1. The Ten Commandments are recorded twice in the Torah: once in Parshas Yisro, and once in Parshas Vaeschanan. Since the Ten Commandments are the foundation for the entire Torah and include the entire Torah, it is obvious that their repetition communicates central lessons relevant to the Torah as a whole, i.e., they each represent an approach that is vital to our observance of the Torah in its entirety.
The fundamental differences between the narrative of the Ten Commandments in Parshas Yisro and the narrative of the Ten Commandments in Parshas Vaeschanan is that Parshas Yisro relates how the Ten Commandments were given by G‑d. Parshas Vaeschanan, by contrast, presents Moshe’s description of the giving of the Ten Commandments. They are “the words of Moshe,” and not the direct word of G‑d.
This difference reflects two fundamental dimensions of the Torah: On one hand, the Torah is “G‑d’s will and G‑d’s wisdom,” “the Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are one.” From this perspective, the Torah is a “hidden treasure,” above the grasp of man.
Conversely, however, “the Torah has journeyed and descended through hidden stages, stage after stage through the entire set of the spiritual cosmos until it became enclothed in material entities and matters of this world.” This process reached its fullest expression at the giving of the Torah when the Torah was given to the Jewish people as they live in this material world. From that time onward, “the Torah is not in the heavens,” but rather the possession of the Jewish people. After the giving of the Torah, the Torah must be studied by the Jewish people as they exist “souls within bodies” and it is on the basis of their understanding that Torah law will be decided. Similarly, through their observance of the mitzvos, they transform the world into a dwelling for G‑d.
These two dimensions should be reflected in the way in which every Jew studies Torah: The awareness that the Torah transcends human knowledge leads to bittul, “selflessness.”2 In a complete sense, this bittul is reflected in the verse, “My tongue will repeat Your sayings,” which is interpreted as follows: “The Torah is ‘Your sayings,’ and my tongue is merely repeating what You have said.” In this context, we can also interpret the verse “G‑d, open my lips and my mouth will recite Your praise,” i.e., although it is a man who is speaking, what he is saying is “Your praise,” G‑d’s words and not his own. “The Divine Presence speaks from his throat.”
On this basis, we can understand our Sages’ statement that we should study the Torah with the same awe, fear, and trembling experienced by the Jews at Mount Sinai. For, although we are lacking all the open miracles of Sinai, the essence of the experience, that a limited human being is perceiving the word of G‑d, is the same.
Conversely, we must also appreciate that the Torah was given to man as he exists within our material world, a soul within a physical body. Accordingly, a person must endeavor to understand the Torah with his own mind and faculties. And when he achieves this, the Torah he studies is considered as his own. He receives a measure of authority over the Torah which he has studied.3
These two thrusts are also reflected in the ultimate purpose of our Torah study: fashioning a dwelling for G‑d in these lower worlds. Here, too, we see two dimensions, that it is a dwelling for G‑d, i.e., a place where He reveals Himself totally, as a person reveals himself without restraint in his own home. This relates to the transcendent dimension of the Torah. Because “the Torah and G‑d are one,” the Torah can reveal His presence in the world.
Simultaneously, as mentioned above, the Torah has undergone a process of descent, enclothing itself in matters of our material world. This enables the dwelling to be part and parcel of our lower world itself, causing its very own framework of reference to serve as a medium to reveal G‑d’s dwelling.
In this context, we can apply our Sages’ expression, “One who enters a country should follow its modes,” to the Torah’s descent into worldly existence. Because the Torah adapts to the modes of existence of our material environment, it has the potential to make them into a dwelling for G‑d.4
Based on these concepts, we can appreciate the significance of the two different narratives of the Ten Commandments in the Torah. The description of the Ten Commandments in Parshas Yisro reflects G‑d’s speech, granting the Jews the potential for their Torah study to reflect G‑d’s speech.
This concept is reflected in the introductory verse to the Ten Commandments, literally translated as, “And G‑d related all the following to say (לאמר).” The commentaries note that the word laimor, “to say,” appears frequently in the Torah with the intent that the message communicated should be conveyed to others. This meaning is not appropriate in this instance, for the entire Jewish people were present at the giving of the Torah. Nor can the intent be to communicate the message to the Jews of future generations, for all the souls of the Jewish people, even those yet to be born,5 attended at Mount Sinai.
Therefore, the intent of the term in this instance is that G‑d gave the Jews the power to say the words of Torah as He said them, that the words of the Torah studied by a Jew should be “G‑d’s word.”
The description of the Ten Commandments in Parshas Vaeschanan, by contrast, were spoken by Moshe. This grants a Jew the potential to comprehend the Torah within the context of his own limited human intellect and in a larger sense, to make a dwelling for G‑d within the context of our material world.6
Thus each of the different accounts of the Ten Commandments possesses an advantage lacking in the other. The account in Parshas Yisro reflects the advantage of direct revelation from G‑d, without an intermediaries. All the Jews heard the commandments from G‑d Himself.
