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Parashat Bo: From the Ten Ma'amorot to the Ten Dibrot

  • Rav Itamar Eldar
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

by Rav Itamar Eldar

Yeshivat Har Etzion


ParAshat Bo:

From the ten Ma'amorot to the ten Dibrot



            In our parasha, the ten plagues that God brings upon Egypt come to an end. It goes without saying that the number ten is not by chance.


            We first encounter the number ten in the creation of the world:


"And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone" (Bereishit 2:18). We have learned: The world was created with ten ma'amarot [statements], which are as follows: "In the beginning" (ibid. 1:1); "And a wind from God moved over" (v. 2); "And God said, Let there be a light" (v. 3); "And God said, Let there be a firmament" (v. 6); "And God said, Let the waters be gathered" (v. 9); "And God said, Let the earth bring forth" (v. 11); "And God said, "Let there be lights" (v. 14); "And God said, Let the waters swarm abundantly" (v. 20); "And God said, Let the earth bring forth" (v. 24); "And God said, Let us make man" (v. 26); Menachem bar Yose removes "And a wind from God moved over" and brings "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone." Rabbi Ya'akov ben Korshai says: A separate statement was given to the wind. (Bereishit Rabba 17:1)


            The attempt to find ten statements in the creation story, not more and not less, follows from the fact that the number ten constitutes a full unit and a complete course of God's governance of the world, as it is revealed to us in Scripture,[1] in rabbinic literature, and in Kabbala. Thus, we find in the Midrash:


"One spoon [of ten shekels of gold, full of incense" (Bamidbar 7:14). Corresponding to the ten statements with which the world was created, and corresponding to the ten heavenly spheres, and corresponding to the ten generations between Adam and Noach, and corresponding to the ten generations between Noach and Avraham, and corresponding to the ten commandments, and corresponding to the ten rulers in man, and corresponding to the ten instances of toledot in the Torah, and corresponding to the ten miracles performed for our forefathers in Egypt and the ten miracles at the sea, and corresponding to the ten covenants mentioned in the section of circumcision. (Bamidbar Rabba 14:1)


            Ten heavenly spheres, ten generations from Adam to Noach, ten generations from Noach to Avraham, ten commandments, ten plagues, and more and more "tens" reinforce the fact that the number ten marks a full unit, an entire floor, and a complete course from beginning to end.


            As we shall see below, Chassidic thought also tries to understand the relationship between the various "tens." Here, however, the common denominator is not only the number, but also the content.


            The Sefat Emet brings a derasha in the name of his grandfather, the author of the Chidushei ha-Rim, which he explains in detail on several occasions. According to this derasha, we must understand the relationship between three events strongly connected to the number ten: the creation of the world – the ten statements (ma'amarot); the exodus from Egypt – the ten plagues, and the giving of the Torah – the ten commandments (dibrot).


            Even before we get into the thick of things, superficial reflection upon the three events teaches us about the process itself. When the world is created, we find ma'amar; when the Torah is given at Sinai, the ma'amar is replaced by a dibbur. Thus we go from ten ma'amarot to ten dibrot. The relationship between the revelation of the Torah and the creation of the world seems to be teaching about the development and transition from ma'amar to dibbur, when in the middle of it all, between the ma'amar and the dibbur, stands the plague – the exodus from Egypt. Thus, even before explaining anything, the pattern on the basis of which we wish to examine the three events is that of a path beginning with the creation of the world and leading to the revelation of the Torah, the intermediate stage consisting of the ten plagues and the exodus from Egypt.


            This model of a "threesome" can be constructed on three levels. With God's help we shall examine each level separately.


1) The world and the way it is governed: We are dealing with three historic events in which God revealed Himself in the world in different ways. How are we to understand the world and God's appearance in it, in light of each of these events?  


2) Natural and miraculous governance of the world: These three events reflect different relationships between the natural order and deviations from it, and we must understand the meaning of the process from this perspective.


3) Universality and nationalism: The relevance for the world and for the Jewish people is different in each of these events, and we must examine how each event effects the involvement of the entire world and of the Jewish people in the Divine process.


