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Shabbat: Spiritual Rehabilitation

Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )

by Rabbi Ari Kahn


Four months after arriving at Sinai, Moshe Gathers the people, and teaches them God's law:

And Moshe gathered all the congregation of the People of Israel together, and said to them: These are the words which God has commanded you to do. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a Sabbath of rest to God; whoever does work on that day shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations on the Sabbath day. (Shmot 35:1-3)

Rashi calculates the precise timing of these verses with the help of simple logic1: Moshe descended from Mount Sinai with the second set of tablets on Yom Kippur, an event which is described at the end of last week's Parsha (Chapter 34). It would therefore seem only logical that the events recounted in this, the immediately subsequent Chapter, transpired immediately thereafter - on the day after Yom Kippur.

On the other hand, as far back as Parshat Yitro (chapter 18) we are given an indication that the sequence of events is not altogether as straightforward as a cursory reading might suggest: When Yitro arrived at the encampment of the Israelites, prior to the Revelation at Sinai, he observed his son-in-law Moshe literally "holding court", sitting in judgment of the entire People. Yitro famously suggests that Moshe delegate responsibility, creating a tiered system of courts rather than a completely centrist and personal system in which Moshe alone dealt with all the micro-issues. There, the time-frame is provided by the word macharat ("the next day")2: Yitro arrived and a festive reception was held; "the next day", Yitro observed Moshe's work-load and offered his advice. Rashi makes a point of explaining that "the next day" should not be understood literally. In fact, it refers to the day after "The day", the great and famous day on which the Jews finally were forgiven for the sin of the Golden Calf and received the Law. Clearly, Rashi says, between Yitro's arrival and Yom Kippur, there would have been no opportunity to witness Moshe sitting in judgment. Before Moshe ascended the Mountain the first time, the Law had not yet been revealed, and when Moshe descended he was faced with the Golden Calf debacle. Only after coming down the second time did Moshe have the Law, and the opportunity to pass judgment. Thus, in keeping with Rashi's general approach that the sequence of the Biblical text does not necessarily reflect the chronological order of events, Chapters 18 and 35 of Shmot recount events that occurred on the same day - the day after Yom Kippur.

Having established the time-frame, we should take a closer look at the opening verses of our Parsha: By this point, Moshe has received two sets of Tablets. He has spent a considerable amount of time at the summit of Mount Sinai learning Torah from the Mouth of God. He has been instructed in the Laws of every topic in the Written and Oral Torah included in the first three chapters of Mishpatim, directly from The Source. So many topics for his "maiden lecture" are at his fingertips, literally and figuratively.

Of all the laws, Moshe chooses to teach about Shabbat, a choice which is not immediately clear to us. Moshe's extremely concise preamble to this first post-Sinaitic Torah lecture does little to dispel our question: "These are the words", as if all the other words have been gently put aside. The choice of Shabbat as the definitive words of God is not immediately clear.

In fact, Shabbat is not a new idea for the assembled People of Israel. The concepts of Shabbat observance were taught prior to the Revelation at Sinai, three days after the Israelites witnessed the Splitting of the Sea and craved spiritual sustenance.3 In the events following the scene at Marah, when the People are instructed as to the proper procedures for gathering and enjoying the manna, it is clear that the regulations of Shabbat observance are already well-known by the congregation. A third discussion of Shabbat is recorded in the Ten Commandments, which preceded Moshe's words here in Chapter 35. Why, then does Moshe choose Shabbat as the topic of his first lesson? Why return to "old material"? Let us re-examine the context, not as it was but as it was meant to be:

And God spoke to Moshe, saying, Speak to the People of Israel, saying, 'Truly my sabbaths you shall keep; for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am God that sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it is holy to you; every one who defiles it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work in it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy toGod; whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the People of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant. It is a sign between me and the People of Israel forever; for in six days God made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed. And he gave to Moshe, when he finished talking with him upon Mount Sinai, two tablets of Testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of Elokim. (Shmot Chapter 31:12-18)

