 'sanctify' the day. We do, by not doing melacha, the Lord, we are told, because he rested from His work of Creation. But we are not specifically told to be 'kadosh', holy, – a status that can, perhaps only be conferred on us. Or can it?

If we look back to the beginning of Yithro, ch.19v.5, the people are told that if they will keep the commandments of the brit, they will be rewarded with 'kedusha'

And this is followed by the first ratifying 'naaseh'

Ex.19 v5,6 reads:

If you will earnestly hearken to My voice and keep my covenant, you will belong to Me exclusively among all the nations, for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and A HOLY NATION (ve atem tiheyu li mamelechet kohanim ve GOY KADOSH). The statement preceded the TC. Sforno explains that here 'goy kadosh' means that the nation would be destined, if it keeps the commandments etc, to be eternal. A 'holy' nation is everlasting, since our Sages have taught us that ma kadosh le olam kayam, af hem _ zadiskim- le olam kayamim, Just as holiness exists for ever, so they, the righteous, exist for ever. (Sanhedrin 92A)

If we then look at Mishpatim, Ex 22, v.30 reads

And you shall be to Me men of a holy calling (trans.S.R.Hirsch), ve ANSHEI KODESH tiyehun li, PEOPLE OF A HOLY CALLING. The Malbim here comments on this verse. 'you shall be Mine so that you shall not be subject to [the laws of] nature, she lo tiyehu tachat ha teiva

So, according to the Sforno, we are offered the status of eternity in Yithro, and if we are mindful of the social 'version' of the TC outlined in Mishpatim, we are given the opportunity of being anshei kodesh, not subject to the laws of nature, according to the Malbim.

The element of 'kedusha' in the TC, takes us to the next 'repetition' of the commandments, in Kedoshim.(Lev. Ch.19)

Vayedaber H. el Moshe leimor Daber et kol adapt benei Israel ve amarta aleihem: kedoshim tiheyu, ki kadosh ani H. eloheichem, G-d said to Moses: speak to the entire community of the Children of Israel and say to them: you shall be holy, or I, the Lord your G-d, am holy.

This section – it is not clear exactly how much of it – was to be read in public (behakhel, Rashi; be kinus, Hizkuni) because, says the Hizkuni and Vayikra Rabba, it contained the TC. The Midrash lists the version in Kedoshim:

1. Anochi...Ex. Ch20,2 AHE Lev19,2

2. Lo yiheyei lecha..v.3 elohei maaseicha lo teasu lachem v.4

Elohim acherim, lo taase lecha pesel...

3. Lo tisa et shem E le shaav....v.7 v.12 lo tishbe;u bishemi la shaker

4. zachor et yom haShabbat v.8 ve et Shabtotai tishmoru v.3

5. kabed et avicha ve et imeicha v.12 ish imo ve aviv tira'u v.3

6. lo tirtzach v.13 lo ta'amod al dam re'eicha v.16

7. lo tin'af v.13 al techalel et bitecha lehazonatah v.29

8. lo tignov lo tignovu v.11

9.lo ta'anei be re eich eid shaker lo telech rachil be ameicha v.16

10. lo tachmod... ve ahavta le reiacha kamocha v.18

Interesting is TC10 – the positive approach.

For TC 9 'lo tanei be rei'eicha eid sheker, I might have paralleled to lo tishakeru ish be amito , you shall not tell lies one against the other,v.11.

