Sunday, January 31, 2010

Parshat Yitro 5770 - Reliving Revelation

Parshat Yitro 5770
Rabbi Ari Kahn

Reliving Revelation

The goal of the Exodus never was merely geographical relocation, the physical removal of the Jewish slaves from the boundaries of Egypt. From the outset, the liberation of the descendents of Avraham had a far more specific goal: The Jews would be liberated, redeemed from exile, and taken to the Promised Land. In order to achieve this, there was one important stop to be made on the way, a rendezvous with God at a very specific spot:

שמות פרק ג: ח, יב
וָאֵרֵד לְהַצִּילוֹ מִיַּד מִצְרַיִם וּלְהַעֲלֹתוֹ מִן הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא אֶל אֶרֶץ טוֹבָה וּרְחָבָה אֶל אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ אֶל מְקוֹם הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַחִתִּי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי:
וַיֹּאמֶר כִּי אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ וְזֶה לְּךָ הָאוֹת כִּי אָנֹכִי שְׁלַחְתִּיךָ בְּהוֹצִיאֲךָ אֶת הָעָם מִמִּצְרַיִם תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים עַל הָהָר הַזֶּה:
And I am coming down to save them from the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, to a land flowing with milk and honey; to the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Yevusites.
And he said [to Moshe], "For I will be with you; and this shall be a sign to you, that I have sent you; when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain." Shmot 3:8,12

The liberation of the Israelites from Egypt could have been effectuated in many different ways. Surely, the Almighty could have removed them immediately, making the Exodus effortless and sudden. Yet God's plan, from the outset, was for a slow, deliberate process. We have noted elsewhere that one of the objectives of this process was to reveal the power of God, both to the Jews and to their oppressors, and to unmask the deities of the Egyptian pantheon as nothing more than worthless idols. The Egyptians, as representatives of the non-Jewish world, were only one of the intended audiences for this lesson; in fact, the Jews themselves were no less in need of this display of God's singular dominion over all of creation. Just as the plagues punished the Egyptians for their pagan practices and inhuman cruelty, they prepared the Jews for that preordained rendezvous at the mountain, and the revelation they would experience there.

שמות פרק ו, ז
וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם לִי לְעָם וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹקִים וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי  ה’ אֱלֹקֵיכֶם הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלוֹת מִצְרָיִם:
And I will take you to Me for a People, and I will be to you a God; and you shall know that I am the Almighty your God, who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. Shmot 6:7

Knowledge of God was the goal. Each plague revealed more of God’s power, and of the impotence of the gods of Egypt. These escalating displays of God's might, and of His intimate and ongoing involvement in the world which He created, were a type of revelation in and of themselves. Later, as the Jews safely crossed through the sea and witnessed the cruel Egyptians receiving their just reward, they experienced a higher level of revelation of God's power and omnipotence, of His might and justice. Finally, at Sinai, they experienced a unique, full-scale revelation.

Each of these experiences of revelation was accompanied by a very particular content: In each case, the Jewish People were given laws alongside the sights, sounds and experiences. In each case, the sensory lesson was paralleled by an intellectual or cognitive lesson: In Egypt the Jews were instructed in great detail how to keep the Pesach, both as a vehicle for their immediate, personal, physical redemption and as a commemorative holiday to maintain that experience for all time. Similarly, immediately after crossing the sea, at Marah the Jew received more laws[1]. And finally, at Sinai, ten statements were uttered which would impact the entire world and transform the Jewish People forever: The Ten Commandments.

What was the primary importance of the Revelation at Sinai? Was it the laws which were imparted or the sensory experience of an infinite God communicating with man? If we could separate these two elements, the Revelation and the content of the Revelation, we would be left with rather surprising results: It may be presumed that if left to stand alone, the content of the Revelation at Sinai, namely the Ten Commandments, presents a radical departure from accepted social norms and embodies a stunning[2] and potentially transformative social and theological system. Yet, devoid of divine provenance, the message would be relatively unimportant. Had these been a set of laws set down by a community to guide their interpersonal and religious behavior, their impact would have been no greater than any other set of laws that held sway in the ancient world; indeed, the mores of a miniscule band of liberated slaves would have merited no attention whatsoever beyond the bounds of that minute community. Had these words not been the Word of God, delivered in a unique and earth-shattering moment of mass revelation, even had these same words been delivered in a more commonplace fashion to the adherents of the faith, they would not have held the same place in our collective conscience or consciousness, nor would their impact have been so widespread. In other words, the fact that God spoke is more important than what He said; only after one acknowledges that God indeed spoke does the message, the content, the words of that speech attain supreme significance.

In choosing the Haftarah to be read in conjunction with this Parsha, the Rabbis emphasize this idea. The Haftarah reading is utilized as a means to encapsulate and reinforce the major theme of the Parsha, and in this case, the theme has nothing to do with law and everything to do with revelation:

ישעיהו פרק ו, א-ד
בִּשְׁנַת מוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ עֻזִּיָּהוּ וָאֶרְאֶה אֶת ה' יֹשֵׁב עַל כִּסֵּא רָם וְנִשָּׂא וְשׁוּלָיו מְלֵאִים אֶת הַהֵיכָל:שְׂרָפִים עֹמְדִים מִמַּעַל לוֹ שֵׁשׁ כְּנָפַיִם שֵׁשׁ כְּנָפַיִם לְאֶחָד בִּשְׁתַּיִם יְכַסֶּה פָנָיו וּבִשְׁתַּיִם יְכַסֶּה רַגְלָיו וּבִשְׁתַּיִם יְעוֹפֵף:וְקָרָא זֶה אֶל זֶה וְאָמַר קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ ה' צְבָאוֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ: וַיָּנֻעוּ אַמּוֹת הַסִּפִּים מִקּוֹל הַקּוֹרֵא וְהַבַּיִת יִמָּלֵא עָשָׁן:
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also God sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the Sanctuary. Above it stood the seraphim; each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly. And one cried to another, and said, 'Holy, holy, holy, is the God of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.' And the posts of the door moved at the voice of he who cried, and the [Temple] house was filled with smoke. Yishayahu 6:1-4

Yishayahu recounts a spectacular vision, a personal revelation of the majesty of God and His holy minions. And yet, the association of this prophecy with our Parsha is not necessarily the only possible choice; various other, perhaps more appropriate, sections of the Prophets could have been utilized. In fact, when the Ten Commandments are read during the holiday service on Shavuot, a different section is read as the Haftarah: the section which records the quintessential revelation of the Chariot of Yechezkel. This leads us to a simple, unavoidable question: why the different Haftarahs? Why was the portion from Yechezkel chosen as the Haftarah for Shavuot, while the same verses are paired with Yishayahu's vision for this week's reading?[3]

In fact, the Talmud records a certain tension regarding the choice of Haftarah for Shavuot: The association of the Revelation of the Chariot as the reading for Shavuot was not a foregone conclusion.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף לא עמוד א
בעצרת (דברים ט"ז), "שבעה שבועות". ומפטירין (חבקוק ג') בחבקוק. אחרים אומרים: (שמות י"ט), "בחדש השלישי", ומפטירין (יחזקאל א') במרכבה. והאידנא דאיכא תרי יומי - עבדינן כתרוייהו, ואיפכא.
On Shavuot (Pentecost), we read (Devarim 16), "Seven weeks," and for haftarah a chapter from Habakuk (chapter 3). According to others, we read “In the third month”(Shmot 19), and for haftarah the account of the Divine Chariot (Yechezkel 1). Nowadays that we observe two days, we follow both courses, but in the reverse order. Talmud Bavli Megila 31a

The Talmudic discussion expresses a tension that is part of a larger debate regarding the nature of Shavuot: Is the focus on the agricultural aspect of the holiday which is clearly stated in the Torah, or is it on the Revelation, which is traditionally associated with this same holiday?[4] The conclusion is that we commemorate both the Feast of weeks, which is agricultural, and the Sinaitic Revelation which took place on that date. This technical resolution is a convenient combination of these two aspects, reflected in the scriptural readings, appropriate for Jews in the Diaspora who celebrate Shavuot over two days.[5] By twinning the reading from Parshat Yitro with the Haftarah from Yechezkel and assigning them to the first day of the holiday, the Revelation is deemed the primary theme; the second day of the festival is of lesser stature, and the "leftover" readings are relegated to secondary status. In short, our question remains unanswered: why is the Haftarah of the Chariot read on Shavuot, but not for Parshat Yitro as well? If the main thrust of these verses is the Sinaitic Revelation, why did the Sages establish a different reading for this week's Parsha?