These verses are the final instructions received by Moshe prior to the sin of the Golden Calf, God's "parting words" to Moshe before giving him the original set of Tablets. When he gathers the people and teaches them about Shabbat, Moshe begins precisely where God ended; he picks up the last thread of thought and begins to teach what he has learned. A symmetry is created, literary and perhaps logical, yet unsatisfying: We seek a more intrinsic value, a deeper theological and philosophical reason for Moshe's didactic choice. Why not start at the beginning, teaching the first principle and proceeding through to the last? Apparently the story of the Golden Calf is sandwiched by laws of Shabbat, the question is - why? Clearly the Golden Calf is the major trauma in the Book of Shmot, and it is the event which according to Rashi caused the narrative to deviate from the chronology. We are left to ponder: Had there been no Golden Calf, when Moshe descended after receiving the Tablets, would is choice have been the same? Would he have begun with the last thing he was taught (Shabbat), or something else?

Let us paint the scene in our minds' eye: Moshe is up on high, enveloped by the Cloud of God's Glory. At the very moment he is taught the principle of Shabbat and its meaning, the people below complete the idol and are busy with a full-blown pagan celebration. A "split screen" would throw the two parallel scenes into sharp contrast: the sublime, celestial encounter, culminating in a discussion of Shabbat; God puts the finishing touches on the Tablets, which are then handed to Moshe. At the same time, down below, the people are putting the finishing touches on the Calf of Gold, the pagan frenzy building to fever pitch.

Moshe descends as the fires below rise; the collision is now unavoidable, the denouement building with crushing force; the two halves of the split screen meet at the moment the Tablets are smashed.

Perhaps the symmetry Moshe created by choosing the Shabbat as his first lesson is more than a literary device or a train of thought. Perhaps Moshe considered that at the moment he was being taught the precepts of Shabbat on Mount Sinai, the people were sinning at the foot of the mountain. Perhaps Moshe saw in these very laws, the laws of Shabbat, not only the antithesis of the Golden Calf, but the antidote to idolatry. Moshe did more than simply ignore the interruption of the Golden Calf in the chain of events; he sought a means of channeling the energy that led to the Golden Calf debacle into a positive experience, and he found that powerful channel in Shabbat.

The sin of the Golden Calf was a response to the feelings of estrangement and distance the people experienced when their main conduit to God "disappeared". Moshe now instructed them in the means to create an open channel to God, to reconnect and reaffirm their unique covenant with God on a regular, ongoing basis, on a personal and communal level. Observance of Shabbat would be the means to insure that the Golden Calf would ever happen again.


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The symmetry of Shabbat surrounding the Golden Calf episode now appears less a literary device and more a carefully designed philosophical lesson. Yet if we were to examine this scene within a broader perspective, other symmetrical elements come into focus. For example, the instructions to build the Mishkan are given prior to the Golden Calf, while the actual construction is recounted in its aftermath. Thus, the Mishkan itself, or the physical and metaphysical aspects of the Mishkan, may be seen as another element that envelopes the Golden Calf episode, much like the laws of Shabbat. There is, however, one vital element of the Mishkan that seems to point to a flow in the narrative rather than a break, which more than any other fits naturally into the flow of the text; the ark and the Keruvim.

In Chapter 24, Moshe is invited to ascend the mountain and receive the Tablets of Stone; only in Chapter 25 are the instructions for the construction of the Mishkan transmitted. What was original plan to house the Tablets? The answer to this question comes later, with the instructions to build the Ark of the Covenant, which would be surrounded by two golden Keruvim. The Ark and Keruvim are described in Parshat Vayakhel, Chapter 37, this week's parsha, providing us with another "sandwich": The Ark and Keruvim appear both before and after the Golden Calf; once again, we must consider this element against the backdrop of the sin which interrupts the narrative. As in the case of the Laws of Shabbat, and the case of the Mishkan as a whole, the Ark and the Keruvim which cover and envelope it should be considered both independently of the sin and in light of the sin. In the case of the Keruvim, the symmetry goes beyond the literary to the literal: these figures surround and cover the Ark and the Tablets, just as the instructions for creating and using them surround the story of the sin of the Golden Calf.