Of course, you have to 'find' the TC in Kedoshim. It is not a list; these commandments are interspersed among many others, - as indeed was the case in Mishpatim. The TC here clearly help us to define 'kedusha', sanctity, but so do the other ordinances around them. 'Bring your shelamim sacrifices willingly' v.5; be mindful of the pea and leket ordinances in your fields', v.9 'do not keep your servant's wages overnight' v.13 'do not curse a deaf man or put a stumbling block before the blind'v.14. So far this sounds like the commandments of 'ki rachun ani' of Mishpatim. Do not hate your brother in your heart, lo tisnei et achicha bi levavcha; rather, rebuke him ve ahavta lareieicha kamocha , and you shall love youre neighbour as yourself. But then, there is also 'kilayim', shatnes, orla, no soothsaying, no rounding off corners of your hair, no tattoo or other self inflicted damage for the dead. That, too, is part of the defining of 'kedusha', the 'kedoshim tiheyu' you shall be holy. Perhaps one can say that much of this last group is the exclusion of 'avoda zara' , idol worship. If that is so, we get nearer to the definition of sanctity given by Rashi, perushim, separate.

Hevu perushim min ha arayot u min ha aveira ,you should separate youselves from the 'arayot' – sexual immorality and from sin(from the 'arayot', to explain which this section follows straight on the section on arayot}. The key word is perushim and this statement of Rashi's gives rise to a number of views by the commentators. I rather like the comment by Ramban, ' in my view this does not refer to the arayot, ke divrei haRav' Rather, it means to abstain from any excesses of things allowed. Food and drink, wine are allowed, but if you indulge hine yiheye naval be reshut ha Torah you will be bad with the sanction of the Torah.. We are given the general injunction 'kedoshim tiheyu' she niheyei perushim min ha mutarot so that we may be abstemious in matters that are permitted, says the Ramban..

We should, explains the Malbim, in agreement with this, raise ourselves above nature and our physical indulgences, If we do, im mekadeshim atem atzmechem....ke ilu kidashtem oti if you sanctify yourselves, it is as if you are sanctifying Me. Not only, you are to be kadosh because I am kadosh, as the verse says, but I shall be kadosh if, when you are kadosh, when you keep away from an aveira , a sin, and, more, are in control of things permitted.

At all events, if we accept the concept of perushim as the key of the TC in Kedoshim, we have an added reason for this third repetition of the TC here, making ourselves fit, as it were, for the presence of G-d in our midst.

Which leaves us with Vaetchanan,(Deut.ch 3, v.23 ff) Moshe's speech before Benei Israel finally come to the promised land. The comparison between the two straight lists of the TC in Yithro and in Vaetchanan has been made many times. The overall tenor of Vaethanan is probably best summarised by the first paragraph of the Shema that appears shortly after the TC are listed. Moshe sets out, again and again, to impress on Benei Israel the significance of their personal, direct experience of the divine, the brit, the encounters, from Horeb to Beal Peor, the fact that they owe obedience to His laws and that they will benefit in every way by following them, that disaster follows disloyalty. The Shema, the acceptance of 'ol malchut shamayim ,the yoke of heaven, the instruction to teach, repeat, place on your person and your living space 'hadevarim ha elei these words, encapsulates the message of this part of Moshe's speech.

There is also a narrower context to the actual TC list given here. Ch 4, v. 10 recalls the drama at Horeb, v.13, the Lord gave you the TC and inscribed them on two tablets of stone, v.14 ve oti tziva H ba et ha hi le lamed etchem chukim u mishpatim la asotechem otam ba aratz asher atem overim shama le rishtah, and G-d commanded me at that time to teach you the statutes and ordinances so that you may carry them out in the land which you are passing over (the Jordan) to inherit . After the TC list in Ch 5, end an Ch 6 start, just before the Shema, Moshe recalls how frightened the people had been, how they had told to go back to their tents after which H would give to Moshe the Chukim and Mishpatim asher telamdem ve asu ba aretz asher anochi notein lahem le rishta (v.28). the laws and ordinances which you are to teach them and they are to do them in the land which I am giving them, to possss it. Do this le maan ticheyun ve tov lachem ve arachtem yamim ba aretz asher tirashun so that you may live and it may go well with you and you will long remain in the land which you are inheriting,v.30 The fact that the land is stressed makes sense, of course, now that they are about to enter that land.

