Parashat Va'etchanan Life and Goodness


הרב שבתי סבתו
טו אב תשעו
לרשימת השיעורים לחץ כאן
If a person is imbued with total awareness and understanding that Hashem is the True G-d, and that His presence fills the entire expanse, there is no room left to even consider or contempl

ב"ה

 

אב תשע"ו

Aug. '16

פרשת ואתחנן

Parashat Va'etchanan

הרב שבתי סבתו

Rabbi Shabtai Sabato

 

החיים והטוב

Life and Goodness

 

 

 

 

The Ten Commandments

The central axis of the entirety of the Torah's mitzvot is certainly the Ten Commandments, given to the People of Israel at Mount Sinai. And these Ten Commandments themselves revolve around their own central axis - namely, the first two of them:

אָנֹכִי ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ...
I am the Lord your G-d...

and

לֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱ-לֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל פָּנָי.
You shall have no other gods before Me.

 (D'varim 5,6-7)

The first is the positive commandment to believe in G-d, and the second is the prohibition not to have other gods, as in idol worship. These are two different things: We must both accept Hashem as G-d and negate the possibility of any other deity.

 

When we closely examine the two, however, we can see that the second is actually included within the first one. How so?

 

If a person is imbued with total awareness and understanding that Hashem is the True G-d, and that His presence fills the entire expanse, there is no room left to even consider or contemplate the worship of false gods. The conclusion is, therefore, that the first commandment – knowing that I am the Lord your G-d – is, on its own, the very foundation of the Ten Commandments and the entire Torah.

 

In this light, given the fundamental importance of the Ten Commandments, we would expect that since they appear in two places in the Torah – in Parashat Yitro in Sh'mot, and also here in Va'etchanan – the two accounts would be identical. There seems to be no reason that the way they first appeared at Mt. Sinai would be any different than the way Moshe Rabbeinu repeated them 40 years later, by G-d's word, in his parting speech to the People of Israel.

 

Yet we find that this is not the case. In fact, there are several blatant differences between the two accounts. Let us discuss one of the more famous ones: several words in the second account, in the mitzvah of Kibbud Av Va'em, honoring one's father and mother, that do not appear in the first.

 

In Parashat Va'etchanan we read as follows:

כַּבֵּד אֶת אָבִיךָ וְאֶת אִמֶּךָ ...
לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיכֻן יָמֶיךָ וּלְמַעַן יִיטַב לָךְ עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ.

Honor your father and mother... so that your days be prolonged

and that it be good for you on the Land that Hashem your G-d gives you.

 (D'varim 5,16)

The Torah here promises us both long life and goodness. In Yitro, on the other hand, the highlighted phrase - that it be good for you - does not appear. Why is this? Is it because it is self-evident that long life (prolonged days) is also good for you, and therefore the latter phrase need not be repeated? Or are we to learn something in particular from the mention of this phrase? Perhaps something happened between the givings of the two sets of Ten Commandments that caused Moshe Rabbeinu to add that it be good for you to the reward for "Honor[ing] thy Parents."

 

This requires analysis.

 

 

The Good Land

Let us briefly consider Birkat HaMazon, the Grace After Meals. The second blessing begins with these words: נודה לך ה' אלוקינו על שהנחלת לאבותינו ארץ חמדה טובה וברכה, We thank You, Hashem our G-d, for having given our forefathers a land that is special, good, and [full of] blessing. This phrase is an affirmation of Moshe Rabbeinu's words in Parashat Ekev:

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ עַל הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָךְ.
Eat, be satiated, and bless Hashem your G-d

for the good land He gave you.

 (8,10)

And this is just one of several times that the Holy Land is described in the Book of D'varim as good. The first time was at the very beginning of Va'etchanan, when Moshe repeated his famous plea to G-d:

אֶעְבְּרָה נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה אֲשֶׁר בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן, הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה וְהַלְּבָנֹן.
Allow me to pass over, please, and see the good Land

on the other side of the Jordan,

this good mountain and Lebanon.

 (3,25)

Throughout his parting speech, Moshe repeats many times that he himself will not merit to enter the Land of Israel, while the children of those who left Egypt are about to receive the privilege of entering the good Land.

 

This, then, appears to be the explanation for Moshe's addition of the words so that it may be good for you in his recounting of the Ten Commandments. He was emphasizing that they were about to enter the good land and that it would be good for them. He specifically added this in the fifth commandment, that of Honoring Parents, for which the specified reward is "in order that your days be prolonged on the Land that the Lord your G-d gives you" - this Land is the good Land that G-d has given us.

 

This could be the explanation – but the Gemara explains differently.