18. And you shall make two Keruvim of gold, of hammered workmanship shall you make them, in the two ends of the cover. 19. And make one Keruv on one end, and the other Keruv on the other end; of the cover shall you make the Keruvim on its two ends. 20. And the Keruvim shall stretch out their wings on high, covering the cover with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the cover shall the faces of the kerubim be. 21. And you shall put the cover upon the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22. And there I will meet with you, and I will talk with you from above the cover, from between the two Keruvim which are upon the Ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment to the People of Israel.

7. And he made two Keruvim of gold, hammered from one piece he made them, on the two ends of the covering; 8. (K) One Keruv on the end on this side, and another Keruv on the other end on that side; from the covering made he the Keruvim on the two ends. 9. And the Keruvim spread out their wings above, and covered with their wings over the covering, with their faces one to another; toward the covering were the faces of the Keruvim.

Whether or not the sin of the Golden Calf had interrupted the narrative, the Tablets would have required a dignified place for safekeeping, storage, protection, display. The Ark provides shelter for the Tablets, and much more: the Word of God flows from between the Keruvim, effectively creating a quasi- revelation, a micro revelation, echoing and re-animating the larger Revelation at Sinai. We would be tempted to believe that this was the plan from the outset; the sin of the Golden Calf was not relevant to the Ark and the Keruvim. But there is one turn of phrase within the description of the Keruvim that forces us to question this conclusion. The phrase describing the spatial orientation of the Keruvim is somewhat ominous: The Keruvim face "ish el ahiv" - man to his brother. While we might think that this wording is innocuous, benign, or even positive, expressing a warm fraternal atmosphere, the other occasions in the Torah in which this phrase appears are far from positive.

The phrase "ish el ahiv" is first used in describing the perfidious brothers when they see Yosef approaching.4 In this same episode, this particular phrase appears twice more.5

Subsequently, the phrase "ish el ahiv" appears in the narrative of the Sin of the Spies, when some Jews suggest that they should return to Egypt:

3. And why has God brought us to this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be prey? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt? 4. And they said ish el ahiv (man to his brother), 'Let us choose a leader and return to Egypt.'

The only other appearance of this phrase in the Torah is in connection with the manna:

15. And the People of Israel saw it, and they said ish el ahiv (man to his brother), 'What is it (Man hu) ?'; for they knew not what it was. And Moshe said to them, 'This is the bread which God has given you to eat.'


* * *



This last source seems benign - certainly as compared to its connotations in the other sources, the sale of Yosef and the sin of the Spies. The question regarding the manna seems legitimate, since such heavenly food had never been seen before.

The manna was one of the three ongoing miracles that sustained the Jewish People in the desert: In addition to this "bread from the heavens", they were accompanied by a miraculous, travelling well from which their water was abundantly supplied and Clouds of Glory that protected them from physical harm of any kind. These three miraculous resources made their life of wandering bearable, ameliorating the hardships of the desert and the seemingly interminable passing of time. And while all three of these sustaining miracles became equally familiar elements of their daily existence, rabbinic scholars draw distinctions between them.

Rav Moshe Mitrani ("The Mab"it) in his Beit Elokim, notes that only one of these three miracles is commemorated by a holiday: The Clouds of Glory are commemorated each year by the Festival of Sukkot. Why was this miracle singled out above the others? The manna and the ever-flowing, portable well from which they drank for forty years seem to have been overlooked.6

The Mab"it explains that bread and water are basic life-sustaining necessities; hence, despite the miraculous nature of the sustenance, no holiday was established to commemorate them. On the other hand, the protective clouds were an expression of God's love and compassion, and they go beyond the 'letter of the law'; whereas without bread and water the Jewish People could not have survived their forty year sojourn in the desert, the protective Clouds of Glory provided something far beyond their basic needs. For this reason a holiday was established, to celebrate the gift bestowed upon us, lavished upon us. Only an expression of this type warranted a holiday to be created.

The Mab"it further explains that the clouds protected the nation in the merit of Aharon: just as he went beyond the letter of the law in his love for the Jewish People, the clouds were God's expression of this same type of boundless love. Similarly, the well that sustained them in the desert was known as "Be'er Miriam", Miriam's Well, for it was in Miriam's merit that their water source was pure and constant throughout their travels. The manna, the other-worldly food that sustained them in the desert, was the gift they received in Moshe's merit.