There is an important distinction between the reading for this Shabbat and the reading for Shavuot which may help clarify the issue: This week's Torah reading is the entire Parshat Yitro, whereas on Shavuot only certain sections are read. The sections deemed germane to the holiday focus on the preparations for the Revelation and the Revelation itself. While in both instances, the Revelation is the central theme – on Shavuot it is the only theme. Thus, while the same words are read on two different occasions, they are framed by different contexts. We may say, then, that although the same words are read on both occasions, they do not ultimately deliver the same message.

The public reading of the Torah on each of these two occasions is a complex interplay between the written word and the traditions regarding the cantillation of these words. Although the description of the content of the Sinaitic revelation is universally known as the Ten Utterances or Ten Commandments, the written Torah, dictated to Moshe by God, actually groups four of the Commandments in one verse, ostensibly in one statement or utterance:

שמות פרק כ, יג
לֹא תִּרְצָח (ס) לֹא תִּנְאָף (ס) לֹא תִּגְנֹב (ס) לֹא תַעֲנֶה בְרֵעֲךָ עֵד שָׁקֶר: (ס)
You shall not kill. (new line) You shall not commit adultery. (new line) You shall not steal. (new line) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (new line) Shmot 20:13

These four precepts, clearly separate commandments, are in fact contained within one verse – a verse which is visually broken by the beginning of four new lines of text, but one verse nonetheless. While there are those who would be tempted to consider the contents of this verse as a single utterance, we should also take into account the opposite phenomenon: Other Commandments, such as Shabbat observance, are stretched out over several verses:

שמות פרק כ, ז-י
(ז) זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ:
(ח) שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל מְלַאכְתֶּךָ:
(ט) וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ 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: ס
          7. Remember the Shabbat day, to keep it holy.
8. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work;
9. But the seventh day is the Shabbat of the Almighty your God; (on it) you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates;
10. For in six days God made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore God blessed the Shabbat day, and made it holy. Shmot 20:7-10

There are two traditions of how to read the verses of the Ten Commandments.[6] The first is called Taam Elyon, in which each of the Ten Commandments is read as a separate thought or statement, with ten distinct expressions or phrases representing each one of the Ten Commandments, regardless of the size or number of verses it contains. The other method of reading this section is known as Taam Tachton, which adheres to the form as we know it from the written text (and most printed, published texts), with up to four commandments in one verse and other commandments divided up across several phrases.

When is each of these methods used? Although there are different customs, the Chizkuni offers the most compelling explanation. On Shavuot, the objective is to "relive" the Revelation; therefore, we read Taam Elyon[7] – for that is how God said the commandments at Sinai: ten independent and distinct statements. When in the course of the weekly cycle we read Parshat Yitro, the Taam Tachton is employed, reflecting the way God dictated the Commandments to Moshe when it was time to write them down[8]. In other words, on Shavuot, as we relive the Revelation, we attempt to recreate the Sinai experience by mimicking the way the Commandments were spoken to the Children of Israel assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai, in ten distinct utterances[9]. The purpose of reading the Torah on a weekly basis over the course of the year is to study the content of that Revelation, to ingrain, internalize and understand what was said. Therefore, we learn the text as God told Moshe to write it, reading the Taam Tachton.[10]

Why, then, do the Haftarot fail to reflect this distinction? Both the reading from Yishayahu and the reading from Yechezkel focus on the experience of revelation; neither focuses on the content or message of revelation. By choosing sections which highlight the revelation for both Shavuot and the weekly portion, the sages seem to blur the distinction between the Revelation itself and the content of that Revelation. We would expect the Haftarah of Parshat Yitro to contain a legal section or a re-working of the principles of the Ten Commandments. We might have expected the Sages to assign one of the many exhortations of the prophets to adhere to the laws of the Torah or to abandon foreign forms of worship. Instead, we find a Haftarah that offers an alternative revelation experience. Apparently, the Sages had another consideration in mind when they assigned the Haftarah for Parshat Yitro.

On Shavuot, when we replicate the experiential aspects of the Revelation, the Haftarah is Yechezkel's vision of the Chariot. This, the Sages felt, was the vision closest to the actual experience of Revelation, of seeing the heavens open up. However, the assignment of the Haftarah from Yishayahu for Parshat Yitro requires further inquiry. While there is no argument that the overall message of this week's Haftarah selection is revelation, there is another 'oddity' about this week's Haftarah which may be relevant: The Haftarah reading is actually comprised of several disjointed sections from the Book of Yishayahu. Rather than a straightforward account of Yishayahu's vision, the (Ashkenazi) custom is to read through the sixth chapter and continue into the seventh chapter. This latter section recounts the story of the sinful King Ahaz who had given up all hope of repentance and return to God. The Haftarah then proceeds to the ninth chapter, in which a child is born, signifying rebirth and new hope. Clearly, the Sages carefully crafted this Haftarah reading, and 'revelation' is not the exclusive topic of this Haftarah. God's communication with man is one element of the Haftarah; another element is man's propensity for sin, and the final element is the possibility of repentance which leads to personal and national redemption. In this way, the latter part of the Haftarah is closely related to the process of redemption that began in Egypt and the various levels of revelation the people experienced as the Exodus unfolded.

As we saw at the outset the entire exodus was in of itself a series of revelations, and processes which led to freedom, even after the ten plagues an “eleventh plague” went even further both in terms of freedom and in terms of revelation. This eleventh plague was the splitting of the sea, there once and for all the Egyptians were rid of, plunged into the depth of the Sea.

God appeared at the Sea as a warrior, a warrior poised for battle wreaking vengeance and exacting justice from the cruel slave masters, therefore at the sea the people exclaimed:

שמות פרק טו
(ב) עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי לִי לִישׁוּעָה זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ אֱלֹהֵי אָבִי וַאֲרֹמְמֶנְהוּ: (ג)  ה’ אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה  ה’ שְׁמוֹ:
The Lord is my strength and song, and he has become my salvation; he is my God, and I will praise him; my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 3. The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name. Shmot 15:2,3

Here God appeared as a Man of war:

מכילתא פרשת השירה פרשה ד
ה' איש מלחמה. למה נאמר לפי שנגלה על הים כגבור עושה מלחמה שנא' ה' איש מלחמה
God is a Man of war: why does it say this for God appeared at the sea as a warrior whho makes war as it says God is a Man of war Mechilta Parshat Shira Parsha 4

According to the Mechilta, at Sinai God needed to introduce Himself for the people did not recognize Him, they had seen God as a man of war, and now saw a gentle scholar:[11]

מכילתא פרשת בחדש פרשה ה
אנכי ה' אלהיך. למה נאמר לפי שנגלה על הים כגבור עושה מלחמות שנאמר (שמות ט"ו) ה' איש מלחמה נגלה על הר סיני כזקן מלא רחמים

Despite the power and majesty of the visions of Yishayahu and Yechezkel, the revelations they were granted lacked one major element: A crucial element of the revelation that was revealed to the generation that was liberated from Egypt was the clear and obvious implementation of divine justice. They saw, in the ten plagues in Egypt and the "eleventh plague" at the sea, that "there is justice and there is a judge." They were able to see the entire canvas of Jewish history as it reached its culmination. The people felt this in such a clear and profound manner that they were able to point their fingers as justice was meted out:

רש"י שמות פרק טו
זה אלי - בכבודו נגלה עליהם והיו מראין אותו באצבע, ראתה שפחה על הים מה שלא ראו נביאים:
In His glory he appeared to them and they pointed at Him with a finger. A maidservant saw that which eluded the prophets. Rashi Shmot 15:2

This is what eluded both Yishayahu and Yechezkel, the element that distinguished the revelation which the generation of the Exodus witnessed from any other.