The world and the way it is governed


            The Sefat Emet writes as follows:


In the name of my master and grandfather, of blessed memory: The ten ma'amarot, the ten plagues and the ten dibrot are all one thing. For the ma'amarot were included in a generality, and afterwards they were stated in detail in order to set each thing in its place. Then there was an exile and great exertion to clarify all the details. And then there was another generality. And the last generality following the details will exist forever. Then afterwards the ten ma'amarot were repaired and made into dibrot, for a dibbur is more explicit and clarified than a ma'amar. (Parashat Bo, 5639)


            As we wrote in our introduction, the pattern against which to examine this issue is the pattern of a transition from first to third by way of a second, when the transition from first to third is a developmental transition.


            The model in light of which the Sefat Emet explains this application is taken from one of the exegetical rules through which the Torah is interpreted: "A generality, a specific and a generality." This rule is not merely a matter of semantics, argues the Sefat Emet, but rather a profound inner process, in which the generality mentioned at the beginning of the process becomes spelled out in detail. Following the specification, we do not return to the starting point of the generality, for the specification has deepened our perspective, widened it and provided it with continued existence. Thus, the generality that comes at the end may be similar to the first generality, but it is far more clarified. The first generality, explains the Sefat Emet, is the ma'amar appearing in the creation of the world. The second generality is the dibbur appearing at the giving of the Torah. The specification is through the ten plagues inflicted upon Egypt during the period of the exodus.


            The distinction between ma'amar and dibbur will guide us throughout the lecture, and the deeper we delve into this distinction, the more profoundly will we be able to understand the Divine process from the creation of the world to the giving of the Torah, by way of the exodus from Egypt.


            A dibbur, argues the Sefat Emet, is clearer and more explicit than a ma'amar, owing to the fact that everything becomes set in its place in the process of specification. Thus, the eternal element is found in dibbur and not in ma'amar.


            It seems to me that the relationship between the Written Law and the Oral Law may help us understand the matter. A long and bitter debate between the Karaites and those who accept the Jewish tradition and adopt the Oral Law accompanies the history of the Jewish people. The Karaites wish to nullify tradition and the Oral Law, and leave the Written Law as is without any additions or interpretation.[2] Let us mention two main arguments in favor of the approach of the Karaites:


According to one argument, the attempt to expand the boundaries of the Torah and apply it to each and every detail of life reduces, narrows, and distorts the Torah and its principles. The Torah never pretended, argue the Karaites, to teach us how to recite a blessing over food, how to dress, or how to relieve oneself in the bathroom. The attempt to lower the Torah to these details involves constriction and diminishment, and perhaps even a profanation of the holy.


According to the second argument, the Oral Law undermines the eternal foundation of the Torah, and the legitimacy given to new and diverse interpretations turns the Torah into "clay in the hands of the potter," that lacks an eternal and absolute foundation.[3]


Tradition and the Oral Law stand up to these two arguments and respond: Just the opposite is true!


Lowering the Torah to minute details may sometimes involve an oppressive element and be accompanied by a feeling of constriction and limitation. In the end, however, this lowering of the Torah is what gives it substance and relevance.


According to the Karaitic approach, the Torah is set in heaven and never touches the earth, except for the most fundamental and abstract ideas. The process of specification, however, is a process that, along with the constriction and attribute of judgment that accompanies it, brings the Torah down from heaven to the ends of the earth, making it relevant and allowing it to conquer all realms of life. There is not a moment, nor a feeling, nor a thought, that remains untouched by the Torah and its principles.


So too regarding the second argument. Current interpretation and the legitimacy that God gave the Sages to contemplate the Torah from their standpoint, in their historical context, and from their cultural perspective, are not a deficiency, but an advantage. And this is precisely what provides the Torah with the dimension of eternity. The Torah of the Karaites may be absolute and eternal, but it is fossilized, an archaic archeological find, lacking vitality. Such a Torah does not engage in conversation with its students; it lacks words and spirit. Specification may slightly lower the Divine to the human, but in that way it provides the Torah with the vitality and dynamic spirit that speaks anew each and every moment for all generations.