The Mab"it then draws a parallel which we should not find unfamiliar. Time and again throughout Rabbinic tradition, Torah is compared to the two most basic life-sustaining essentials: Just as water and bread are necessary for life itself, so the Torah, which is represented by water and bread, is a necessity for our national, spiritual life. Moshe, paralleled by the manna, taught the men Torah, while Miriam, represented by the waters of the well, taught the women.

This analogy leads to some striking philosophical conclusions, foremost among them regarding the fundamental nature of Torah. If, indeed, Torah is our spiritual bread and water, the Divine Attribute that is associated with these bare necessities is Din, Judgment or Strictness, and not Rahamim (compassion), which is more closely associated with the protective Clouds of Glory. Indeed, in previous parshiot we have discussed the association of Moshe with Din and Aharon with Hesed or Rahamim. This basic difference of orientation between the two brothers, the two leaders of the Jewish People, reflects their affinity to the different aspects through which God's manifests Himself and is involved in human history. Thus, the different Divine Names used in different verses express a particular aspect of God's relationship to us. When God speaks at Sinai, the name of God that is used to transmit Torah is Elokim, expressing the aspect of Din. Rashi explains:

And Elokim spoke all these things, saying: (Shmot 20:1)

'And Elokim spoke' - Elokim is in all cases a judge. Here, God spoke as Judge who will exact punishment (for transgressions). (Rashi, Shmot 20:1)

On the other hand, in the verse immediately following, the first of the Ten Commandments, a different Divine Name is used - the Name of Rachamim (Compassion or Mercy):

I am God your Elokim who took you out of the Land of Egypt from the house of slavery. (Shmot 20:2)

Which is the Torah - compassion or strictness? The Talmud often7 refers to the Torah as Rachmana (loosely translated as "the words of the Merciful God," or "the merciful words of God"). Yet the textual evidence of the essential, underlying nature of Torah is conflicting: Is Torah a vehicle of God's Judgment, or of His Compassion?

Rabbenu Bachya8 offers an astute answer to this conundrum, which may be best understood through the prism of our own experience: A parent speaks to their child, motivated by love and caring, but the child hears a statement that seems strict, even harsh. Similarly, the identity we attribute to Torah is a function of our own perspective; it is subjective. When the Torah records God's speech on His own terms, the Divine Name used reflects God's perspective - God, the Eternal God of Compassion; when the Children of Israel hear the Word of God, they perceive it as the Word of Elokim, the God of Judgment. As we have often seen, "the Torah speaks in the language of man"; in fact, the Torah often reflects, in its language, the perspective and perception of man.

The interplay of the two Divine Names in the two verses seems proof enough of Rabbenu Bachya's method: The introductory statement, in verse 19, reflects that which was heard by the People, but the language with which God "introduces Himself" in verse 20 reflects the Divine perspective. Further support for this method may be found in the Targum, which reflects the deeper understanding that Moshe, who stands between the human and the Divine perspectives, expresses: Moshe heard Rachamim, expressed in the Divine Name of the Eternal, God , and not Din. This is clearly reflected in Moshe's recounting of these events in the Book of Devarim:

God talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire, I stood between God and you at that time, to tell you the word of God ; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up to the mount, saying, I am God your Elokim, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. (Dvarim 5:4-6)

Rabbenu Bachya offers numerous examples of the people's perception, as opposed to God's intended mode of revelation, as it is reflected in the Biblical text. This tension of perspectives, says Rabbenu Bachya, is the "secret" behind the Keruvim, which are variously described as agents of God and Elokim.