מכילתא בשלח - מסכתא דשירה פרשה ג
'זה אלי', ר' אליעזר אומר "מנין אתה אומר שראתה שפחה על הים מה שלא ראו ישעיה ויחזקאל..."
'This is my God': Rabbi Eliezer said, 'How do you know that which the maid[12] saw was superior to Yishayahu and Yechezkel?…" Mechilta B'shalach Mesechta Shira Parsha 3

Leaving Egypt is a continuum, an ongoing revelation of different faces and facets of God: might, justice, compassion. Each plague revealed more, and finally, at the Sea the people saw the might of God. They witnessed the fulfillment of the covenant between God and Avraham - not only their own liberation and the judgment and punishment of the Egyptians, but the realization of the ultimate goal of their entire history. They saw the conquest of the Land of Israel:

שמות פרק טו, טו-יח
אָז נִבְהֲלוּ אַלּוּפֵי אֱדוֹם אֵילֵי מוֹאָב יֹאחֲזֵמוֹ רָעַד נָמֹגוּ כֹּל יֹשְׁבֵי כְנָעַן: תִּפֹּל עֲלֵיהֶם אֵימָתָה וָפַחַד בִּגְדֹל זְרוֹעֲךָ יִדְּמוּ כָּאָבֶן עַד יַעֲבֹר עַמְּךָ  ה’ עַד יַעֲבֹר עַם זוּ קָנִיתָ: תְּבִאֵמוֹ וְתִטָּעֵמוֹ בְּהַר נַחֲלָתְךָ מָכוֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ פָּעַלְתָּ  ה’ מִקְּדָשׁ אֲדֹנָי כּוֹנְנוּ יָדֶיךָ: ה’ יִמְלֹךְ לְעֹלָם וָעֶד:
Then the chiefs of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moav, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of your arm they shall be as still as a stone; 'til your people pass over, O God, 'til the people pass over, whom You have created. You shall bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, in the place, O God, which you have made for you to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O God, which your hands have established. God shall reign for all eternity. Shmot 15:15-18

The vision they see as the sea splits open takes them to the future. They see themselves in the Land of Israel, free and independent; they see the Temple built in its glory. They see the dominion of God as absolute. Yet they lack one very important element: the Word of God, the vehicle through which the world would be transformed. They must travel to Sinai and receive the Torah, to encounter another aspect of God they have yet to experience: the intellectual challenge of Judaism, the content of the Revelation at Sinai. Once that is accomplished, once the Jews are fortified with Torah, even if they stray from the path, they have the ability to right their course by redoubling their efforts and rededicating themselves to the acceptance of Torah. This is the lesson of the Haftarah: The glorious vision of Yishayahu is tempered by the reality of a King of Israel who has strayed. But the final section of the Haftarah  contains a promise of rebirth,[13] a message of hope, a vision of the rejuvenation of the Davidic line and the final, glorious chapter of Jewish history, when God’s throne will be complete and all the prophesies fulfilled.

ישעיהו פרק ט, ה-ו
כִּי יֶלֶד יֻלַּד לָנוּ בֵּן נִתַּן לָנוּ וַתְּהִי הַמִּשְׂרָה עַל שִׁכְמוֹ וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ פֶּלֶא יוֹעֵץ אֵל גִּבּוֹר אֲבִיעַד שַׂר שָׁלוֹם: לְמַרְבֵּה הַמִּשְׂרָה וּלְשָׁלוֹם אֵין קֵץ עַל כִּסֵּא דָוִד וְעַל מַמְלַכְתּוֹ לְהָכִין אֹתָהּ וּלְסַעֲדָהּ בְּמִשְׁפָּט וּבִצְדָקָה מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם קִנְאַת  ה’ צְבָאוֹת תַּעֲשֶׂה זֹּאת:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called "Wonderful counselor of the mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace". For the increase of the realm and for peace there without end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice for all eternity; the zeal of the God of hosts performs this. Yishayahu 9:5,6

On Shavuot we commemorate the giving of the Torah; therefore, the Haftarah is Yechezkel's spectacular vision, mirroring the Revelation experienced at Sinai. However, when the same verses are read in Parshat Yitro, the focus is not on an isolated event. Rather, we are following the path which began one awesome night when Avraham was told that his children would be enslaved, but would one day return to their land. The fulfillment of God's covenant with Avraham took his descendents through Egypt and through the sea, and led them to the foot of Mount Sinai. Considering the Revelation as a part of this larger journey is very different than the view of the Revelation as a singular event.  This event, celebrated on Shavuot, requires our identification, while the much larger view of the events of Sinai requires a grasp, an understanding, an ongoing process of internalization of the content of the Revelation.

Our Sages took this process one step further when they assigned the Haftarah reading. Throughout the ages, when Parshat Yitro is read, with the visions experienced at the Splitting of the Sea still fresh in our minds and the song of praise sung by Moshe and all of Israel still ringing in our ears, the Sages broaden the canvas even further, including the point that the Davidic line is reestablished and God’s dominion complete. Only then will the journey be complete; only then will the covenant be fulfilled. Only then will God's dominion be fully revealed to all of mankind.

