Shabbat and the Ten Commandments

June 17, 2016

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, June 17, 2016.

Shabbat and the Ten Commandments

Last week, on the Shabbat before Shavuot, we looked at the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, and at the fact that there are two versions of the Ten Commandments in the Torah: Exodus, chapter 20, and Deuteronomy Chapter 5. Nowhere is this more odd than the versions of the Fourth Commandment, the Commandment about the Sabbath.  Both versions explain why we should observe the Sabbath... but the explanations are different! In Exodus, we are told that we remember the Sabbath because “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day.” In Deuteronomy, however, we are told that we observe the Sabbath because, “you were a slave in the Land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm.”

Of course, last week’s explanation holds: 600,000 Israelites heard the Ten Commandments given on Mount Sinai, and each heard the commandments in his or her own way. But there’s more – the discrepancy is actually rather philosophical. The first version, in Exodus, tells us that the Sabbath is about creation and stopping creation. We create in many ways all the days of the week – but on the Sabbath we stop. Therefore we imitate God by refraining from creating (and other of the 39 forbidden labors). We celebrate Shabbat in imitatio Dei – in imitation of God.

Deuteronomy, however, tells us that we stop work to remember the core narrative of the Jewish People: We were slaves in Egypt, and now we are free human beings. We all work. Work is a necessity of life. However, since we are not slaves, we are free to stop work. We have free will. Observing the Sabbath, therefore, proves to us that we are free. It commemorates our liberation.

These two reasons are complimentary. They form the essence of our identity as Jews, as acknowledging the mysteries of life, as a free people, and as free individuals.

Shabbat Shalom