* * *



Additionally, Rabbenu Bachya attributes this same tension to the "secret" of Zachor and Shamor. One of the most famous linguistic difficulties in the Torah lies in the Fifth Commandment, as recorded in the Book of Shmot and the Book of Devarim. In the first source, the Commandment reads "Remember (zachor) the Shabbat day", but when Moshe recounts the Commandment in Devarim, the text reads: "Safeguard (shamor) the Shabbat day." Using Rabbenu Bachya's method, we may now understand the different language as reflection the different perspectives: God said "zachor", but Moshe explained this concept to the People as "shamor". Zachor reflects the perspective of compassion and kindness, the more spiritual and philosophical elements that reflect our unique covenant with the Eternal God. Shamor, on the other hand, reflects the aspects of strict observance that are required to maintain this covenant - the hundreds of negative safeguards against transgressing the sanctity of the Shabbat by which we live. Zachor is related to positive mitzvot, to creating a spiritual atmosphere, while shamor is related to the negative mitzvot through which we protect ourselves and the Shabbat from transgressions of holiness. 'Zachor' reflects the Divine perspective of Rachamaim, as expressed by the name God , while shamor reflects our own, human perspective of Din - the laws given to us by Elokim. The reality of Torah is the combination of Din and Rachamim, both together creating a whole: The most basic expression of the resolution of this tension is recited every day, twice daily, in the Shema: Hear O Israel - Adonai and Elokim are One.

A similar resolution of this tension of perspectives was expressed when the People of Israel stood at Sinai and proclaimed, "Na'aseh V'nishma": We will do, and we will listen, we accept the positive and the negative commandments. The greatness of the Judaism lies in the synthesis of the two perspectives, and the greatness of the Jewish People was in their ability to put na'aseh before nishma9:

R. Simla lectured: When the Israelites gave precedence to 'we will do' over 'we will hearken', six hundred thousand ministering angels came and set two crowns upon each man of Israel, one as a reward for 'we will do', and the other as a reward for 'we will hearken'. But as soon as Israel sinned, one million two hundred thousand destroying angels descended and removed them, as it is said, 'And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments from Mount Horev'. R. Hama son of R. Hanina said: At Horev they put them on and at Horev they put them off. At Horev the put them on, as we have stated. At Horev they put them off, for it is written, 'And [the Children of Israel] stripped themselves, etc'. R. Johanan observed: And Moshe was privileged and received them all, for in proximity thereto it is stated, 'And Moshe took the tent'. Resh Lakish said: [Yet] the Holy One, blessed be He, will return them to us in the future, for it is said, 'and the ransomed of God shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads' - the joy from of old shall be upon their heads.

As a result of saying "we will do" before "we will hear", each Jew was adorned with two crowns, one for listening and one for doing - one for the positive commandments and one for the negative. An angel was assigned individually and personally to each and every Jew to bestow these crowns. However, when they sinned, twice as many angles were needed to remove these same crowns. The sin of the Golden Calf brought about a process that was more than a mere reversal. Something profound had transpired.

According to the Midrash, the sin of the Golden Calf destroyed the na'aseh - "we will do": Rather than performing the positive mitzvot, as they had committed themselves to do, the used their creative, positive energies to create a calf of gold.10 Instead of mitzvot aseh, they misused their powers of asiyah: they formed - asu - an idol.

Another explanation of Hear ye the words of God: It can be compared to a king who instructed his servants: Guard those two cut-glass vessels for me, and take the greatest care of them. As he was entering the palace, a young calf standing nearby gored the servant, with the result that one of the vessels broke. The servant appeared before the king trembling, and when asked: ' Why are you trembling?' he replied: Because a calf gored me and made me break one of the two precious vessels. The king thereupon said to him: That being so, you must be all the more careful with the second one.' This is also what God said: At Sinai, you prepared two cups-" We will do," and obey"; by making the golden calf, you have shattered one-the "we will do"; be very careful therefore with the second one-"we will obey." Hence,' Hear ye the words of the Lord, O house of Jacob.'

The sin of the Golden Calf was not only a misuse of the positive powers of na'aseh, not only a rejection of Divine Rahamim; the worship of the calf disrupted the synthesis of na'aseh v'nishma the synthesis of Din and Rahamim. Now, one group of angels was sent to remove from the transgressors the crown of na'aseh. But another group of angels was needed to repair the damage to the synthesis. Without na'aseh, we cannot endure nishma. We now require greater safekeeping, some greater spiritual force to sustain us.

