The Decalogue: Direct From Hashem or Via Moshe?


Unidentified Audience

The Decalogue is arguably the most important Divine communication in the history of mankind.  Yet, the verses in Shemot leave considerable ambiguity as to who received this communication.  In fact, the verse introducing the Decalogue in Shemot 20 is the only case in the entire Torah in which Hashem speaks and His addressee is not identified:

וַיְדַבֵּר אֱ-לֹהִים אֵת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר.

To whom did Hashem communicate the Decalogue? Did He speak directly to the nation, or did He deliver it only to Moshe who was then charged with relaying it to the nation?

Contradictory Verses

Numerous texts seem to imply that the nation heard the Decalogue directly from Hashem, without any intermediary. This is particularly true of several verses throughout Devarim 4:

(יב) וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֲלֵיכֶם מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ קוֹל דְּבָרִים אַתֶּם שֹׁמְעִים וּתְמוּנָה אֵינְכֶם רֹאִים זוּלָתִי קוֹל.

(טו) וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּם מְאֹד לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם כִּי לֹא רְאִיתֶם כָּל תְּמוּנָה בְּיוֹם דִּבֶּר ה' אֲלֵיכֶם בְּחֹרֵב מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ.

(לג) הֲשָׁמַע עָם קוֹל אֱ-לֹהִים מְדַבֵּר מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׁמַעְתָּ אַתָּה וַיֶּחִי.

(לו) מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם הִשְׁמִיעֲךָ אֶת קֹלוֹ לְיַסְּרֶךָּ וְעַל הָאָרֶץ הֶרְאֲךָ אֶת אִשּׁוֹ הַגְּדוֹלָה וּדְבָרָיו שָׁמַעְתָּ מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ.

The unmediated nature of the Divine communication would appear, at first glance, to also be the very point that Moshe is attempting to drive home to the nation in Devarim 5:4:

פָּנִים בְּפָנִים דִּבֶּר ה' עִמָּכֶם בָּהָר מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ.

However, the very next verse seems to contradict this, implying that, even during the Decalogue, Moshe mediated between the nation and Hashem:

אָנֹכִי עֹמֵד בֵּין ה' וּבֵינֵיכֶם בָּעֵת הַהִוא לְהַגִּיד לָכֶם אֶת דְּבַר ה' כִּי יְרֵאתֶם מִפְּנֵי הָאֵשׁ וְלֹא עֲלִיתֶם בָּהָר לֵאמֹר.

Yet a third possibility is implied by Shemot 19:9.  From there it appears that Hashem's entire objective was, not to speak to the nation, but only that they should listen in while He spoke to Moshe:

וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי בָּא אֵלֶיךָ בְּעַב הֶעָנָן בַּעֲבוּר יִשְׁמַע הָעָם בְּדַבְּרִי עִמָּךְ וְגַם בְּךָ יַאֲמִינוּ לְעוֹלָם וַיַּגֵּד מֹשֶׁה אֶת דִּבְרֵי הָעָם אֶל ה'.

And, finally, a fourth option, that the people heard the Decalogue from both Moshe and Hashem, might be understood from Shemot 19:19:

וַיְהִי קוֹל הַשּׁוֹפָר הוֹלֵךְ וְחָזֵק מְאֹד מֹשֶׁה יְדַבֵּר וְהָאֱ-לֹהִים יַעֲנֶנּוּ בְקוֹל.

What exactly happened?  Was the Decalogue transmitted to the Israelites by Hashem, Moshe, or some combination?

Grammatical Inconsistency

In the middle of the Decalogue, there is a shift in speaker which may be relevant to our question. While in the opening section, Hashem speaks in first person, the subsequent verses speak of Him in third person. The following table highlights this disparity:

גוף ראשון גוף שלישי
(ב) אָנֹכִי ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים לֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל פָּנָי. (ג) לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה לְךָ פֶסֶל וְכָל תְּמוּנָה אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתַָּחַת וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ. (ד) לֹא תִשְׁתַּחְוֶה לָהֶם וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם כִּי אָנֹכִי ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֵל קַנָּא פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבֹת עַל בָּנִים עַל שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל רִבֵּעִים לְשֹׂנְאָי. (ה) וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד לַאֲלָפִים לְאֹהֲבַי וּלְשֹׁמְרֵי מִצְוֹתָי. (ו) לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת שֵׁם ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לַשָּׁוְא כִּי לֹא יְנַקֶּה ה' אֵת אֲשֶׁר יִשָּׂא אֶת שְׁמוֹ לַשָּׁוְא. (ז) זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ. (ח) שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל מְלַאכְתֶּךָ. (ט) וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה כָל מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ וּבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ. (י) כִּי שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים עָשָׂה ה' אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ אֶת הַיָּם וְאֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר בָּם וַיָּנַח בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי עַל כֵּן בֵּרַךְ ה' אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת וַיְקַדְּשֵׁהוּ. (יא) כַּבֵּד אֶת אָבִיךָ וְאֶת אִמֶּךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ.
First Person Third Person
(2) “I am Hashem your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “You shall have no other gods before me. (3) “You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any image of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: (4) you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them, for I, Hashem your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, (5) and showing loving kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (6) “You shall not take the name of Hashem your God in vain, for Hashem will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. (7) “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (8) You shall labor six days, and do all your work, (9) but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Hashem your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates; (10) for in six days Hashem made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore Hashem blessed the Sabbath day, and He made it holy. (11) “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which Hashem your God gives you.

If all of the commandments were delivered directly by Hashem, one would expect them all to be in first person. Conversely, if Moshe is the speaker, then even the first two should be in third person.  Is it possible that the speaker shifted in the middle of the commandments? Could this account for the ambiguous wording of 20:1 which does not specify Hashem's audience?

Philosophical Issues

The Decalogue is the only case in history in which an entire nation experienced some form of Divine revelation.  This raises additional issues regarding the nature of prophecy and its prerequisites.  Does a three day purification period suffice to prepare a person for prophecy?  Can anyone receive prophecy, or is it limited to people who have perfected their intellect and personalities?  Do all prophets achieve the same level of prophecy, or are there different degrees of clarity?

Moreover, what was the purpose of the revelation at Sinai?  Was it intended to prove Hashem's existence, or perhaps it was to verify that Moshe was His messenger and chosen conduit to convey the commandments of the Torah?  If the former, it would be fitting for the entire nation to hear Hashem's words, but if the latter, perhaps a distinction between the people and Moshe was necessary.

In Approaches, we will see how all of these questions and issues combine in different ways to create several distinct positions among the commentators.