This apparently is the way to understand the transition from ma'amar to dibbur by way of the plague. A ma'amar is a generality, a principle, the aspect of "For ever, O Lord; Your words stands fast in the heavens" (Tehilim 119:89). It is the manner in which Divine truth appears in the world at the time of creation. The exile in Egypt and the ten plagues brings this truth to be present from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth. We are dealing with a process that it is not simple, a process in which the attribute of judgment plays a central role. This lowering involves much darkness, many contractions, and often even cruelty. The glory and splendor of the creation of the world is totally absent from the plagues of Egypt. The river that turned to blood does not resemble the separation of the upper waters from the lower waters at the time of creation; the smiting of the firstborn does not resemble the blessing of "be fruitful and multiply" of creation, and thus also regarding the other plagues.[4]


During the creation of the world, God, as it were, "does not get His hand dirty." Everything is perfect, in harmony, void of struggle, argument and controversy. The price of this splendor, however, lies in the fact that this Divine governance is, to a certain degree, remote and severed from the world and what transpires therein. Par'o lives very well without knowing God, the Divine creation of the world is completely absent from the consciousness of the Cana'anite nations, and even Israel, so it seems, have become accustomed to life without God.


The ten plagues that come as a continuation of the ten ma'amarot may, perhaps, scatter the radiance that had surrounded the creation and the ma'amarot that had participated in it, but on the other hand, they force the world to confront the truth: "That My name may be proclaimed throughout all the earth" (Shemot 9:16). Now, Par'o, the nations of Cana'an, and certainly Israel, can no longer ignore the Divine truth that becomes relevant and pertinent. The time has become ripe for a transition from ma'amarot to dibrot, from universal to individual governance, from the Divine truth standing in heaven to the Divine truth descending to the ends of the earth. For twenty-six generations, the world had been waiting for this transition, in which ma'amar would turn into dibbur, and Divine truth into a way of life.


There is an approach that appears in the words of Chazal and many others who came after them that claims that the patriarchs fulfilled the entire Torah. This claim expresses a profound idea regarding the naturalness of the Torah and the fact that a person who is perfect in his nature and character traits will cleave to the Torah on his own. In contrast, there is another approach, according to which Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov did not fulfill the details of the Torah or the mitzvot, because the Divine governance in their time did not require nor was it suited for this type of lifestyle.[5] The patriarchs maintained the connection between the world and God when it rested on the creation of the world and the Divine ma'amarot, whereas the Jewish people maintain such a connection based on the assembly at Mount Sinai which centered on the dibrot. In between, we find the exile in Egypt and the ten plagues that allowed the transition from the one stage to the other, despite the pain that this involved.[6]


It seems that we can delve more deeply into this idea. Thus writes the Sefat Emet in another passage:


My master and grandfather, of blessed memory would say that the ten plagues correspond to the ten ma'amarot, and through that they later became the ten dibrot. For it is stated that the world was created with ten ma'amarot. What does the verse teach… in order to exact punishment from the wicked and give reward to the righteous. Certainly to exact punishment from the wicked refers to Par'o, as it is written: "And I and my nations are wicked." And to give reward to the righteous – this refers to the Torah that is called good, because it was given to the people of Israel. The explanation for this is that prior to the sin the world could have been created in a single ma'amar. But the Holy One, blessed be He, saw that man would sin and there would be a mixture of good and evil. Therefore the ten ma'amarot were later divided, for they were included in the generality, and they became specified, the evil side, the ten plagues, for the wicked, and the good [side], the ten dibrot that were in the specification. Dibbur bears the sense of governance, as it is written in the holy Zohar on the verse, "And you shall speak of them," to conduct all actions according to the words of the Torah (see inside). And in order to bring holiness to the details in every action, it is first necessary to repair the evil side of the ten plagues. Therefore the exodus from Egypt was a preparation for all the mizvot, as I have written above. (Vaera 1835)


The Sefat Emet bases what he says on the following midrash:


"For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth" (Shemot 33:6). Were they created in six days? Surely it was already stated: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth" (Tehilim 33:6). Rather, to exact punishment from the wicked who destroy the world that was created in six days, and to give good reward to the righteous who maintain the world that was created in six days.[7] (Pesikta Rabbati 23)


The midrash raises a fundamental question. The ten ma'amarot whereby the world was created, or alternatively, the six days in which it was created, give expression to gradation and process in the creation.