This combination of na'aseh and nishma, reflecting two aspects with which God is manifest in human history - the positive and the negative - were first presented much earlier, albeit in a directive worded slightly differently:

15. And God, Elokim, took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.

Man was placed in the Garden of Eden with a dual purpose, to work and to guard, to create and safeguard, to embody and embrace positive and negative.11 Man was to be a creation of na'aseh and nishma, in harmony with God and Elokim, living according to positive and negative commandments. The goal is a complete, holistic relationship with God. At that point in Eden, "Torah" was distilled into two categories, two general commandments; to work and to guard. Can we, from our present perspective, truly comprehend this existence? In Paradise, what type of work was there to do? What were they guarding, and from what were they protecting the Garden?

The Midrash, perhaps drawing on the linguistic similarity between 'Vayanichayhu (He placed him) in the Garden' and 'vayanach (and He rested) on the seventh day', points out a relationship between the Garden of Eden and Shabbat:

'Vayanihehu' (and he put him) means that He gave him the precept of the Sabbath, as you read, 'And rested (vayanah) on the seventh day (Shmot 20, 11). Le-'av'dah (to till it): as you read, 'Six days you shall labour (ta'avod) (ib. 9). Ul'shamerah (and to keep it): Keep (shamor) the Sabbath day (Devarim 5, 12). (Bereishit Rabbah 16:5)

The commandments in the Garden of Eden, "l'ovdah u'lshomra" - to work and to guard - are related to Shabbat, for six days we are meant to work and on the seventh we are commanded to rest and thereby guard the Shabbat.12 This two-pronged approach to Shabbat, working during the week and then resting on Shabbat, is engrained in our most basic education regarding Shabbat; this, says the Ramban, is the meaning of the dual character of Shabbat, as expressed in the statement and re-statement of the Fourth Commandment, Zachor and Shamor. Zachor - remember Shabbat throughout the week, allow it to infuse your life with a spiritual awareness and expectancy. And then, on the seventh day, cease your work, thereby guarding the sanctity of the Shabbat.13

These two sides of Shabbat are two sides of the same coin: Preparing for Shabbat without observing it, is absurd, while not preparing throughout the week and trying to keep it when the seventh day arrives - is impossible.14

In the Garden of Eden, Paradise, man's dual role was to prepare and keep Shabbat. This wholly spiritual existence was disrupted, sacrificed by sin. When Adam and Eve failed, they were expelled, and two centurions were posted to guard the path back to the Garden. Access to this life of spirituality, the path that leads to the Tree of Life (Torah) was now guarded by two Keruvim. Here, the Keruvim clearly represent Din; they are executors of God's Judgment in the aftermath of man's sin. The swords in their hands make their role unmistakable: They guard the path to a world forfeited by sin. Yet although man has been cast out of the Garden, having made himself unworthy of this totally spiritual existences, when we read the verses carefully we notice that man retains part of his original role: Although the task of safeguarding the Garden has been reassigned to the Keruvim, man is still bidden to work:

Man was expelled from Eden, but his task East of Eden is "la'avod" - to work the land from which he was formed. The Keruvim are commanded "lishmor" - to guard the path to the Tree if Life.

As in the aftermath of the sin of the Golden Calf, the sin of eating the forbidden fruit resulted in an imbalanced relationship with God; something was damaged, something broken. Na'aseh became separated from nishma, l'ovda became disconnected from l'shomra.

With the creation of Man, God presented us with the opportunity for a complete existence, a merger of l'ovda and l'shomara, zachor and shamor, which the Jews recognized and accepted as na'aseh and nishma. The vehicle of this merger was Shabbat. When Adam and Eve sinned, this Shabbat existence was lost; mankind was left with only one half of the whole - the work - while the "guarding" was given to the Keruvim who guarded the path to the Tree of Life.

The Revelation at Sinai represented the opportunity to heal this millennia-old schism. The Jewish People heard the first two Commandments, one positive and one negative, "mipi hagvrurah" - spoken to them directly from the Mouth of God.

The People heard the Word of the God of Judgment, spoken from a place of compassion: Rachmana amar - I am God your Elokim... This


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