 

 

The Broken Tablets
The Gemara in Tractate Bava Kama (54b-55a) tells the following story:

R. Hanina ben Agil asked R. Chiya ben Abba: "Why do the First Commandments not say the word good, while the second ones do have the word good?" [The reference is to the aforementioned phrase, which appears in Va'etchanan but not in Yitro.]

R. Chiya answered: "Instead of asking me 'why,' why don't you first ask me whether or not good is written there; I don't know if it is written there or not. Go and ask R. Tanchum bar Chanilai, who spent much time with R. Yehoshua ben Levi, the expert on Aggadah [Medrashic stories and parables]."

R. Hanina went to R. Tanchum, who told him, "I did not hear the answer to this question from R. Yehoshua, but I did hear it from Shmuel bar Nachum: 'Good was not mentioned on the First Tablets because they were destined to be smashed [by Moshe during the Sin of the Golden Calf]."

[The Gemara asks:] "So what? Why is that a reason not to write the word good?"

Rav Ashi explains that if the word good would be smashed, "this could mean, Heaven forbid, that G-d's goodness to Israel might be stopped."

 

This story raises several questions. For one thing, how is it possible that one of the greatest Talmudic Sages - R. Chiya, the prize student of R. Yochanan - did not know a simple verse in the Torah? Can it be that he truly didn't know the differences between the two accounts of the Ten Commandments?

 

And even if he did not know, why did he feel the need to emphasize this? And why did he not just open up a Bible and check whether the phrase in question appeared or not, instead of sending R. Hanina to R. Tanchum?

 

Finally, why did he send him to an expert in Aggadah, when he should have sent him to an expert in Biblical verses?

 

The answers to the above are provided by the renowned scholar Rabbi Reuven Margaliyot,[1] in his work Margaliyot HaYam (Pearls of the Sea). Rabbi Margaliyot writes that the differences in wording between the two accounts of the Ten Commandments were certainly known to all, and certainly to the great Torah scholars. The question was not what was written in Yitro and in Va'etchanan, but rather what was written on the First and Second Tablets themselves!

 

R. Chiya knew quite well that the phrase in question did not appear in Yitro, and therefore not on the First Tablets of the Law. His question was rather: When Moshe added it in his account in Va'etchanan, did he do so because it appeared on the Second Tablets? Or, was it not there, and he added the words in his parting speech simply because G-d told him to do so?

 

In other words, the questioner in the Gemara assumed that there was a difference between the First and Second Tablets, whereas R. Chiya said, "Certainly the Torah's two accounts are different than each other, but I don't know if there was a difference in the Tablets themselves."

 

Incidentally, let us emphasize that whatever Moshe added in his speech in D'varim was told to him by G-d Himself – as we read in the third verse of D'varim, which refers to the entire book. The verse reads:

וַיְהִי בְּאַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה בְּעַשְׁתֵּי עָשָׂר חֹדֶשׁ בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ,
דִּבֶּר משֶׁה אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' אֹתוֹ אֲלֵהֶם.

It was on the first day of the eleventh month of the fortieth year,

Moshe spoke to the Children of Israel,

all that Hashem had commanded him to say to them.

 

 

Based on this, we can see why R. Chiya sent R. Hanina to an expert in Aggadah – because it is not a question of what is written in the verses; rather, the wording of the Tablets themselves is the issue.

 

And what was the final answer? It was that good is not written on the First Tablets, because they were destined to be broken, but they were written on the second set – precisely as in Moshe's recounting of the story in Va'etchanan.

 

Let us pursue the idea that it was known in advance that the First Tablets would not last because Bnei Yisrael would sin. This appears to negate the idea of Free Will! If it was already set "in stone" that Bnei Yisrael would sin, why should they be punished? It appears that they had no choice!

 

The following passage in the Gemara can help us:

 

One cannot understand the words of Torah unless he first stumbles on [misunderstands] them. (Gittin 43a)

 

That is to say, failure is a part of learning. Without first making mistakes, we often do not truly understand and internalize that which he seek to learn. It was therefore nearly certain that the First Tablets would not last long without being violated, at least partially. The great unknown, of course, was the gravity of the expected sins – which, in fact, was more intense than could have been expected.

 

 

The Hidden Goodness

Another question on the incident cited above from the Gemara: Rav Ashi said that "goodness" was not mentioned in the First Tablets so that their smashing should not put an end to Israel's "goodness." Why, then, was "long life" mentioned in the First Tablets? Are we not concerned that Israel's "long life" might be shortened by the smashing of the Tablets?