When an artisan agrees to do a certain job, he recognizes his abilities and limitations, as well as the resources that are available to him, and he assesses how long the work will take him accordingly. According to the number of required actions and the various stages, so too the number of workdays. This, however, is all good and fine regarding a human artisan who is limited in his abilities. But this does not apply to the King, the King of kings. Thus the question arises: Why is creation described and detailed in such a manner that leaves the impression that it could not have been done all at the same time, and that it was necessary for the world to have been created step by step? Surely, "by the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth."


The answer offered by the midrash is localized, but the Sefat Emet expands upon the idea. The toil and exertion that appear to accompany the creation strengthen the actions of the righteous who maintain this world that had been created with toil and exertion, as it were, and also the actions of the wicked who destroy it.


The Sefat Emet describes God's motive for moving from effortless creation, having the aspect of "and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth," to creation by way of the ten ma'amarot that express toil and exertion. Thus he writes: "But the Holy One, blessed be He, saw that man would sin and there would be a mixture of good and evil." The world of "all the host of them by the breath of His mouth" is a world that leaves no room for human choice. It does not consider the capability of choosing and the ramifications thereof. In such a world the terms "righteous" and "wicked" have no meaning, for it is a world void of governance, and to a certain degree, void of turning to God.


The ma'amarot contain within them the potential for specification for good and for evil.


From this perspective, the plagues and the dibrot, are two aspects of the ma'amarot and their application.


The plagues reflect the Divine ma'amar's turn to the wicked, and the dibrot express its turn to the righteous.


The ma'amar in its primal stage, prior to its specification, turns neither to the tzadik nor to the wicked; it is, as it were, "neutral."


Let us once again try to make use of a different world of concepts in order to sharpen the distinction. In great measure, the distinction between a ma'amar and the plagues and dibrot resembles the distinction between a lecturer and a teacher.


A lecturer wishes with all his being to clothe himself in neutral "objectivity." He does not want to be involved. He tries to sever himself from any trace of preconceived notion. He has no educational or ideological objective, and his entire desire is to bring the facts as they are, without any subjective interpretation. Interpretation and its tools must stem from a scientific approach and simple reason, and not from emotions and emotional or ideological involvement, this being the case even if the lecturer is dealing with holy subject matter.[8] A teacher, or if you like, a preacher, turns to his audience and wishes to influence them. What he says is not neutral, and thus they are not void of judgment.


A lecture is delivered with a fixed intonation and with monotony, for intonation results from emotional involvement, which the lecturer wishes to uproot. The words of a teacher or a preacher are played in many tunes, which provide movement and a goal. The distinction between good and evil have a prominent role in his words; open or hidden rebuke, praise and glorification, are all part of his lot; and they are fitting to deter the wicked and goad the righteous – according to his outlook and understanding. A preacher is not a lecturer, and using our terminology, he does not engage in amira. Rather, his preaching constitutes dibbur, turning to the other, and establishing a dialogue.


The distinction between ma'amar and dibbur in this passage adds to what we have already seen thus far: Dibbur, argues the Sefat Emet, has the sense of governance (hadbara [tending] of sheep, "He subdues [yadber] peoples under us"; Tehilim 47:4).


When God creates the world with ten ma'amarot, He does not yet govern it, but He implants the ten ma'amarot with the potential for governance. This potential finds expression in the ten plagues and reaches its climax in the ten dibrot.


The Sefat Emet concludes by saying that it is not by chance that the ten plagues preceded the ten dibrot. Here he remains faithful to the model that he had set up also in the previous section, according to which the plagues constitute a transitional stage between the ma'amarot and the dibrot. Subjugation of evil comes before profusion of holiness onto the righteous,[9] and Divine governance reveals itself in perfect manner at Mount Sinai, only after it has destroyed the evil in Egypt and allowed the theoretical holiness to rest on the world of action.


The preacher lowers the idea, the holiness, the light from theory to the world of action, and thus he "brings holiness to the details in every action."




            This process, from the creation of the world to the giving of the Torah by way of the exodus from Egypt, also touches upon the issue of nature and miracles.