[1] See last week’s essay (Parshat B'shalach)
[2] The Talmud notes that the numerous commandments regarding interpersonal behavior was revolutionary.  See Talmud Bavli Kiddushin 31a.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת קידושין דף לא עמוד א
בשעה שאמר הקב"ה (שמות כ) 'אנכי' ו'לא יהיה לך', אמרו אומות העולם: 'לכבוד עצמו הוא דורש'. כיון שאמר (שמות כ) 'כבד את אביך ואת אמך', חזרו והודו למאמרות הראשונות. רבא אמר, מהכא: (תהלים קיט) 'ראש דברך אמת', ראש דברך ולא סוף דברך? אלא, מסוף דברך ניכר שראש דברך אמת.
Ulla Rabbah lectured at the entrance to the Nasi's house: What is meant by, 'All the kings of the earth shall make admission unto Thee, O God, for they have heard the words of Thy mouth?' Not the word of Thy mouth, but the words of Thy mouth is said. When the Holy One, blessed be He, proclaimed, 'I am [the Lord your God]' and 'You shall have none [other Gods before me]', the nations of the world said: He teaches merely for His own honor. As soon as He declared: 'Honor your father and your mother,' they recanted and admitted [the justice of] the first command [too]. Raba said, [This may be deduced] from the following: 'The beginning of Your word is true': ‘the beginning of Your word, but not the end!? But from the latter portion of Your declaration it may be seen that the first portion is true.
[3] There are numerous instances in which a particular Haftorah is used to accompany more than one Torah reading. The Sages were well aware of this option, but did not avail themselves of it.
[4] These seem to be two completely disparate themes. It is interesting that on Shavuot we have another reading, that of Megilat Ruth, which fuses together these two themes: The backdrop of the megilla is the agricultural life in Israel, and the  story is about accepting the Torah.
[5] For more on Shavuot and the giving of the Torah see my book Emanations (Targum Press 2002), pages 135 ff.
[6] We have not touched upon the version of the Ten Commandments in Devarim, Parshat VaEtchanan. In that version, Moshe recaps the events of the Revelation; this is not divine speech, per se, and is therefore only tangentially related to our present discussion.
[7] See Elya Rabbah Shulchan Oruch Orach Chayim sections 142, 494 who insists that Taam Elyon only be used on Shavuot and not Parshat Yitro.
אליה רבה סימן קמב
יש לקרות בחג השבועות בניגון עליון דעשרת הדברות, שמלמד מקום דעשרת הדברות ואין חושש על התחלות הפסוקים ומקום סיומן. הפסוק והדבור הראשון מתחיל אנכי ומסיים לשומרי מצותי וכו' הכל דבור אחד, ואנכי ולא יהיה לך מפי הגבורה. פסוק שני לא תשא, ולפי שהוא פסוק אחד אין בו אלא ניגון אחד. ויקרא פני בפתח תחת הנו"ן כי אינו סוף פסוק. ותיו דתרצח ותנאף ותגנוב דגושה. ובקמ"ץ תחת [תעשה] התוי"ן. ומתחת קדמאה בפסוק לא תשא בפתח תחת הנו"ן. אבל בשבת פ' יתרו ואתחנן קורין בניגון התחתון מלמד על התחלת הפסוקים וסיומן. ופני בקמ"ץ תחת הנו"ן. ותוי"ן הנ"ל רפה. ופתח תחת [תעשה] התוי"ן. ומתחת קדמאה בפסוק לא תשא בקמ"ץ תחת התי"ו. כן (הוצאות) [הוצאתי] מתמצית כוונת תשובות משאת בנימין סי' ו', והוא האריך מאוד. ועיין בחזקוני פ' יתרו [שמות כ] ואור תורה [שם], מג"א סי' תצ"ד [ריש הסימן].
אליה רבה סימן תצד
ובריש סי' קמ"ב נתבאר לקרות [בטעם] עליון בשבועות.
[8] See Chizkuni commentary to the Torah Shmot 20:14
חזקוני על שמות פרק כ פסוק יד
יש ברוב הדברות שתי נגינות ללמד שבעצרת שהיא דוגמא מתן תורה, ומתרגמינן הדברות קורין כל דברת לא יהיה לך וכל דברת זכור בנגינות הגדולות לעשות כל אחת מהן פסוק אחד שכל אחד מהן דברה אחת לעצמה. ודברות לא תרצח לא תנאף לא תגנוב לא תענה קורין בנגינות הקטנות לעשות ד' פסוקים שהם ד' דברות. אבל בחודש שבט כשקורין בפרשת יתרו כשאר שבתות השנה קורין לא יהיה לך וזכור בנגינות הקטנות לעשות מכל אחת מהן ד' פסוקים, ודברות לא תרצח לא תנאף לא תגנוב לא תענה קורין בנגינות הגדולות לעשותן פסוק אחד לפי שלא מצינו בכל המקרא פסוק משתי תיבות חוץ מאלו ובשבועות דוקא כמו שפי' למעלה. גם בדברות אנכי ולא יהיה לך יש נגינה גדולה לעשותן שתיהן פסוק אחד לזכרון שבדבור אחד נאמרו, כיצד בתיבת אנכי פשטא ובתיבת אלהיך זקף קטן ובתיבת הוצאתיך תלישא ובתיבת מארץ מצרים קדמא ואזלא ובתיבת עבדים רביעי.

[9] See Sefer Toda’a chapter 28.
ספר התודעה - פרק עשרים ושמונה (המשך):
ובשבועות נוהגים לקרוא בציבור לפי הטעם העליון, המפסיק בין כל דיבור ודיבור, לפי שבו ביום נתנו עשרת הדברות, ועל כן עושים מכל דיבור פסוק בפני עצמו. ודיבור שיש בו כמה פסוקים, מחברים אותם ועושים אותם פסוק אחד, כדי שיהא כל דיבור נשמע לעצמו, שכך שמענום מסיני:

[10] For more on this concept see Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik Shiurim L’Zecher Aba Mari, page 211.
[11] The Megaleh Amukot Parshat Tazria, observes that this is the meaning of a line in the liturgy in the An'im Zemirot, Ziknah byom din ubacharut byom krav.
סדור תפלה - נוסח אשכנז - סדר תפילת שחרית שבת - מוסף
חזן - זִקְנָה בְּיוֹם דִּין וּבַחֲרוּת בְּיוֹם קְרָב. כְּאִישׁ מִלְחָמוֹת יָדָיו לוֹ רָב:
ספר מגלה עמוקות על התורה - פרשת תזריע
על הים הי' הקב"ה כגבור וכבחור ועל הר סיני כזקן יושב בישיבה זקנה ביום דין ובחרות ביום קרב וכדי שלא יטעו לכן לבש הקב"ה חלוק של תפארת על הים כ"ש (ברכות ח) והת"ת זה מתן תורה כליל תפארת בראשו נתת בעמדו לפניך על הר סיני ז"ש (תהלים צג) ה' מלך גאות לבש לבש שבאותו הפעם על הים כי גאה גאה עז התאז""ר בגי' תרי"ג לבוש של תורה ז"ש (שמות טו) ה' איש מלחמה ה' שמו מה לך הים כי תנוס שעל הים הי' מורא עבור מלחמות ועל הר סיני לא הי' מורא עליהם רק ההרים תרקדו כאלים בשמחה וע"ז השיב על הים הי' כגבור מלפני אדון חולי ארץ שהיא השכינה תמן דינא אבל הר סיני מלפני אלוה יעקב שהוא מדת תפארת. ההופכי מן דרך נחש עלי צור מהפכין ועושים אגם מים:

[12] The Talmud in a similar teaching says that even the fetus in utero and the babe suckling at the breast saw the divine revelation at the sea. See Talmud Bavli Sotah 30b.
 מסכת סוטה ל:
תָּנוּ רַבָּנָן, דָּרַשׁ רַבִּי יוֹסֵי הַגְּלִילִי, בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁעָלוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן הַיָּם, נָתְנוּ עֵינֵיהֶם לוֹמַר שִׁירָה, וְכֵיצַד אָמְרוּ שִׁירָה? עוֹלָל מֻטָּל עַל בִּרְכֵּי אִמּוֹ, וְתִינוֹק יוֹנֵק מִשְּׁדֵי אִמּוֹ. כֵּיוָן שֶׁרָאוּ אֶת הַשְּׁכִינָה, עוֹלָל הִגְבִּיהַּ צַוָּארוֹ, וְתִינוֹק שָׁמַט דַּד (אמו) מִפִּיו, וְאָמְרוּ, (שמות טו) "זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ". שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, (תהלים ח) "מִפִּי עוֹלְלִים וְיוֹנְקִים יִסַּדְתָּ עֹז". (תַּנְיָא) הָיָה רַבִּי מֵאִיר אוֹמֵר, מִנַּיִן שֶׁאֲפִלּוּ עֻבָּרִין שֶׁבִּמְעֵי אִמָּן אָמְרוּ שִׁירָה? שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, [דף לא ע"א] (שם סח) "בְּמַקְהֵלוֹת בָּרְכוּ אֱלֹהִים, אֲדֹנָי מִמְּקוֹר יִשְׂרָאֵל". [וְהָא לָא חָזוּ? אָמַר רַבִּי תַּנְחוּם, כֶּרֶס נַעֲשָׂה לָהֶם כְּאַסְפַּקְלַרְיָא הַמְּאִירָה וְרָאוּ]:
Our Rabbis taught: R. Jose the Galilean expounded: At the time the Israelites ascended from the Red Sea, they desired to utter a Song; and how did they render the song? The babe lay upon his mother's knees and the suckling sucked at his mother's breast; when they beheld the Shechinah, the babe raised his neck and the suckling released the nipple from his mouth, and they exclaimed: This is my God and I will Praise Him; as it is said: Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou established strength. R. Meir used to say: Whence is it that even the embryos in their mothers’ womb uttered a song? As it is said, Bless ye the Lord in the Congregations, even the Lord, from the fountain of Israel. But these could not behold [the Shechinah]! R. Tanhum said: The abdomen became for them a kind of transparent medium and they did behold it.

