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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Yisro

Exodus 20:8

"Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy."


Remember: Rashi. "Remember" [the Sabbath day ] and "Keep" [the Sabbath day ] (Deut. 5:12) were said in one utterance. So too "Those who desecrate [the Sabbath] shall be put to death" and "On the day of Sabbath two lambs" ; so too "You shall not wear shatnez, you shall make for yourself tzitzis"; so too "the nakedness of your brother's wife" and "the leverite brother-in-law shall have relations with her." This is what is said (in Psalms 62:12) "G-d said one; two is what I heard."

What is bothering Rashi that prompts this long comment?

The Ten Commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy chapter 5. There, the fourth commandment says "Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it" and not as we have it here "Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it. " Rashi's comment relates to this inconsistency. (In fact, there are other differences between the First Tablets and the Second Tablets, but this is the most glaring and most significant.)

How does his comment deal with this difficulty?

Understanding Rashi

Rashi, in accordance with the midrash, suggests that both commandments "Remember" and "Keep" were actually said by the Hashem at the same time; thus there is no contradiction. The Torah, however, could only write one at a time, so in our parasha it wrote "Remember" and in Deuteronomy it wrote "Keep." Rashi goes on to give other examples of apparently contradictory commands in the Torah. These, too, Rashi says were "said at one time."

A Deeper Look

What kind of contradiction is there between "Remembering" and "Keeping"? One can remember the Sabbath and keep it at the same time. The examples Rashi cites, on the other hand, are real contradictions. For example, the prohibition not to profane the Sabbath, includes the prohibition to kill animals, while the command to offer sacrifices in the Temple on the Sabbath day requires killing animals. This is a real contradiction. Either killing an animal on the Sabbath is permitted or it is forbidden. Likewise for the other examples cited by Rashi. But this is not similar to the difference between "Remembering the Sabbath" and "Keeping the Sabbath" which is not inherently a contradiction.

Another question that can be asked is: G-d spoke only once at Sinai, on the sixth day of the month of Sivan, 50 days after the exodus from Egypt. On that day He proclaimed the Ten Commandments. Both what is written in parashas Yisro and what is written in chapter 5 of Deuteronomy are a record of the same event. So there is a real contradiction in this sense - either G-d said "Remember" or He said "Keep."

On the other hand, the examples Rashi cites do not contradict each other in this sense since they were spoken at different times. So why are these cited as examples of "G-d said one, two is what I heard" ?

[We should mention that some commentaries say that the Tablets mentioned in Deuteronomy are the second Tablets that Moses received after he broke the first pair in the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf. But if this is so, then G-d never verbally pronounced them to the people. He only handed these inscribed tablets to Moses ( See Exodus Chapter 32). So there can be no contradiction between what was "said" in the two places, because G-d never spoke a second time!]

A Deeper Understanding

The Ramban explains the contradiction in the following way. "Remembering the Sabbath" is a positive commandment while "Keeping the Sabbath" implies a prohibition (not to profane it) and is thus a negative commandment.

How can the Torah consider the Sabbath to be, in its essence, a positive command ("Remember") and then later on change this into a negative commandment ("Keep")? In that sense we have a contradiction between the two.

In order to answer the second question which we posed above, we must probe deeper into the meaning of the central phrase in Rashi's comment.

"Remember and Keep Were Said In One Utterance"

This phrase, while well known, is not well understood. This seems to say that G-d spoke in a way that is impossible for humans to speak, i.e. He said two words simultaneously. But if that is so, how could the people makes sense of this simultaneous utterance?

A Deeper Understanding of the Concept

The Ramban offers his explanation. He says, in accordance with the midrash, that the people heard only the first two Commandments from Hashem. The remaining Commandments (including the one to Remember the Sabbath) were only spoken to Moses; he then conveyed these mitzvos to the people. So only Moses heard the miraculous utterance of "Remember" & "Keep." It is easier to understand that Moses, possessing his unique level of prophecy, could comprehend the "one utterance." Afterwards he told the people the two concepts of Remembering and Keeping the Sabbath, one after the other so that they could be comprehended. In light of this the Ramban makes the startling claim that the word "Remember" was written in both the first and the second Tablets! Moses however explained the concept of "Keep" (the negative commandment) as he taught this mitzvah to the people.

Still unanswered, however, is our question of how Rashi's examples are relevant to the "one utterance" of "Remember" & "Keep."

Another explanation offered is by one of the earliest commentaries on Rashi, Reb Shmuel Almosnino (1326-1407). He explains that "said in one utterance" simply means that Hashem had a dual intention when He gave us the one mitzvah of the Sabbath. He commanded us to Remember the Sabbath in positive ways (e.g. making kiddush over wine) while at the same time to Keep the Sabbath, in the negative sense, by refraining from doing acts that would profane it. In Almosnino's view, the words Remember and Keep were not said simultaneously, but one after the other, but with one intention behind both. In this way we can fathom the deeper meaning of this phrase.

We can now understand in what sense the examples cited by Rashi are relevant. They all exemplify cases where commandments seem to contradict one another. Though they were not actually uttered at the same moment, they were conceived by Hashem simultaneously. In the final analysis the meaning of "in one utterance" is that the Lawgiver, Hashem, had as His original intention, both the positive command as well as the negative command. Thus the examples Rashi cites are quite relevant to the apparent contradiction of "Remember" and "Keep." In none of these cases is there an actual contradiction, for both their positive and their negative commands reflect but one overall intention of Hashem.

A note to our readers: We are preparing to publish the Vayikra volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" It will add another dimension to the study of Rashi - this time Rashi's creative use of the midrash. We are looking for sponsors of this volume to enable us to publish it. Contributions can be made in Memory of or in Honor of close ones. The previous volumes of "What's Bothering Rashi?" has been adopted for use in many schools and into many Jewish homes. Your sponsorship will make it possible to continue and enlarge this project. Those interested can write msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il

Shabbat Shalom

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