            The creation of the world established the world of nature. Chapter 1 of the book of Bereishit, which contains the ten ma'amarot, is brought in the name of Elohim which is identified with natural governance. Each and every ma'amar in the six days of creation establishes a natural law that will remain forever.[10] Chapter 1 stands out in its order. Each day and its creation, each creature and its function. The waters swarm with fish, the land issues forth the grass of the field, man is fruitful and multiplies, and the birds fly over the earth. The world follows its natural order, and the order established by God in the six days of creation will stand forever. This is nature with its laws and its absolute permanence. There are no deviations or breaches, everything stands in its place. This is an orderly and well-defined world, with nature standing at its center, permanently and firmly in control.


            After having existed for two thousand years, this exemplary order is breached, and it might even be said that it is smashed to pieces in the exodus from Egypt. Each plague brought upon Par'o bends another law of nature. The exodus experience leaves man without an anchor, without the stability that had rested upon the laws of nature and their permanent nature.


            This difference may be defined using the categories of Divine concealment and revelation.


            Nature is the law behind which God stands in concealment. Sunrise may be understood as an action executed according to the laws of nature, without having to mention God and His involvement. This is a concealed appearance.[11]


            A miracle, in contrast, constitutes a breach of the laws of nature, active Divine involvement in the world.[12]


In the midrash: "A stone is heavy [and the sand weighty; but a fool's wrath [is heavier than both of them] (Mishlei 27:3). My master and grandfather, of blessed memory said that following the redemption from Egypt, the ten ma'amarot became the ten dibrot by way of the ten plagues. The difference between a ma'amar and a dibbur [is] that a dibbur has the sense of kingship and governance, when it will be evident and manifest that the inner strength and vitality of everything is only from the ten ma'amarot, when nature will be unable to conceal His strength, blessed be He, and Par'o will not say: "My river is my own." This is the meaning of what is written: "A fool's wrath is heavier [than both of them]." For the creation did not involve His exertion, for the ten ma'amarot were merely, "'Let there be light,' and there was light." But the redemption from Egypt involved many counsels. For to clarify Divine vitality in nature is heavier.  (Sefat Emet, Bo, 5632)


            God created the world of nature with the ten ma'amarot, and he clothed them with His laws, or as the Sefat Emet puts it, "He hides His strength." It is this concealment that allows Par'o to say: "My river is my own, and I have made it for myself" (Yechezkel 29:4).


            The ten plagues and the manifest miracles that accompany the exodus from Egypt expose the Divine governance that stands behind the world of nature. At this time, the perspective changes for Israel, and even for Par'o and his nation, and the Divine vitality that is found in nature becomes exposed. Both in the plagues and in the revelation of the Torah, God reveals His presence in the world, and governs it in an active and unmediated manner.[13]


This is another difference between ma'amar and dibbur.


A ma'amar is fixed and static – "Blessed is He who spoke and the world came into being." It expresses the fixed truth that stands in the world. Dibbur, in contrast, expresses dynamism and constant change. From this perspective, ma'amar establishes the natural world, whereas dibbur creates miracles.


From this perspective, the Sinai experience follows from the plagues of Egypt, which give rise in Israel to an inner perspective that is not diverted or blinded by the natural world. From the moment that God's presence in the world is exposed, the ma'amar turns into a dibbur, and nature clears the way for Divine revelation, which reaches its climax on Mount Sinai.


This is a historical process, but it is also a personal process, that every person experiences over the course of his life. We conduct our lives on the natural plain. We tend to contemplate the world through glasses that are founded on the pillars of nature. There are things, places, and situations that make us feel insecure, while there are other places where we are full of confidence. The difference between these feelings reflects the fact that we generally adopt the standards of nature, according to which there are places that are more or less dangerous. From the "miraculous" perspective which sees the world as Divine governance founded on providence, the natural standards are replaced by other standards, according to which man's fate depends upon the grace of God, and his actions will either draw him closer or set him apart. Here "fear" and "trust" do not follow from the external environment. A person can be sitting in his house or fortress, protected from all natural calamities, surrounded by people who love him, and die in a second. On the other hand, a person may find himself in a dangerous place, surrounded by enemies, facing death – and then be rescued.