 

This question leads us to the following conclusion: A blow to "long life" can be remedied by the addition of "goodness," but if the latter is negated, nothing can rectify it. That is, the "goodness" of the Second Tablets does not stand on its own, but is rather for the purpose of rectifying the loss of "long life."

 

This helps us understand the following verse:

רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַיּוֹם אֶת הַחַיִּים וְאֶת הַטּוֹב וְאֶת הַמָּוֶת וְאֶת הָרָע.

Behold, I have set before you today life and goodness…

(D'varim 30,15)

 

That is, life is not sufficient without goodness – a good life.

 

If the goodness of the First Tablets would have been shattered, nothing could have helped make up for this loss. Goodness is the ultimate purpose of all of Creation, Rabbi Akiva states in the Talmud:

 

Everything the All-Merciful does, He does for good. (B'rachot 60b)

 

Rabbi Akiva does not bring support or a source for his words, but in fact, the Torah makes the point clearly:

וְעַתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל מָה ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ שֹׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ
כִּי אִם לְיִרְאָה אֶת ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לָלֶכֶת בְּכָל דְּרָכָיו... לְטוֹב לָךְ!
Now, Israel, what does Hashem ask of you,
if only to fear Him and to walk in His ways… so that it will be good for you!
(D'varim 10,12-13)

 

That is, everything that Hashem asks of Israel is only so that He can bestow upon them "goodness." Since His purpose is to benefit His creations, He tests their deeds daily to see if they meet the criteria of absolute good. This, in fact, is the meaning of the phrase repeated on each day of Creation: "G-d saw that it was good." And if His creations pass the daily test, He can continue to the next day. So explains the Rambam in his Guide to the Perplexed. Of course, everything that G-d does is perfect and "good," but the Torah emphasizes this here in order to teach us the purpose of Creation.

 

 

The Place of Numerology

As mentioned, the center of gravity of the Second Tablets is "that it be good for you." This is our chance to mention the incredible observation of the Baal HaTurim.[2] He counted the words in each of the two versions of the Ten Commandments, and found that the first has 172 words, while the second one has 189. The difference between them, 17, is exactly the gematriya [numerological value] of the letters of the word טוב, good. This is an allusion to the addition in the second Tablets of the words "that it be good for you."

 

Accordingly, the addition of the Second Tablets is good, and it is that which can rectify Israel's sins that caused the smashing of the First Tablets.

 

Let us, incidentally, devote a few sentences to the importance of gematriya. The Mishna does not appear to give it great value:

 

R. Elazar ben Chisma said: “The laws of the bird-pair offerings and the beginning of menstrual periods are [examples of] essential Jewish laws, while astronomy and gematriya are the condiments or after-courses of wisdom.” (Pirkei Avot 3,18)

 

In truth, however, the Mishna is referring to gematriya in general, but not to the essence of true gematriya, which deals with the very foundation of the numbers and is well-grounded in the secrets of Torah and its deepest concepts.

 

The Hebrew language is comprised of words and sentences that can be broken down and then put back together differently. But what cannot be broken down are the 22 letters of the alphabet - the most basic elements of the language. Every letter has a number that expresses its essence. It is similar to the world of matter, comprised of molecules. Each molecule can be broken down chemically into its basic elements – such as hydrogen and oxygen, in the case of water – while the elements themselves cannot be broken down (other than by nuclear fission).

 

What differentiates between the various elements? Every element has a different number of protons in its atoms, and this numerical quantity determines the qualitative value of the element. For instance, the different between gold and iron is that gold atoms have 79 protons each, while iron atoms have 26 protons. We thus learn from the science of the elements that numerical quantity is the basis for quality. Just as the difference between gold and iron is in the number of protons, so too the difference between words is founded upon the gematriya of their letters.

 

 

Justice and Goodness

Why did R. Chanina ben Agil, in the above-quoted Gemara, ask about the differences in the two Tablets in the mitzvah of honoring parents, yet did not seem bothered by the differences between the two accounts of the commandment to keep the Sabbath?

 

The answer is that the explanation for both sets of differences is based on the same principle; the answer to one is the answer to the other. The mitzvah of the Sabbath in Yitro is based on the Torah's testimony that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh – while in Va'etchanan, the Sabbath is predicated upon the fact that G-d took us out of Egypt:

...לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ כָּמוֹךָ. וְזָכַרְתָּ כִּי עֶבֶד הָיִיתָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם...

עַל כֵּן צִוְּךָ ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת.

… so that your servant and maidservant will rest like you do,
and you shall remember that you were a slave in the Land of Egypt…
therefore G-d commanded you to make the Sabbath day.

(D'varim 5,14-15)

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