Shabbat Table Topics – Parashat Vaetchanan

Revelation: A "Face to Face" Encounter?

Though many people assume that the entire nation heard the entire Decalogue (עשרת הדברים) directly from Hashem, many commentators suggest that Moshe might have acted as an intermediary for at least part of, if not the entire, experience. Which verses might provide support for each position?

  • Ibn EzraDevarim 5:5Shemot Second Commentary 20:1About R. Avraham ibn Ezra and RashbamShemot 20:15About R. Shemuel b. Meir maintain that the nation heard the entire Decalogue from Hashem, but then fear overcame them and they requested that Moshe step in. According to them, Had it not been for their fear, Hashem would have relayed the rest of Torah directly as well. How does this reading affect our perception of the uniqueness of the Decalogue? Is it problematic to suggest that Hashem might have a change of plan?
  • Rambam2 33About Rambam Moreh Nevukhim, in contrast, assumes that Hashem spoke directly only to Moshe. The people listened in on their conversation, but heard merely a Divine voice without being able to decipher His words. Rambam is likely motivated by his belief that indiscriminate prophecy is impossible. Is prophecy possible only with proper training and preparation, or can anyone reach prophetic levels if Hashem chooses to speak to them?  Attempt to bring evidence from other cases in Tanakh.
  • What ramifications does this dispute have for understanding the main purpose of the Sinaitic revelation?

For elaboration, see The Decalogue: Direct From Hashem or Via Moshe?

Sins of the Parents

Why, at times, are the righteous punished while sinners prosper? The verse "פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל בָּנִים" appears to suggest that, at least in certain circumstances, Hashem Himself punishes innocent children while their sinful parents go free.

  • How does this manifest Divine justice? Is there any other way of understanding the verse?
  • When, if ever, is collective punishment justified? Can the same reasoning apply to vicarious punishment?  Is punishment within a family different?
  • For extensive discussion of the issue, see Are Children Punished for Parents' Sins.

Loving Hashem

How should the concept of "love" be defined?  What does the commandment to love Hashem entail?  Are emotions even subject to one's will? How can one be commanded to feel a certain way? 

  • Commentators disagree whether the love prescribed is an emotion, a cognitive process, or an action. While the RambamHilkhot Teshuvah 10:3About R. Moshe b. Maimon views love of Hashem as an emotional longing, comparable to the love between spouses, ShadalDevarim 6:5About R. Shemuel David Luzzatto asserts that the commandment is action-oriented and is a metaphoric way of saying that one must be loyal to God and observe His commandments.  RambanShemot 20:5About R. Moshe b. Nachman offers a  third possibility, that the mitzvah is one of martyrdom.
  • Which of the above approaches do you find the most compelling?  Which verses in the paragraphs of "Shema" might support each understanding?   How might each exegete apply his interpretation to other directives involving love of another, such as the commandment to love your neighbor and a foreigner?  For elaboration, see Ahavat Hashem.

Decalogue Differences

There are many differences between the formulations of the Decalogue found in Shemot and in Devarim. How should these variations be understood? Were they introduced by Hashem, Moshe, or both? If the latter, what gave Moshe the authority to do so? Do both versions of the Decalogue have equal status, or does one represent the ideal (and which)?

  • R. D"Z Hoffmann suggests that Moshe initiated the changes in the fortieth year and that they related to the nation's imminent arrival in the Land of Israel. In contrast, MalbimShemot 20:7-10About R. Meir Leibush Weiser asserts that Hashem Himself made the changes in the aftermath of the Sin of the Golden Calf.  Due to sin, the people no longer merited a miraculous existence, and the Decalogue was amended to fit a nation now governed by laws of nature. How would each position explain all of the differences between the two versions? Can each account for all of the variations? Which approach do you find more compelling?
  • In contrast to the above exegetes, Ibn EzraShemot Second Commentary 20:1About R. Avraham ibn Ezra maintains that the Decalogue in Devarim is simply Moshe's paraphrase of Hashem's words. Though some words are different, there is no fundamental difference in meaning. He explains, "המלות הם כגופות, והטעמים כנשמות" and thus a change in wording is insignificant. Do you agree? Is word choice meaningful? How might Ibn Ezra account for the seemingly very different reasons given for the commandment of Shabbat? See Decalogue Differences for elaboration.
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