This reality that we have described is the aspect of "the plagues of Egypt," for it sharpens the Divine providence that decides things, in total contrast to the laws of nature and the statistics that they fashion. The experience of the transience of the natural world, that also comes to expression in calamities that are arbitrary, as it were, gives rise within us to a consciousness of the miraculous, that turns nature that engages in amira into a reality that deals with dibbur. From the moment that we experience the transience of the world, nothing is self-evident, and every movement of ours, every morning that we wake up, the ability to open our eyes, to stand erect, to walk, to think – all these become for us active Divine dibbur. This is the aspect of the Sinai experience.




            The third and final plain on which this process from the creation of the world to the giving of the Torah finds expression is the plain on which universalism turns into nationalism.


The creation of the world has a universal character. "Today is the birthday of the world; today all mankind is judged." The relevance of the creation of the world touches every creature found therein, and thus the obligation toward this event is a universal obligation. No man or nation has a more dominant part in this event, everyone having an equal share.


The plagues in Egypt and the exodus from Egypt create a distinction between Israel and Egypt, but these events are still directed both toward Israel and toward the other nations – "That My name may be proclaimed throughout all the earth." At this point, there is already a distinction between the fit and the unfit, and just as the unfit are punished, so too are the fit saved. The elements of Divine selection and the unique qualities of the selected already enter into the picture, but as we already said, these events still have "universal" impact": "The people shall hear, and be afraid; trembling shall take hold of the inhabitants of Peleshet" (Shemot 14:14).


The giving of the Torah is the next stage in the process, where the event is relevant solely to the people of Israel. Nobody else was a party to the experience, and its fame never reached another nation.[14]


It seems that here too the distinction between ma'amar and dibbur can explain the process. Let us examine the matter through the Hebrew language.


The root amira is always followed by the word "el" or the letter "lamed," meaning "to" – He said to…


The root diber is followed by the word "im" or "et," meaning "with" – He spoke with…


The reason for the difference lies in the fact that amira does not necessarily involve direct address and the creation of a dialogue. Amira stands by itself, and it can express an outlook, an idea, or a thought. All these can stand on their own, without anybody in the world hearing or knowing about them, and in equal measure they can be sent out to a particular destination – "to." Even then, the speaker need not be present in the essential sense, for once the statement is uttered, it freely wanders about the world.


Dibbur, on the other hand, by its very definition, involves turning to another and forming a relationship "with." In general a person does not engage in dibbur with himself, and even when he does, he is speaking with himself or with his  Creator. With respect to dibbur, the person must be present; he himself creates the connection with his fellow. The Sefat Emet writes as follows:


Our Sages of blessed memory said: "All the prophets prophesied with 'Thus [ko] said the Lord.' Moshe added to them: 'This [ze] is the word.'" This distinction is similar to the difference between the ten ma'amarot and the ten dibrot. For a ma'amar is directed outwards to announce an intention: "Let there be a firmament," "Let there be lights." But a dibbur refers to the inner essence of the statement itself. Like the word medaber, that man is described as medaber, and not omer. For a dibbur relates to essence, not to chance, as does ma'amar. The truth is that this itself is the difference between ze and ko. For there are various levels of prophecy. The dibbur itself becomes clothed and then spreads to the level of amira. For this reason, regarding amira it says ko, whereas regarding dibbur it says ze. Therefore, it says "And God spoke [vayedaber]… saying [leimor], for from dibbur comes afterwards amira. And such was the level of the children of Israel when they received the Torah, that the inner essence of the word of God was revealed through dibrot more than the ten ma'amarot.[15] (Sefat Emet, Bamidbar, Matot, 5651)


Dibbur relates to essence, while ma'amar relates to chance, argues the Sefat Emet, because dibbur necessitates that the essence be revealed, whereas ma'amar is a garment that externalizes and distances the statement from the speaker.


When a person engages in amira or writes an article (ma'amar), he can disappear from the world and his statement or article will remain. In contrast, when a person is gone, his dibbur is also gone, for dibbur relates to essence, and with the absence of the essence, the dibbur disappears with it.