As I said, we are familiar with the fact that there are modifications of the TC in Vaetchanan, specifically with he change from zachor to shamor. Ch 5 from v.6. I would like to have a quick look at one or two of the other modifications. We remember that 'zachor et yom ha Shabbat' ended ki sheshet yamim...al ken berach H et yom ha Shabbat vayekadesheihu. We know that this is not the ending in Vaetchanan. You shall do no work, you, nor your son nor your daughter (they were out in Mishpatim) ch5 v.14...le maan yanuach avdecha ve amatecha kamocha., that your manservant and your maidservant shall rest like yourself. Rather like Mishpatim, there is no mention of the creation and the concern is for your servants/slaves; the addition, 'kamocha' and your son and daughter (where is the wife?) brings us back to the Yithro version. But now, as we know, the reason of Creation and the resting of the Lord is replaced by ve zacharta ki eved hayita be eretz Mitzrayim...veyotziacha H eloheicha misham be yad chazaka u vi zeroa netuya. Al ken tzivecha H eloheicha la asot et yom haShabbat.and remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt when the Lord your G-d brought you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm ,therefore did the Lord your G-d command you to observe the Sabbath.

'Yetziat Mitzrayim' the exodus from Egypt, has replaced the Creation as the basis for Shabbat. Commentators argue about the significance of the change. Is it additional or is it an alternative. The question is, since Shabbat is ot hi le olam beino u vein benei Israel, a sign between Me and the Children of Israel, since this is our 'link' (in computer language) to G-d, which of the two reasons are more obvious evidence of the existence of the Lord. Yetziat Mitzrayim we can testify to and that is an advantage; and if Shabbat is associated with that and we realise that Yetziat Mtzrayim is evidence of all things being done as He wills it, that has the same effect on us as mention of the Creation. So, RambaN concludes, haShabbat zecher leytziat Mitzrayim ve Yetziyat mitzrayim zecher le Shabbat, the Sabbath is a reminder of the exodus from Egypt and the exodus from Egypt is a reminder of the Sabbath .

'Eid shaker' false testimony, of the original TC9 is here replaced by 'eid shav' vain testimony. This is clearly not an alternative, but an addition. Where 'eid shaker' does harm to our fellow man, 'eid shav' a statement that a witness makes which is 'in vain', i.e. he doesn't man it, is also forbidden ( I will pay 100 dinar is what I say, though have no intention of doing it, says RamaN).

Interesting is the comment on a change to Honour your father and your mother. The version in Vaetchanan adds to the earlier 'le maa yarichu yemeicha...al ha adama' that your days may be long.. in the land, two things,1.ka asher tzivecha H eloheicha, as the Lord commanded you ( this was also inserted into Shabbat), and 2. le maan yetav lach that it may be well with you..v.16 . R Chanina b. Agil asked R. Tanchum: Why is 'good'(well) not written in the first tablets, be dibrot ha rishonot, and it is written in the second? He was answered in the name of R.Chanina: because they (the first tablets) were destined to be broken (Bava Kamma 55a)ho' il ve sofan le hishaber. This does not mean that the second set of 'luchot' have a different text. We are told that they were 'ka rishonim, like the first'. But 'they were destined to be broken. We were never allowed/ we did not merit to have the original. On the other hand, we now have le maan yetav lach. Are we better, or was the generation about to go into the land, better? Or were the words implied in the first version, only they could not be spelled out, since the breaking denied that it would be well with us?

At all events, with this fourth repetition, Moses is once more trying 'to get the message through'. We may not go along with the opinion of the Greek Jewish philosopher Philo, in a treatise on the Decalogue, that the TC are THE principles of the Torah and all the other mitzvot are the detailed application of those principles. But the fact that they were placed in the 'aron', the ark, the focal point of worship and the place above which the 'shechina' made itself manifest, does help to explain why the Ten Commandments had so essential and central a function and why they are given so much attention in our understanding and learning of the Torah.