Shabbos D'var Torah
highlights from our Torah On Wednesday Night (TOWN) Parsha B'Shalach:
“The Talk of TOWN”
- A DISCUSSION FOR YOUR SHABBAT TABLE:
Yisro - Standing up for Aseres Hadibros / The Ten Commandments
While we didn’t have a formal TOWN HALL discussion this past , a Shiur/Torah talk actually occurred at the Kosher Food & Wine Expo attended by a number of our wonderful Chevra from the Shul on the Beach. It was great to see you all, pourers and pourees alike! We had a wonderful “Shomer Shabbos” representation! Here are the highlights of our Herzog-infused Torah:
THE QUESTIONABLE CUSTOM
You may be familiar with the following custom: About three times a year during the Torah reading/Laining when we read the Ten Commandments (when we read Parashas Yisro, Veschanan, and on Shavuos), the Gabbai “Klops” ( bangs) on the Bima and/or announces loudly: “ We will all now rise for the reading of the Aseres Hadibros/Ten Commandments…”. I have yet to see a Shul in North America in which this doesn’t occur (perhaps my Sephardi friends report differently?), but indeed this does not occur in every Shul-some rule that if the congregation sits during the rest of the Torah reading, it should remain seated during the reading of the Ten Commandments as well. What is the issue/debate?
The support for the custom: Quite obvious-it’s the Ten Commandments! These represent the very covenant between Israel as a people and Hashem. Surely we should stand up for this-no? As explicitly stated in the Torah :
In Sh’mot 34:28:
28He was there with the Lord for forty days and forty nights; he ate no bread and drank no water, and He inscribed upon the tablets the words of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments.
כחוַיְהִי־שָׁ֣ם עִם־הֹ אַרְבָּעִ֥ים יוֹם֙ וְאַרְבָּעִ֣ים לַ֔יְלָה לֶ֚חֶם לֹ֣א אָכַ֔לוּמַ֖יִם לֹ֣א שָׁתָ֑ה וַיִּכְתֹּ֣ב עַל־הַלֻּחֹ֗ת אֵ֚ת דִּבְרֵ֣י הַבְּרִ֔ית עֲשֶׂ֖רֶתהַדְּבָרִֽים:
And in D’varim :
13And He told you His covenant, which He commanded you to do, the Ten Commandments, and He inscribed them on two stone tablets.
יגוַיַּגֵּ֨ד לָכֶ֜ם אֶת־בְּרִית֗וֹ אֲשֶׁ֨ר צִוָּ֤ה אֶתְכֶם֙ לַֽעֲשׂ֔וֹת עֲשֶׂ֖רֶת הַדְּבָרִ֑יםוַיִּכְתְּבֵ֔ם עַל־שְׁנֵ֖י לֻח֥וֹת אֲבָנִֽים:
The opposition however will say: Have we forgotten about the rest of the Torah? If we stand up for the Ten Commandments, how does that reflect on our reverence for the rest of the Torah? As Torah Jews of course, we firmly believe that every part of the Torah is of equal importance - it is all the word of Hashem.
RAMBAM/MAIMONIDES SPEAKS OUT
Rambam/Maimonides penned a Responsa on this issue and after discussion concludes that the proper practice is to not stand for “select” parts of the Torah. He felt that standing would lead to a diminution of belief in Hashem and the Torah by causing people to think some parts of the Torah are more important than others (See Talmud Berachot 12 discussing certain heretics’ belief about only certain parts of the Torah being valid).
THE CHALLENGE-HOW DO WE JUSTIFY MAINTAINING THE CUSTOM THAT THE GREAT MAIMONIDES OPPOSES?
Over the years I have shared a few approaches that support our prevalent custom to indeed stand up during the reading of the Aseres Hadibros. I will cite them briefly before I share with you my most recently inspired thought ( night):
- The Entire Torah is indeed contained and incorporated within the Ten Commandments, which are a composite of all 613 Commandments. Rashi on Sh’mot 24:12 states this, citing the Medrash Raba and R’ Sa’adiah Ga’on’s Azharot. [Philo’s De Decalogo has been suggested as an early source for this idea];
- When we stand up for the reading, we are simply “replaying” the actual scene/event in which the Torah was give, where we all did indeed stand as we listened to the delivery of the Ten Commandments. In recreating the event, we reenact and “reaccept” the Torah. This idea resonates when learning the words of the [ Medrash] PESIKTA: “HAKADOSH BORUCH HU [G-D] SAID TO YISROEL, MY CHILDREN, READ THIS PARSHA EVERY YEAR AND I WILL CONSIDER IT AS IF YOU ARE STANDING IN FRONT OF ME ON HAR SINAI AND RECEIVING THE TORAH.”. It was gratifying to hear this idea, shared as an original thought and Chiddush, by my dear friend R’ Avi Erblich, who attended our TOWN HALL impromptu gathering this past night at the KFWE. Avi: Yasher Koach and Baruch Shekivanta!
MY NIGHT CHIDDUSH-FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I recall a Gemara, a famously quoted Talmudic statement from Tractate Makkot, 22b , as follows:
“אמר רבא, כמה טפשאי שאר אינשי, דקיימי מקמי ספר תורה ולא קיימי מקמי גברא רבה, דאילו בספר תורה כתיב ארבעים ואתו רבנן בצרו חדא”—Rava said: How foolish are some people, who stand up in honor of a sefer Torah, but they do not stand up in honor of a “gavra rabbah.” For it is written in the sefer Torah “forty”; the Rabbis came along and subtracted one.
In other words, people who show respect for a sefer Torah but not for the great men who interpret the Torah are truly foolish. For the Torah specifically states: “He shall administer forty lashes,” and yet the sages possess the power to override the Torah’s specific prescription and establish the maximum number of lashes as thirty-nine.
How about if we view the custom to stand during the reading of the Aseres Hadibros not as specifically rising to the words of the Ten Commandments-those are indeed not more divinely delivered than the rest of the Torah, but rather, we stand in honor of us humans, to whom the Torah was given! WE were given the ultimate gift-the opportunity to learn, absorb, and interpret the Torah and the actual word of Hashem. At Mt. Sinai, we, the Jewish people were inaugurated as “Living Torahs”. The “Ten Commandments” was our “swearing in” ceremony. The Covenant is remembered not because those words above all have heightened importance, but because at the time those words were delivered, we were raised up to achieve a level higher than the very words of Hashem themselves! Indeed, each and every one of us has been given that opportunity. To not only know the Torah, but to become its very master.
So my friends, when I will stand up this Shabbos, I will be standing up in honor of the Torah no doubt, but with a new enlightened understanding. I will be honoring each and every one of you-all of us, with the hope and prayer that we listen, absorb, share and embody those life-giving lessons in very beings so that we become as elevated-or even more elevated-than our beloved Torah itself!