The ma'amar with which the world was created is relevant to whomever seeks it. It lies in the corner, and approaching that corner is open to all. It shows no partiality to anyone, and does not express the speaker's preference toward the one or the other. The dibbur of the giving of the Torah that is a result of the ten plagues involves God's turning to man. This turning to man starts with judgment of the wicked and love for the righteous, and ends with God's dibbur on Mount Sinai to the people of Israel.


Dibbur is not set in heaven, but rather it turns to man, and therefore God's presence is required for an assembly, the nature of which is dibbur. The novel aspect of the Sinai experience lies in the very fact that God addresses His chosen people directly, guides them and leads them.


Law is relevant to everyone and obligates everyone, but it does not require a deep and inner connection between legislator and executor. In contrast, when the legislator leaves the Legislature building and comes into direct contact with one of his voters, that personal meeting in a single moment creates a connection and an obligation, or as Scripture calls it, a covenant (brit).


In light of all that has been , the words of the Chaver, in R. Yehuda Ha-Levi's Kuzari, in answer to questions about his faith, become clear.


The Chaver describes his faith in the God of Israel, who removed His people from the afflictions of Egypt by way of miracles and wonders, brought them to the foot of Mount Sinai, and in the thunder and lightning gave them the Torah.


The King of the Kazars is astonished by the Chaver's answer, and asks him why did he not first describe God as Creator of the world. The Chaver answers as follows:


The Chaver: If you were told that the king of India was an excellent man, commanding admiration, and deserving his high reputation, one whose actions were reflected in the justice which rules his country and the virtuous ways of his subjects, would this bind you to revere him?


The Kuzari; How could this bind me, while I am not sure if the justice of the Indian people is natural, and not dependent on their king, or due to the king or both?


The Chaver: But if his messenger came to you bringing presents which you know to be only procurable in India, and in the royal palace, accompanied by a letter in which it is distinctly stated from whom it comes, and to which are added drugs to cure your diseases, to preserve your health, poisons for your enemies, and other means to fight and kill them without battle, would this make you beholden to him?


The Kuzari: Certainly. For this would remove my former doubt that the Indians have a king. I should also acknowledge that a proof of his power and dominion has reached me.


The Chaver: How would you, then, if asked, describe him?


The Kuzari: In terms about which I am quite clear, and to these I could add others which were at first rather doubtful, but are no longer so.


The Chaver: In this way I answered your first question. In the same strain spoke Moshe to Par'o, when he told him: "The God of the Hebrews sent me to you," viz. the God of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov. For Avraham was well known to the nations, who also knew that the Divine spirit was in contact with the patriarchs, cared for them, and performed miracles for them. He did not say: "The God of heaven and earth," nor "my Creator and yours sent me." In the same way God commenced His speech to the assembled people of Israel: "I am the Lord, your God, who has led you out of the land of Egypt," but He did not say: "I am the Creator of the world and your Creator." Now in the same style I spoke to you, a Prince of the Kazars, when you did ask me about my creed. I answered you as was fitting, and is fitting for the whole of Israel, who knew these things, first from personal experience, and afterwards through uninterrupted tradition, which is equal to the former.


The Kuzari: If this be so, then your belief is confined to yourselves?


The Chaver: Yes, but any Gentile who joins us unconditionally shares our good fortune, without, however, being equal to us. If the Law were binding on us only because God created us, the white and the black man would be equal, since He created them all. But the Law was given to us because He led us out of Egypt, and remained attached to us, because we are the pick of mankind. (Kuzari, I, 19-27).


            The words of the Chaver seem to summarize this lecture. The great miracles that breached the borders of nature and illuminated the entire world with manifest Divine light. God's direct and unmediated revelation that characterized the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah as opposed to the creation of the world. The visible Divine governance that relates to the good and evil found in the world. All these lead to the choosing of Israel from among all the nations and its elevation above all the peoples. They also create Israel's obligation to God who had turned to them in the exodus from Egypt and at the giving of the Torah, and spoke to them.


            From the perspective of creation and the Divine ma'amar, argues R. Yehuda Ha-Levi, there is no difference between one creature and the next. They all stand equally before the ten ma'amarot, in a non-obligating manner, for God does not turn to anyone through the ma'amarot.


            From the perspective of the exodus from Egypt, all of mankind stand before the ten plagues and understand that God lowers the proud and raises the humble, punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous.


