Shavuot Dvar Torah 1

Shevuot

In the early 1970’s, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik relayed lectures devoted to Shevuos about the pessukim leading up to and including the Asaret ha-Dibrot. The following devar Torah was taken from a portion of rare notes that were recorded during those lectures.

In Parshas Yisro, the Torah states: ״לאמר האלה הדברים כל את אלקים וידבר״ (20:1). Rashi explains that the word אלקים in this context connotes the Attribute of Judgment. Thus, one is punished for not fulfilling one of the positive, action-oriented commandments, even though there is no violation per se. Therefore, אלקים was written in the context of the Asaret ha-Dibrot to teach us that “a Judge” will exact punishment for failure of keeping the commandments.

This explanation, however, is problematic, as there are only three positive commandments out of ten listed in the Aseret-Hadibort: to believe in G-d, to “remember” the day of Shabbat, and to honor one’s parents. It is therefore incongruous to make such a claim as Rashi does on all the 10 Commandments?

In his answer, Rav Soloveitchik quotes Rav Sa’adya Ga’on’s famous theory (also found in Rashi, Parshat Mishpatim, 24:12 and Ibn Ezra, Parshat Yisro, 20:1): all negative commandments in the Asaret ha-Dibrot correspond to a number of positive commandments. For example, not killing corresponds to the commandment of preserving life, and not being a false witness corresponds to the commandment of pursuing justice. Based on this, Rav Soloveitchik suggests that all these negative commandments are also viewed as positive commandments, thus fitting Rashi’s rule onto all the 10 Commandments.

Rav Soloveitchik adds to this concept and explains, “אלקים is the G-d Who abides in every natural phenomenon: in the flowering of the bush, in the far distances separating us from the stars, and even in our own flexible muscle… G-d’s will is embedded in every element of nature… אלקים manifests Himself through regularity in nature, through orderliness and causality rather than through miracles… אלקים means G-d who controls dynamics… Who is responsible for the… boundless reservoir of physical energy… for the grandeur of the universe.”

“What is the Natural law about which physics, chemistry, and biology speak if not the expression of אלקים’s primordial Will embedded in organic and inorganic matter? What is the fall of the stone, the roar of the sea, the flight of the bird, the circulation motion of the insect around an electric bulb on a warm summer night… if not the manifestation of G-d’s penetration into the depths of nature?”

אלקים thus indicates the aspect of G-d that represents order in the natural world within which we live. This can be found in Rashi on Parshat Bershit, 2:5, where he explains אלקים as the “shalit” and “shofeit,” the Ruler and Judge over everyone and everything.

The term “shalit” indicates that G-d controls the cosmic order, whereas “shofeit” indicates that G-d controls the socio-political order. Thus, not only does אלקים control the physical order of the world, but also the moral law of society. Both are inviolable, and defiance of either elects retribution. For example, one who ignores the law of gravity and jumps off a skyscraper shall surly perish, just as an alcoholic who abuses his body will surly pass away. Moreover, the Mishna in Avos, 2:6, teaches that one who does not honor his parents will himself not be honored by his children, promiscuity yields familial corruption, and Non-observant Shabbat shows one’s life devotion to materialism and is void of spiritual values.

In conclusion, being the children of Israel, not only do we have an obligation to fulfill all the commandments listed and included in the Asaret ha-Dibrot, but we also have an obligation to know G-d and to build a relationship with Him. Perhaps, Rav Soloveitchik wanted to relay, as he is noted for relaying in his lectures on the Parsha, that we must internalize and experience G-d in our everyday lives. “Knowing” involves not only an intellectual awareness, but also experiencing and feeling the presence of G-d. For example, while children enjoy doing mitzvot, they often lack the deeper meaning behind their actions. When a child prays on Yom Kippur, he does not have the experience to appreciate the exaltation and grandeur of the day, which is predicated upon feeling G-d’s presence. Only after many years of experience can one genuinely feel G-d’s closer presence and the holiness that accompanies Yom Kippur. When Rav Chaim Soloveitchik recited the Avoda service on Yom Kippur, he saw himself in the azarah of the Beit Hamikdash. Through his intense concentration, he felt a close relationship with Hashem and longed for the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash. Even in our ordinary lives, we should identify G-d’s hand in everyday circumstances and happenings. May we be fortunate to have the ability to identify G-d in all instances and accomplishments.

Student Studying in KBY