> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > What's Bothering Rashi?

Shavuot 5764

Shavuot (Exodus 19:1 - 20:23 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


As we prepare to read about Matan Torah on Chag Hashavuot, we will depart from our regular feature of analyzing Rashi. Our focus has always been on understanding p'shat in Rashi. This time let us understand p'shat in the Chumash itself. P'shat, I define, as any interpretation based exclusively on what is written in the Torah (not on Midrashic information) and on common sense.

A frequent issue brought up about the Ten Commandments is the differences between the Ten Commandments as written in Parshat Yitro and the Ten Commandments as written in Parshat Va'Etchanan (in Devarim). One of the more well known differences is found in the fifth commandment about keeping the Sabbath.

In Yitro it says:

"Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.... For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them and rested on the seventh day. Therefore Hashem blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it."

But in Va'Etchanan it says:

"Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it as Hashem has commanded you.... And remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and that Hashem your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore Hashem your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day." (Deut. 5:12-15).

See the differences ?

(1) "Remember" vs. "Keep."

(2) Two different reasons for the Sabbath are given: "Because God created the world" vs. "Because we were slaves in Egypt and were redeemed by God."

How can we understand these differences, on a p'shat level?


An answer has been given based on a close analysis of the Torah's words. Notice a third difference:

(3) The first version says: "Therefore Hashem blessed the Sabbath day." The second says: "Therefore Hashem your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath."


As background to this answer we would point out that there are two questions that can be asked about the Sabbath. One is: Why is the Sabbath a holy day? A second question is: Why were the Jews alone commanded to keep it? If it commemorates the Creation of the world, then xhouldn't all peoples be equally obligated to keep the Sabbath, not just the Jews?

In light of these questions we can now see that the first version relates to the first question: why the Sabbath is holy. Because God created the world in six days etc. And it reasonably ends with the words "Therefore God blesseed the Sabbath and sanctified it." Clearly this explanation gives us the reason why the Sabbath is a holy day.

The second version emphasizes why the Sabbath was given only to the Jews. Because we were slaves in Egypt and thus we owe a special debt to Hashem for redeeming us. And so it says: "Therefore Hashem your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath." This is the explanation why this universal mitzvah was given to the Jews exclusively.

We can see as well that the first "universal" version mentions only "remembering" the Sabbath, while the second "Jewish" version mentions "keeping" the Sabbath. For the Jews it is a mitzvah to keep the Sabbath, and only for the Jews because of their special, relationship with Hashem.

Chag Somayach,
Avigdor Bonchek


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