[13] Christian sources have attempted to co-opt this section as "proof" of their belief, and relied on a combination of violent mistranslation, together with total  disregard for historical context.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Parshat B'shalach 5770 - From Logic to Metalogic

Parshat B'shalach 5770

Rabbi Ari Kahn

Chok and Mishpat
From Logic to Metalogic

After[1] the momentous Exodus and the spectacular splitting of the Sea, the Jews find themselves at Marah:

ספר שמות פרק טו, כב-כו
וַיַּסַּע משֶׁה אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל מִיַּם סוּף וַיֵּצְאוּ אֶל מִדְבַּר שׁוּר וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁלשֶׁת יָמִים בַּמִּדְבָּר וְלֹא מָצְאוּ מָיִם: וַיָּבֹאוּ מָרָתָה וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לִשְׁתֹּת מַיִם מִמָּרָה כִּי מָרִים הֵם עַל כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמָהּ מָרָה: וַיִּלֹּנוּ הָעָם עַל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר מַה נִּשְׁתֶּה: וַיִּצְעַק אֶל ה’ וַיּוֹרֵהוּ ה’ עֵץ וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ אֶל הַמַּיִם וַיִּמְתְּקוּ הַמָּיִם שָׁם שָׂם לוֹ חֹק וּמִשְׁפָּט וְשָׁם נִסָּהוּ: וַיֹּאמֶר אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע לְקוֹל ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְהַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינָיו תַּעֲשֶׂה וְהַאֲזַנְתָּ לְמִצְוֹתָיו וְשָׁמַרְתָּ כָּל חֻקָּיו כָּל הַמַּחֲלָה אֲשֶׁר שַׂמְתִּי בְמִצְרַיִם לֹא אָשִׂים עָלֶיךָ כִּי אֲנִי ה’ רֹפְאֶךָ:
So Moshe led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. They came to Marah, and they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter (marim); therefore its name was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moshe, saying, 'What shall we drink?' And he cried to God; and God showed him a tree, which when he threw into the waters, and made the waters sweet; there He made for them statute and ordinance (or judgment), and there He tested them, and said, "If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Almighty your God, and will do that which is right in His sight, and will be attentive to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon you which I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am God who heals you." (Shmot 15:22-26)

A cursory reading of the opening verses may give the impression that the crisis was one of insufficient supplies; the people are in need of an efficient water source. However, the concluding verses seem perplexing:  What is the connection or the relevance of statutes and judgments or ordinances as a remedy for the water shortage? Traditionally, these verses have been understood as an indication of some type of law-giving: Prior to Sinai, where the major Revelation would take place, the people here receive the first installment of Torah: statutes and ordinances.[2]

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף נו עמוד ב
עשר מצות נצטוו ישראל במרה, שבע שקיבלו עליהן בני נח, והוסיפו עליהן: דינין, ושבת, וכיבוד אב ואם. דינין - דכתיב (שמות ט"ו) 'שם שם לו חק ומשפט'; שבת וכיבוד אב ואם - דכתיב (דברים ה') ,כאשר צוך ה' אלהיך'. ואמר רב יהודה: ,כאשר צוך, - במרה.
The Israelites were given ten precepts at Marah, seven of which had already been accepted by the children of Noah, to which were added at Marah social laws, the Shabbat, and honoring one's parents. ‘Social laws,’ for it is written, "There [sc. at Marah] he made for them a statute and an ordinance". 'The Shabbat and honoring one's parents,’ for it is written, "As the Almighty your God commanded you." (Sanhedrin 56b)

The logic of the Talmud is clear: The Ten Commandments are enumerated twice in the Torah. When they are repeated, only two commandments - Shabbat and honoring parents - contain the phrase "as the Almighty your God commanded you".[3] Clearly, this phrase would be equally apt for any or all of the Ten Commandments, which had been given years before at Sinai. Why is this phrase added only to these two Commandments? The Talmud explains that some laws were actually taught at an earlier juncture - at Marah. Therefore, "as the Almighty your God commanded you" refers to Marah, and not to the first Tablets transmitted at Sinai.

Regarding the mishpatim, here translated as "ordinances" or "judgments", the Midrash explains that these are social laws:

שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשת משפטים פרשה ל
אף כאן ואלה המשפטים מוסיף על הראשונים, מה שכתוב למעלה (שמות טו) שם שם לו חוק ומשפט, ד"א ואלה המשפטים מה כתיב למעלה מן הפרשה (שם /שמות/ יח) ושפטו את העם בכל עת ואמר כאן ואלה המשפטים והדברות באמצע, משל למטרונה שהיתה מהלכת הזין מכאן והזין מכאן והיא באמצע, כך התורה דינין מלפניה ודינין מאחריה והיא באמצע, וכן הוא אומר (משלי ח) באורח צדקה אהלך, התורה אומרת באיזה נתיב אני מהלכת אהלך בדרכן של עושי צדקה, בתוך נתיבות משפט התורה באמצע ודינין מלפניה ודינין מאחריה, מלפניה שנא' שם שם לו חוק ומשפט, ודינין מאחריה שנאמר ואלה המשפטים.
And these are (v'eleh) the ordinances (mishpatim)” adds to those that preceded, to what is written above: 'There He made for them a statute and an ordinance' (Shmot 15, 25). Another explanation of “And these are the ordinances”: What precedes this paragraph? 'And let them judge the people at all times' (ib., 18, 22), and here it says, “Now these are the ordinances”. With the Decalogue in between. Like a distinguished lady walking in the center of an armed bodyguard, so the Torah is preceded by laws and followed by laws, while it is in the center. Hence it says, "I walk in the way of righteousness" (Mishlei 8, 20). The Torah exclaims: 'In which path shall I walk? I will walk in the path of those who act righteously in the midst of the paths of justice’ (ib.)--with the Torah in the center and laws preceding it and following it. Preceding it, as it says, 'There He made for them a statute and an ordinance,’ and following it, as it says, 'Now these are the ordinances.' (Midrash Rabah 30:3)

Once again, we are taught that certain laws were given to the people prior to Sinai. The question is, which laws were chosen to be taught at this juncture, and why?

The Talmud enumerated three things in this pre-Sinai category: social laws, Shabbat, and honoring one's parents. Rashi takes a different approach; in his comments on our Parsha, Rashi says:

רש"י שמות פרק טו, כה
'שם שם לו' - במרה נתן להם מקצת פרשיות של תורה שיתעסקו בהם, שבת ופרה אדומה ודינין:
In Marah they were given a few of the sections of the Torah, so that they be involved in them: Shabbat, Parah Adumah and laws. (Rashi on Sh'mot 15:25)

Rashi diverges from the Talmudic view and replaces the commandment to honor parents with the law of Parah Adumah (the Red Heifer), a shift that has been noted by many later commentaries.[4] Perhaps even more interestingly, in his comments on other verses, Rashi does, in fact, list the commandment to honor parents as having been commanded at Marah – in agreement with the Talmudic view. Why, then, did Rashi add Parah Adumah to this category at all, and why did he omit the commandment to honor parents at this point? Let us examine Rashi's comments on a verse only 9 chapters hence in the book of Shmot (Parshat Mishpatim):

רש"י שמות פרק כד
'ואת כל המשפטים' - שבע מצות שנצטוו בני נח. ושבת וכבוד אב ואם ופרה אדומה ודינין שניתנו להם במרה:
"And all of the mishpatim" - The seven Noachide laws, and Shabbat, honoring parents, Parah Adumah, and [social] laws which were given at Marah. (Rashi 24:3)

Rashi clearly states that both honoring parents and Parah Adumah were taught at Marah; has Rashi expanded the category of mishpatim to include four items? Apparently not: The inclusion of Parah Adumah can be attributed to rather straightforward exegesis of the other category listed in our Parsha,[5] chok ('statute'). The archetypal chok is, of course, the Red Heifer: this is a divine dictate.[6] The term mishpat, on the other hand, indicates judgment, adjudicated law. Therefore, Rashi would naturally include in his comments Parah Adumah, which is The Chok, alongside social laws, which are mishpat.

