Torah Study Notes 2-11-12

February 11, 2012

p. 477

This Torah portion is perfectly made for the triennial cycle – it is three chapters. See the Decalogue for public reading on p. 476. There were two separate traditions as to how to chant or vocalize the ten commandments prior to about 600 CE. The Masoretes came up with vowel and cantellation marks which include both sets – leaving it to each tradition to select the one they wanted. (The Hebrew word mesorah (מסורה, alt. מסורת) refers to the transmission of a tradition.) The synagogue was not in rabbinic control until about 800 CE. Note that “Decalogue” is better translated as ten pronouncements rather than commandments. Also, some of the commandments are conflated into a single statement – although, e.g., verse 13 is publically read as four commandments when chanted.

20:1  LL: We are uncomfortable with the notion of visiting the sins of one generation onto another. PG The social concept: don’t be the children of infamous or notorious people. You will have a burden. This also makes the warning even weightier – your children will suffer the collateral damage. Idolatry is a major issue throughout the Torah but the punishments are most severe in the beginning. There is a strong pedagogical element – like a lesson from the drill instructor – a warning that idolatry leads to bad things. A distinction is made for a mezuzah or a mishkan which represents the idea of god. LL: The focus seems to be on appearances rather than the inner life of the individual.  PG: The concern of the rabbi’s is “what does it look like?” What does it look like when you walk into a McDonalds to use the washroom.  Will people assume that you are eating “tref?” Do you want to lose credibility? Are you leading others into misconduct? SF: These words have an inherent power and compassion. We are urged to move up the ladder of civilization – to be uplifted. PG: Note that the words here are spoken by Elohim not Adonoi – which is a change from the usual identification where God is addressing the people.  The Rabbi’s suggest that Elohim (the lawgiver) here is acting as a judge whereas Adonoi is the caregiver.

20:8  Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy… This is something that we wouldn’t otherwise know. See notes on seven day cycle from last week. God rested on the 7th day.  This is the one innovation of the ten commandments that we wouldn’t otherwise have known.

20:13  Coveting does go to an individual’s inner life – not just appearances. Compare the 7 deadly sins which include anger, lust and envy. Beginning in the 1st C. there were intense debates about what was more important – the inner life or appearances. PG: It was not until Constantine and the imposition of authority that the Christian church began to focus on appearances. Honor your father and your mother… modern scholars believe that this is a reference to burial practices since there were no communal burial grounds. The emphasis was changed to honoring the living after the people became separated from the land – disenfranchised in Babylonia.

20:15  Moses is asked to act as an intermediary and interpreter of events. We sense the presence of God in violent natural events. We are frightened and seek explanations. The people couldn’t handle the direct word of God – they had to wait for the tablets. But by the end of the Bible people experience God’s presence and handle it. See the Book of Esther. This is part of the development of the individuals relationship with God as described in the entire Bible.


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