In contrast, the description of the Ten Commandments in Parshas Vaeschanan reflects how they are related by Moshe. Although Moshe was “a medium who connects,”7 and “the Divine Presence spoke from his throat,” this still represented a descent.8 And therefore, the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai represents the ultimate of man’s connection with G‑d.
Nevertheless, receiving G‑d’s word in this manner negates our individual existence. (And thus our Sages relate that after each of the Commandments, the souls of the Jews expired.) Conversely, the second description of the giving of the Ten Commandments reflects the ultimate of a person’s individual existence, that a Jew, like Moshe, can be a medium for the expression of G‑d’s speech.
To express these advantages within the context of the expression “a dwelling for G‑d in the lower worlds”: The description of the Ten Commandments in Parshas Vaeschanan reflects how even the lower worlds within their own context become a dwelling “for G‑d.” There is, however, a limitation although they are a “dwelling for G‑d,” there is a difference between G‑d and His dwelling. To refer to the analogy mentioned above, in a person’s own home, he expresses himself most freely: Although this is true, his home is merely the place where he expresses himself. There is a clear difference between the person himself and his home.
Similarly, in the analogue, although the description of the Ten Commandments in Parshas Vaeschanan reflect how the Jews — as they exist within the framework of worldly existence — become a dwelling for G‑d, there remains, however, a difference between G‑d and His dwelling. The description of the Ten Commandments in Parshas Yisro, by contrast, reflect how nothing exists aside from G‑d Himself.
The ultimate level of fulfillment is when there is a fusion of both approaches, that G‑d’s essence is revealed within the context of our material world with no limitation whatsoever and that this revelation is internalized within the Jewish people (as opposed to causing their self-nullification). In this manner, a Jew repeats “G‑d’s word” and becomes a channel for the revelation of G‑dliness in the world at large.
In this context, the two narratives of the giving of the Ten Commandments can be seen as two stages in a single process. The narrative in Parshas Yisro reflects the potential for the revelation of essential G‑dliness. And the narrative in Parshas Vaeschanan reveals how this essential G‑dliness becomes internalized within Moshe, within the Jewish people, and within the world at large. In this manner, the revelation at Mount Sinai, becomes relevant to our divine service at all places and in all places.
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2. There is a connection between the above concepts and the date on which Parshas Yisro is read this year, the 20th of Shvat, ten days after the yahrzeit of the Previous Rebbe, and two days before the yahrzeit of the Previous Rebbe’s daughter, Rebbetzin Chayah Mushka.
Shvat is the eleventh month in the year. As mentioned on previous occasions,9all existence is structured in a framework of reference of ten. Eleven refers to a level of transcendence above that framework. These two levels are also reflected in the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments themselves reflect a set of ten. The first commandment, Anochi, reflects a level of transcendence, “You are one and not in a numerical sense.”
The Previous Rebbe’s yahrzeit falls on the tenth day of the eleventh month, i.e., the transcendent quality associated with eleven is drawn down into the limited framework of ten.10 And this is the ultimate goal of the giving of the Torah, that G‑d’s essence be drawn down by the Jews in their Torah study every day.
Surely, the above is relevant to our generation, the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the redemption, for it is in the Era of the Redemption when we will witness the quintessence of the above process, seeing how G‑d’s essence permeates every dimension of existence.
And the Redemption can come immediately. Indeed, miyad (מיד) the Hebrew for “immediately,” is intrinsically connected with the Redemption, for its letters serve as an acronym for the names Moshe, Yisrael, David, the three Jewish leaders associated with the Redemption. Moshe redeemed the Jews from Egypt and our Sages declare, “He was the first redeemer and he will be the ultimate Redeemer.” It is the spreading outward of the wellsprings of the teachings of Yisrael, the Baal Shem Tov, which will bring the Redemption. And similarly, the Mashiach will be a descendant of David, the first anointed king.
Similarly, miyad can reflect the continuity between generations as reflected in the acronym Moshe, Yehoshua, Doram, “Moshe Yehoshua and their generations.” This emphasizes how the concepts symbolized by the three letters are not distant from each other, but rather in direct connection.
Each one of us — man, woman, and child — must take a lesson from the above concepts.11 Since the Ten Commandments were associated with the unity of the Jewish people, at Mount Sinai, they camped “as one man, with one heart,” our application of the lessons they teach should also involve a community, i.e., ten other people. Every individual should seek to convey the totality of the Torah and its mitzvos, for they are all reflected within the Ten Commandments to at least ten other Jews.12
Although the above directive applies to every member of our generation, it is particularly relevant to those present in this “sanctuary in microcosm,” the house of prayer, house of study, and house of good deeds of the Previous Rebbe. Since the Nasi represents the entire generation, this building is beischayeinu, “the source of our life,” for every person in this generation.
When all the Jews here will serve as a living example of how the Previous Rebbe’s directives should be fulfilled, the influence from this house13 will reach Jews throughout the world. And this will hasten the coming of the time when the synagogues and houses of study in the Diaspora will all be taken to Eretz Yisrael together with the entire Jewish people. May this take place in the immediate future.