We should note that both Rashi and the sages of the Talmud include Shabbat in their list of the mitzvot given at Marah. The fact that there is no disagreement on this point may give us a unique opportunity to appreciate the method of exegesis with which our sages have always looked at the biblical text, as well as allowing us to appreciate the broader canvas which Rashi treats: The very next section of the Torah deals with Shabbat, and it presupposes some knowledge on the part of the people:

שמות פרק טז, כג
וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם הוּא אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ד' שַׁבָּתוֹן שַׁבַּת קֹדֶשׁ לַד' מָחָר אֵת אֲשֶׁר תֹּאפוּ אֵפוּ וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר תְּבַשְּׁלוּ בַּשֵּׁלוּ וְאֵת כָּל הָעֹדֵף הַנִּיחוּ לָכֶם לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת עַד הַבֹּקֶר:
And he said to them, 'This is what God had spoken about: tomorrow is the day of rest, the Holy Shabbat to God… (16:23)

Prior to this verse, we find no discussion of Shabbat in the Torah other than the general comments in Bereishit. Nonetheless, the text makes clear reference to some earlier discussion centering around Shabbat: "This is what God had spoken about". Arguably, Rashi, first and foremost a biblical commentator, explains the straightforward reading, the "pshat" of the verse, by considering the context of the verse. Shabbat must surely have been among the laws transmitted at Marah, because Moshe later makes reference to their preceding discussion of Shabbat – which is not recorded in any way other than the events at Marah. As in the case of the commandment to honor one's parents, the verses in the second listing of the Ten Commandments indicate that these mitzvot were transmitted earlier than the rest – before Sinai, at Marah. Rashi includes Shabbat here because of the context of these verses, and includes the commandment to honor parents in his explanation of the verse in Parshat Mishpatim in order to explain the textual anomaly that singled out these two mitzvot.

A careful reading of Rashi may provide a further insight into the divergence from the Talmudic explanation of our verse. Rashi says that "at Marah they were given a few of the sections of the Torah, to be involved in". The term sheyit'asku --to be “involved” – is not necessarily the description we would have expected. Commandments are given in order to be 'obeyed', 'fulfilled', 'kept', 'done', 'safeguarded'; these are the terms of obedience to God's commandments that we have come to expect. Indeed, the verses here include such terms as 'listen' and 'obey'! Rashi's language implies an intellectual pursuit, and not necessarily a behavioral commitment. This follows the Talmudic teaching that the events at Marah constitute the source upon which public reading of the Torah is based:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא קמא דף פב עמוד א
דתניא: (שמות ט"ו) 'וילכו שלשת ימים במדבר ולא מצאו מים' - דורשי רשומות אמרו: אין מים אלא תורה, שנאמר: (ישעיהו נ"ה) 'הוי כל צמא לכו למים' כיון שהלכו שלשת ימים בלא תורה נלאו, עמדו נביאים שביניהם ותיקנו להם שיהו קורין בשבת ומפסיקין באחד בשבת, וקורין בשני ומפסיקין שלישי ורביעי, וקורין בחמישי ומפסיקין ערב שבת, כדי שלא ילינו ג' ימים בלא תורה!
‘And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water,' upon which those who expound verses metaphorically said: Water means nothing but Torah, as it says: "Ho, everyone that thirsts, come for water" (Yishayhu 55:1). It thus means that as they went three days without Torah they immediately became exhausted. The prophets among them thereupon rose and enacted that they should publicly read [the Torah] on Shabbat, make a break on Sunday, read again on Monday, break again on Tuesday and Wednesday, read again on Thursday and then make a break on Friday so that they should not be kept for three days without Torah.’ (Baba Kamma 82a)

The events at Marah are the textual source for our practice of Torah study, but not necessarily for the practice of the commandments themselves. This argument is buttressed by the historical context. It seems incongruous that the laws of Parah Adumah would be included among the statutes transmitted at Marah: At this point, in the desert, before the construction of the Mishkan, the laws of Parah Adumah could only have been a theoretical construct, a conceptual framework. It would have been impossible for them to put these laws  to practical use at that point. At Marah, then, the Jews are given certain laws to study. They occupy themselves intellectually,[7] and this is the inspiring experience for public Torah study every three days, and perhaps for Torah study in general.

We may say, then, that our analysis of Rashi's comments has established a deep connection between Marah and the laws of Parah Adumah. What remains unclear is Rashi's omission of the commandment to honor parents from the Marah list. As we have seen, there were very good reasons to enumerate honoring parents among the commandments given prior to Sinai; Rashi does so in his later comments. Why, then, does he omit them here? Perhaps the Maharal's comments on this verse can be help us understand Rashi's omission: The Maharal points out that the verse ends with, "there He tested them"; such a test, regarding the honor of one's parents, would be inappropriate.[8] The Maharal elaborates, by categorizing the Commandments, dividing them into four groups: First, commandments that are beyond logic --referred to as chok. Second, commandments whose logic would elude us had it not been for the Torah’s explanation. The third type are commandments that are part of a social contract, whose logic is apparent, such as a prohibition against stealing. These commandments legislate against human desire and create the ground rules for communal life. Finally, there are commandments which are part of an individual's emotional makeup, Commandments which converge with human instinct.[9]

As the Maharal sees it, honoring parents is a most logical commandment, one that is an organic element of human nature and intelligence.[10] This does not imply that all men excel in the performance of this commandment; rather, to honor and cherish one’s parents is an inborn human character that has informed human behavior since the dawn of time. Rabbinic literature routinely brings examples of non-Jews, even some distinctly unsavory characters such as Esav,[11] or pagans such as Damah ben Natinah,[12] as quintessential examples of filial relationships. The Maharal's suggestion is that a test regarding honoring parents is no test at all; fulfillment of this commandment would not constitute proof of the Jews' obedience to God's word.

This becomes more clear in light of our thesis that it was the study of Torah, and not its practice, that was laid down at Marah. The acceptance of laws such as Parah Adumah and Shabbat required a "leap of faith," a stretch of man's belief.[13] To accept and study these laws indicates  something quite different than honoring parents; accepting and studying commandments that would never have been formulated by mortals, accepting and studying laws of Shabbat observance that testify to our belief in the Creator and our own unique relationship with Him, are a true test of our spiritual mettle. Honoring our parents, which is a logical – even biological – and self-evident truth, cannot be called a “test”.  Therefore, the Maharal says, Rashi did not include it in his commentary on the verse in our Parsha.

Taking the four categories outlined by the Maharal, we see that the Jews received all four types of laws at Marah. These may be described in more modern terms as the transcendental, the metalogical, the social and the logical. Several years ago, I heard Rav Yehuda Amital modify this teaching. When asked for guidelines for teaching the newly-observant, Rav Amital replied that this was the educational challenge faced at Marah. Extrapolating from the same principles we have discussed, Rav Amital suggested that the first steps undertaken toward observance should include laws from each of the Maharal's categories: The second category, social laws, are beyond the individual's immediate purview, as they are enforced by the larger society, but for the first category, one commandment from the interpersonal sphere - like the prototype of honoring parents, should be chosen. The third category should be represented by a law concerning Shabbat, a law involving the relationship between man and God. The fourth category, represented at Marah by the laws of Parah Adumah, should involve something which transcends human understanding.