            From the perspective of the Sinai experience and the giving of the Torah, however, the Jewish people stand before the ten dibrot, and are amazed by the ma'amar that turned into dibbur, by nature that turned into a miracle, by the declaration that turned into an address. This amazement establishes and fashions the faith of Israel, their infinite obligation and loyalty to God. This profound consciousness provides a different perspective on the creation; every ma'amar and every law join with the word of God that turns to us and creates a dialogue with us, uninterrupted dibbur - "For ever, O Lord; Your words stands fast in the heavens."




[1] In scholarly terms, "a typological number."


[2] The Rishonim have already noted that this argument is purely theoretical, for in fact there is no escaping interpretation, and that the Karaites themselves who pretend to maintain this approach are not fully loyal to it (see R. Yehuda Ha-Levi's Kuzari, III, sec. 34 on).


[3] We have not reviewed all the arguments and assumptions underlying the Karaitic outlook, and we have brought only what is necessary for our purposes.


[4] The Maharal draws a direct connection between each of the ten plagues and its corresponding ma'amar. See Gevurot Ha-Shem 57.


[5] This is connected to our previous lecture that focused on the verse, "And I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Ya'akov, by the name of God Almighty, but by My name, the Lord, I was not known to them" (Shemot 6:3).


[6] We wish to note that R. Natan of Namirov, disciple of R. Nachman of Breslov, sets the ten plagues against the ten ma'amorot with which the world was created, and wishes to fashion a full correspondence between them (see Likutei Halakhot, Kibbud Av va-Em 2:5). In this he differs from the Sefat Emet, who sees the ten plagues as a transitional stage on the way to the ten dibrot, the latter standing in correspondence to the ten ma'amarot.

According to R. Natan, the ten plagues do not constitute a process of specification and contraction, but rather a process of struggle and war with the forces of evil in the world.


[7] Similarly in another version: "King Ptolemy asked the elders in Rome: In how many days did the Holy One, blessed be He, create His world? They said to him: In six days. He said to them: And from that time Gehinom burns for the wicked. Woe to the world because of His judgments. R. Berakhya in the name of Rabbi Simon did not say this: Neither with toil nor with exertion did the Holy One, blessed be he, create His world, and you say 'from all His work.' Rather to exact punishment from the wicked who destroy the world that was wholly created with toil and exertion, and to give good reward to the righteous who maintain the world that was wholly created with toil and exertion" (Bereishit Rabba 10, 9).


[8] This is reminiscent, in a certain measure, of the Karaitic argument that we saw above. Here too we see the tendency toward fixation and the concern about lowering ideas from the objective to the subjective level.


[9] This is similar to the approach of R. Natan of Namirov mentioned earlier.


[10] This is the way to understand the expression, "And it was so," that accompanies almost every ma'amar in the first chapter of Bereishit. Thus writes the Ramban (Bereishit 1:7): "Why did He add 'And it was so'? It comes to say that is was so for ever, for all the days of the world."


[11] This issue regarding the relationship between nature and miracles and God's involvement in the natural world has been dealt with at length by many Jewish thinkers, including the Rambam, R. Nachman of Breslov, Rav Kook and others. We shall not enter into a full discussion of this profound and complicated issue.


[12] We discussed this point at length in the previous lecture.


[13] This is also the way we understood in the previous lecture the novel of God's appearance with the Tetragrammaton.


[14] This distinction between the creation of the world, on the one hand, and the giving of the Torah and the exodus from Egypt, on the other, finds expression in the difference in nature between Rosh Ha-shana which relates to the creation of the world, and the three festivals that mark the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah. The festival of Sukkot stands out in that it belongs to the holidays of Tishrei that mark the creation of the world, but it also belongs to the festivals that mark the exodus and giving of the Torah. This double identity finds expression in its two-fold nature: on the one hand, universal (seventy bullocks of the nations of the world, and the prophecies that speak of the pilgrimage of all the nations on the holiday of Sukkot), and on the other hand, nationalistic (like the other festivals). 


[15] We studied this teaching in our previous lecture, and so we shall discuss it only as it is related to the matter at hand.


(Translated by David Strauss)