Before working on my Dvar Torah I always thought of G-d as a being that watches over everybody and listens to their prayers. I believed Hashem guided us in the right way of life, but let us make decisions.
On Shavuot we read the ten commandments. I noticed that there seemed to be a repetition at the very beginning. I was perplexed at this apparent redundancy.
The Ten Commandments start with God introducing God’s self. And then God immediately says, לֹא יִהְיֶה־לְךָ אֱלֹקים אֲחֵרִים עַל־פָּנָיַ ‘don’t have any other gods before me’ and לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה־לְךָ פֶסֶל ‘don’t make any other gods for yourself’. This sounds repetitive. Since the Torah does not use extra words, and God must have put a lot of thought into what was going to be included in this most dramatic moment, why was it written three times?
Rashi, the 11th Century, French Biblical commentator, stated that לא יהיה לך, you should not have other gods, means that you should not think in your head that there is more than one god, not to even have the idea. He says that לא תעשה לך means that you should not make for yourself another god, for example an idol. Nowadays having only one G-d, and not praying and bowing down to other ones has been tradition for years and years, and there are not many cultures around us that bow down to idols.
Following this commandment, must have been really hard for the Jewish people back then because they were used to idols. They had just come out of a kingdom where the king, Pharaoh, was thought to be a god among many other gods. You can tell that not bowing down to idols was hard for Bnei Israel, because when Moshe stayed up on Har Sinai longer than they expected, they were so nervous that they made the golden calf and prayed to it. Even though it was exactly what ה׳ had said not to do!
As you can see Hashem’s request to be the one and only God of the Jewish people was a big deal and the people clearly had a lot of trouble. Today fewer people worship idols so it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. But there are things that we idolize – like sports, heroes, or stars. Sometimes these could seem like they are more important than anything else, and this is when we have to remember that Hashem is more important than any human creation.
If Hashem being one is so important then maybe we should be reciting the Ten Commandments every day. As I studied more I realized that we do remind ourselves of the 10 commandments everyday but not in the way that I might have expected. Jewish practice is to say the tefillah that we call the Shema three times a day. The first line of of this most important prayer is שמע ישראל ה׳ אלוקינו ה׳ אחד. Usually translated as Listen Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Is there something more to this then telling us that there is only one G-d considering it is said so often? The answer given in the Talmud Yerushalmi, quoting Rabbi Levi who said that the 10 commandments are written within the Shema. The Shema is a prayer that I say every day, but before I read this it had never occurred to me that the Aseret HaDibrot are hinted in them. Rabbi Levi does not tell us what he means by this, so I was curious and went looking. The first line covers the first three commandments about God being one. Then, the phrase
וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל־לְבָבֶךָ׃
Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day,
uses the same word that we use for the commandments; Devarim is the same root as the word dibrot. Next,
וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ –
You will teach them to your children,
reminds us that if you teach your children then they will learn to respect you – which reminds us of the commandments to keep Shabbat and honor our parents.
בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ –
When you are in your house or out on your way
Reminds us of the commandments not be jealous of your neighbor’s and to be happy with what you have and what Hashem granted you. As well as behaving well in society. Not murdering your neighbor is a pretty good idea!
Shema reminds us that we have a covenant, a brit, with God when we say
וּקְשַׁרְתָּ֥ם לְא֖וֹת עַל־יָדֶ֑ךָ
Bind them as a sign on your hand
The word א֖וֹת or sign is understood by the rabbis to mean an agreement. This agreement that we made at Har Sinai נעשה ונשמע we will follow and we will do. Our promise to do what Hashem asks from us and Hashem will take care of us.
The last paragraph of this prayer reminds us to wear tzitzit or ritual fringes like the ones on the talitot that some of you are wearing. Tzitzit are worn to remind us of the mitzvot. There is a story in the Babylonian Talmud, Masechet Menachot that describes this very literally. Once there was a man who wanted to do something bad. Just as he was about to do it, his tzitzit hit him in the face! This sudden action embarrassed and surprised him, which made him not do the naughty act that he meant to do. By saying the Shema every day we are reminding ourselves of the promises we made to Hashem at Har Sinai to keep Hashem as our one God.
By starting the Ten commandments with “I am your God” God sends us the direct message that this is the most important concept of the Ten. And if you did not get that message, God repeats it two more times. God is the source of the mitzvot, the directions for how to live a Jewish life. I think reminding us that G-d is one, reminds us to do the mitzvot.
You might think it funny that we don’t say the ten commandments everyday. Instead, the Shema is our daily reminder of the 10 commandments, but they are only hinted at in the Shema. The idea of one G-d is the main one in the Shema, just as it seems to be in the 10 commandments.
Hashem speaks to each person differently. We can interpret this oneness as a one-on-one relationship between Hashem and each one of us. This relationship started with Hashem blowing Ruach Elokim, the spirit of God, into Adam at creation. As the descendants of Adam, we share the connection of having Ruach Elokim in us. At the same time, each of our relationships with Hashem is unique. We work on our relationship by doing mitzvot and recognizing the aspect of Hashem in each person. That way we give everyone the respect they deserve.
Shiraz Sage ’21