It is not difficult to understand how people would have been attracted to the commandment to honor parents, being that it is eminently logical and appealing to human nature. Seen through the eyes of a generation only recently redeemed from hundreds of years of subjugation in Egypt, the laws of Shabbat may also have been logically compelling. Yet religious experience also necessitates something beyond this type of logic; it requires a transcendent component. There must be a rendezvous with the Divine. This is the heart of religious experience. Without it, the relationship with God is reduced to a human construct. This is what the Jews received at Marah[14], and this is what should serve as the cornerstone of our own commitment.

[1] This shiur originally written 11 years ago has been updated.
[2] Other than the laws given in Egypt which were a part of the Exodus.
[3]  D'varim 5:12,16:
"Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Almighty your G-d has commanded you.
Honor your father and your mother, as the Almighty your G-d has commanded you;
[4]  The Torah Temima suggests that Rashi's comments here contain an error of transmission: originally, Rashi's comment read "honoring parents"(kibud av v'em), represented by the initial letters "kaf, aleph". At some point, this was inadvertently mistaken for "peh aleph", initials for Parah Adumah. Rav Kasher, in the Torah Sh'lemah, ridicules this suggestion, asserting that all the manuscripts bear out the reading as it has been transmitted, "Parah  Adumah". Numerous Rishonim, including the Ramban, cite Rashi with the term Parah  Adumah. Rav Kasher then suggests that perhaps the Talmud has an alternative reading with the words Parah Adumah. See Torah Sh'lemah pages 284,285.
[5] The Maharal Gur Aryeh 15:25, makes this observation, though he attacks Rashi for “deviating” from Rabbinic tradition.
ספר גור אריה על שמות פרק טו פסוק כה
 ומאחר כי לשון "חוק" משמע פרה אדומה פירש אותו רש"י לפי פשט הכתוב, שנתן להם פרה אדומה להתעסק בה. אמנם עם כל זה דבריו תמוהים, שהיה לו לפרש הכתוב כמו שפרשו חכמים, ולא לעשות פירוש מסברת הלב, שכאשר אדם יתבונן במחלוקת החכמים במכילתא או במה שנזכר בגמרא יש טעם נפלא ועמוק מאד למה בחרו באלו, והכל בחכמה ובהשכל, ואין להאריך במקום הזה בפירוש המכילתא, ורש"י נטה מדברי חכמים ז"ל והוסיף עליהם - וגרע הרבה.
[6] See Bamidbar 19:2, the Red Heifer is stated in the definitive “this is the chok of the Torah”
ספר במדבר פרק יט
(ב) זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ לֵאמֹר דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין בָּהּ מוּם אֲשֶׁר לֹא עָלָה עָלֶיהָ עֹל:
[7]  The Ramban (Shmot 15:25) understands Rashi in this light; he further sees the learning as a preparation for the accepting of the Torah, which the Ramban views as a quasi-conversion process. Also see the comments of the Mahral to these verses (in Shmot) where he gives a very similar explanation.
רמב"ן שמות פרק טו  
(כה) שם שם לו חק ומשפט ושם נסהו - במרה נתן להם מקצת פרשיות של תורה שיתעסקו בהם, שבת פרה אדומה ודינין. ושם נסהו, לעם, לשון רש"י. והיא דעת רבותינו (סנהדרין נו ב). ואני תמה, למה לא פירש כאן החקים האלה והמשפטים ויאמר "וידבר ה' אל משה צו את בני ישראל" כאשר אמר בפרשיות הנזכרות למעלה דברו אל כל עדת בני ישראל וגו' (לעיל יב ג), וכן יעשה בכל המצות באהל מועד, בערבות מואב, ופסח מדבר (במדבר ט ב). ולשון רש"י שאמר פרשיות שיתעסקו בהם, משמע שהודיעם החקים ההם ולימד אותם עתיד הקב"ה לצוות אתכם בכך, על הדרך שלמד אברהם אבינו את התורה, והיה זה להרגילם במצות ולדעת אם יקבלו אותם בשמחה ובטוב לבב, והוא הנסיון שאמר ושם נסהו, והודיעם שעוד יצוום במצות, זהו שאמר אם שמוע תשמע לקול ה' אלהיך והאזנת למצותיו אשר יצוה אותך בהם:
וטעם ויורהו ה' עץ - שהראה אותו עץ ואמר לו השלך את העץ הזה אל המים וימתקו. ובעבור שלא מצאתי לשון מורה אלא בענין למוד, ויורני ויאמר לי (משלי ד ד) למדני, וכן כלם, נראה בדרך הפשט כי העץ ההוא ימתיק המים בטבעו, והוא סגולה בו, ולימד אותה למשה. ורבותינו אמרו (מכילתא ותנחומא כאן) שהיה העץ מר והוא נס בתוך נס, כענין המלח שנתן אלישע במים (מ"ב ב כא). ואם כן אמר "ויורהו" כי לא היה העץ נמצא במקום ההוא, והקב"ה הורהו את מקומו. או שהמציאהו אליו בנס. ושוב מצאתי בילמדנו (מדרש תנחומא כאן) ראה מה כתיב שם, ויורהו ה' עץ, ויראהו לא נאמר אלא "ויורהו", הורהו דרכו. כלומר שהורהו ולמדהו דרכו של הקב"ה שהוא ממתיק המר במר:
[8] Gur Aryeh Dvarim 5:16.
ספר גור אריה על דברים פרק ה פסוק טז
[ו] אף על כבוד אב ואם נצטוו במרה וכו'. ובפרשת בשלח (שמות טו, כה) לא כתב רש"י רק 'שבת ודינין ופרה אדומה', ולא כתב כבוד אב ואם (קושית הרמב"ן פסוק יב). ויש לומר, דלעיל כתיב (שם) "שם שם לו חוק ומשפט ושם נסהו", ופירוש נסהו לעם אם ילכו בתורתו, ובכל המצות שייך נסיון, חוץ מן כבוד אב ואם, לפי שהאדם עושה בטבע לכבד אב ואם, והם מן המצות הטבעיות שהאדם עושה ומקיים בטבע, ולפיכך לא פירש למעלה כבוד אב ואם, שאין זה נסיון. אבל שבת ופרה אדומה ודינין, שייך בו נסיון:
[9] Ibid
 ספר גור אריה על דברים פרק ה פסוק טז
ועוד יש לומר, לכך נתן להם שבת ופרה אדומה וכבוד אב ואם, שכאשר רצה לתת להם מקצת מצות - נתן להם אלו מצות, שמצות התורה נחלקים לארבעה חלקים; האחד, שאין טעם שלהם נגלה כלל, ולא יוכל האדם לדעת כלל, כמו פרה אדומה (במדב"ר יט, ו), וכיוצא בו מצות שעטנז והרבה מצות שהם חוקים. ויש מצות שטעמם ידוע כאשר נכתבו בתורה, כמו שבת ותפילין, ואם לא נכתבו לא ידענו הטעם, שכתב אצל שבת (שמות כ, יא) "כי ששת ימים עשה ה' את השמים ואת הארץ", ומצות אלו נקראים 'מקובלות', שהם מקובלים אצלינו מפי משה. השלישי, הם מצות המושכלות, כגון דינין, שכל משפטים ידועים אצלינו אף כי לא נתן לנו, [ד]ידענו שהמלוה לחבירו חייב לשלם, ואלו המצות הם נקראים 'מצות המושכלות'. המין הרביעי הם המצות הטבעיות, שחפץ האדם לקיים בטבע, כגון כבוד אב ואם, וכן כמה מצות שהם בתורה שהם בשביל רחמנות, שהוא בטבע. וראיה שתמצא אף בבהמה רחמנות, שהיא מרחמת את ולדה: ולכך נתן להם אלו ארבע מצות, שיהיה להם מכל מין מצוה, כדי לנסות אותם, שלב האדם מהרהר בהן אם יקיים אותם; לפעמים מהרהר בחוקים, לפי שאין טעם ידוע בהם, ויאמר למה אעשה אחר שאין טעם לי בהם. ולפעמים אין מהרהר בחוקים, מפני שאמר שהטעם ידוע אצל הנותן, והוא מאמין, אבל מהרהר אחר המשפטים, באשר נראה לו שאין כך לפי דעתו. ולפעמים אלו ב' חלקים אין מהרהר בהם, החוקים - מפני שאין טעם שלהם ידוע, והמשפטים - מפני שקרובים הם לידיעת האדם, והוא מהרהר במצות המקובלות שאינם חוקים לגמרי, שיאמר שאין לי טעם בו, וגם אין טעם ידוע, וכאשר נכתב בתורה טעם שלהם, לפעמים מהרהר. ולפעמים הוא מאמין בזאת המצוה ומהרהר בראשונים. ולפיכך אלו חלקים נתן להם אם ילכו בתורתו אם לאו. אבל מצות טבעיות, כמו מצות כיבוד אב ואם, דבר זה אין נסיון בו כלל, כי מקיים אותו בטבע. ולכך לעיל בפרשת בשלח (רש"י שמות טו, כה), דפירש על פסוק "שם שם לו חוק ומשפט ושם ניסהו", לא פירש רק שבת דינין ופרה אדומה, אבל לא כבוד אב ואם, שאין במצוה זאת נסיון. והכל נכון:
[10] See the comments of Rabbi Epstein in the Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh De'ah section 240 law 2, where he writes that even though honoring parents is eminently logical, as is keeping Shabbat ( many nations keep a day of rest), after the sin of the Golden Calf, man’s logic became corrupted. Jews are commanded, not because it is logical, but because God deemed that it would be so.
ערוך השולחן יורה דעה הלכות כבוד אב ואם סימן רמ סעיף ג
ויראה לי דלכן בדברות האחרונות כתיב כבד את אביך ואת אמך כאשר צוך ד' אלקיך כלומר לא תכבדם מפני שהשכל גוזר כן אלא כאשר צוך ד' אלקיך ובדברות הראשונות לא הוצרכו לזה מפני שהיו במדרגה גדולה כדכתיב אני אמרתי וגו' ובני עליון כולכם ופשיטא שכל מה שעשו לא עשו רק מפני ציוי הקב"ה אבל בדברות האחרונות אחר חטא העגל שירדו ממדריגתן נצטרכו להזהירם על זה [וכן בשבת כתיב שם כן משום דגם זה מוסכם בכל אום ולשון לשבות יום אחד בשבוע ולזה אומר שמור את יום השבת לקדשו כאשר צוך וגו' ולא מפני השכל]:
[11] See Midrash Tanchuma Kedoshim chapter 15.
מדרש תנחומא קדושים פרק טו
בוא וראה מצות כיבוד אב ואם כמה חביבה לפני הקב"ה שאין הקב"ה מקפח שכרו בין צדיק בין רשע מנלן מעשו הרשע על שכבד את אביו נתן לו הקב"ה את כל הכבוד הזה ר' אלעזר אומר שלש דמעות הזיל עשו הרשע אחד מעינו של ימין ואחד מעינו של שמאל והשלישית נקשרה בעינו ולא ירדה אימתי בשעה שברך יצחק את יעקב שנאמר (בראשית כז) וישא עשו קולו ויבך בוא וראה כמה שלוה נתן לו הקב"ה שנאמר (תהלים פ) האכלתם לחם דמעה ותשקמו בדמעות שליש שלוש אין כתיב אלא שליש שלא היו ג' שלמות ומה אם רשע זה על שכבד את אביו מה פרע לו הקב"ה המכבד את אבותיו ועושה מצות אחרות עאכ"ו
[12] Talmud Bavli Kiddushin 31a
תלמוד בבלי מסכת קידושין דף לא עמוד א
בעו מיניה מרב עולא: עד היכן כיבוד אב ואם? אמר להם: צאו וראו מה עשה עובד כוכבים אחד באשקלון ודמא בן נתינה שמו, פעם אחת בקשו חכמים פרקמטיא בששים ריבוא שכר, והיה מפתח מונח תחת מראשותיו של אביו, ולא ציערו.
It was propounded of R. Ulla: How far does the honor of parents [extend]?  He replied: Go forth and see what a certain heathen, Dama son of Nethinah by name, did in Askelon. The Sages once desired merchandise from him, in which there was six-hundred-thousand [gold denarii] profit, but the key was lying under his father, and so he did not trouble him. Rab Judah said in Samuel's name
[13] See Gur Aryeh 15:25, who insists that Shabbat is also a Chok.
ספר גור אריה על שמות פרק טו פסוק כה
 ועוד, כי לשון "חוק" נאמר על המצוה שאין טעם לה, אבל מצוה שטעם שלה נגלה לגמרי - אין שם "חוק" עליה, ולפיכך כבוד אב ואם שטעם המצוה מבואר - אין זה "חוק" כלל, אפילו אם לא נכתב בתורה האדם יודע מעצמו לכבד אביו ואמו. אבל שבת אם לא נתנה מפי השם יתברך לא היה יודע מעצמו, ולפיכך נקרא "חוק", דסוף סוף צריך להאמין אל הטעם גם כן, ולפיכך נקרא "חוק" על האדם. וכדי שלא יקשה למה קרא השבת בלשון "חוק", כלל עם זה פרה אדומה שהיא חוק גמור, וזה נכון בודאי.
[14] The Zohar understands that at Marah the Jews underwent a process which would cleanse them from the Egyptian exile and prepare them for the Revelation at Sinai: "Said R. Shimon further: ‘The unleavened bread is called “the bread of poverty “ (D'varim 16, 3), because at that time the moon was not at full strength, the reason being that, although the Israelites were circumcised, the rite had not been completed by “peri'ah”, and therefore the seal of the covenant was not revealed in its complete form. But later, when this completion had been achieved-namely at Marah, where Moshe “made for them a statute and an ordinance” (Shmot 15: 25)- the Holy One spoke to them, saying: “Until now you have eaten the ‘bread of poverty’, but from now on your bread shall emanate from a far other region: ‘I will rain bread from heaven for you’ ” (Ibid. 16, 4). (Zohar, Sh'mot 40a)
R. Eleazar adduced here the verse: “And when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter.... There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them” (Ex. 15: 23-25). ‘I wonder’, he said, ‘how it is that people take so little trouble to understand the words of the Torah. Here, for example, one should really inquire what is the point of the words “There he made for them... and there he tested them”. But the inward significance of the water mentioned here is this. The Egyptians claimed to be the parents of the children of Israel, and many among the Israelites suspected their wives in the matter. So the Holy One, blessed be He, brought them to that place, where He desired to put them to the test. Thus when Moshe cried to God he was told: Write down the Divine Name, cast it into the water, and let all of them, women and men, be tested, so that no evil report should remain in regard to My children; and until they all be probed I will not cause My Name to rest upon them.' Straightway “God showed him a tree, and he cast it into the waters”, the tree being thus identical with the Divine Name the priest has to write for the testing of the wife of an Israelite. Thus “There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he (tested) proved them”. Now it may be asked: This was properly done for the women, but why include the men? But, indeed, the men also had to be probed to show that they had not contaminated themselves with Egyptian women, in the same way as the women had to be probed to show that they had kept themselves uncontaminated by Egyptian men, all the time they were among them. And all, male and female, were proved to be pure, were found to be the seed of Israel, holy and pure. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, caused His Name to dwell among them. Hence assuredly it was by the waters “there that he... proved them”. Similarly here it is through water that the kohen proves the woman, and through the Divine Name.’ (Zohar, Bamidbar 124b)