Friday, July 31, 2009

VAETCHANAN: TWO TABLETS- ONE LAW

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Why were the Ten Commandments given on two tablets? Why not just one? G*d could just have easily put them all down on just one big tablet, or he could have used a slightly smaller sized font.
After all, the finger of G*d, the etzbah elokim, comes in different sizes.

The two tablets represent the two essential revolutionary ideas of Judaism. One is that how we treat our fellow members of humanity is important, too. Religion is no longer the sole business of being nice to the Deity. Up until now there were many deities, and they were all lower case. G*d is symbolically stating that ethical behavior is on par with Deity worship.

Now, being nice to the Deity meant also "being nice" to one's fellow man. This was a revolutionary moment in human consciousness! Pagan man wanted a good crop yield, and, "by the gods," he was even willing to sacrifice his first born to get a good harvest!

G*d interfaced with humanity through the cloud on the smoking mountaintop. He uttered these Ten Utterances, these Asereth HaDibroth, even if He only uttered the first two and Moses uttered the rest. This interface is called the theophany, where G*d appeared to man. And tellingly, he didn't descend with recipes for cooking, but recipes for behavior.

The second revolutionary idea inherent in the theophany, the giving of the Decalogue, was that ethics is on par with worshipping G*d. Ethics is equal in stature to monotheism. Abraham, it is said, discovered that G*d is ONE, and also that G*d demands ethical, righteous behavior. Abraham started Judaism, which, before the tribe of Judah, was simply ethical monotheism, or Abrahamism, or simply "the Hebrew faith." The Ten Commandments just put it in writing!

The point is that each part of the phrase, ethical monotheism, got its very own tablet! Monotheism got the first tablet, and ethical behavior got the second one. The fact that they each get their very own tablet means that being truly religious means being as scrupulous in following ethics (mitzwoth bein adahm lechaveiro), is just as important in being scrupulous in one's religious piety and Laws between man and G*d (mitzwoth bein adam lemaqom).

The first part of this week's parsha, also has something very important to teach us, of topical importance for us today. In Deut 4:2, it says lo tosifu...velo tigre'u mimenu. Do not add (to my law)...or subtract from it.

How ironic that the son of the very rabbi in the Syrian Jewish community who outlawed conversions to Judaism, and therefore was adding to the Torah, was arrested on money laundering charges, thereby in a sense subtracting from the Torah. Anyone can break the Torah's law, but when a Rabbi does it he is symbolically sending the message that it is the proper way. He teaches by his actions, not by just his words.

Conversion is allowed by the Torah. 24 times the Torah goes out of its way to admonish us to treat the proselyte with kindness and compassion. To outlaw conversion therefore is to add laws to the Torah which were not there to begin with. An innovation to the Torah! And yet who among the Orthodox community condemned it publicly as against the Torah, as much an innovation as they accuse the Reform movement of indulging in. One who forbids conversion is guilty of lo tosifu, that one should not add to the Torah.

And breaking the law of the land goes against the precept of dina de'malchuta dina, "the law of the land is the law," which is basic to Judaism. Money laundering is a form of stealing, for one is aiding and abetting theft. One who steals, or (one who aids and abets stealing) is therefore guilty of lo tigre'u, that one should not subtract from the Torah.

Nachamu, nachamu, ami- Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, are the opening words of our Haftarah. A true comforting will only come about when we fully grasp the meaning of the two tablets. We will bask in the light and the delight of both G*d and our fellow man when we treat ethics on par with piety. And that to be truly pious means to seek and gain respect in the eyes of his fellow, as much as to gain respect in the eyes of G*d.

Shabbat Shalom!

© 2009 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen ben Meir Yisrael Hakohen Melman, z"l

I was raised in the musar tradition of silence and meditative thoughtfulness, as were my father and grandfather before me.
http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)
Dedications are available.

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!