Writings / Zachor and Shamor

The Book of Devarim is also known as Mishneh Torah, translated as Deuteronomy. The practical explanation for the book's name, and for its raison d'etre, is that at the end of Moshe's life, before taking leave of his people, Moshe saw fit to teach the generation of Israelites who would soon enter the Land of Israel. This is not the generation that left Egypt, nor are they the same people who stood at Mount Sinai. That generation perished, and soon Moshe would be "gathered in to his people" - Moshe, too, would die in the desert. The Israelites who would enter the Promised Land were of a new generation; they had been children at the time of the Exodus, or were born during the Jews' 40-year sojourn in the desert.1 This new generation, too, must hear God's laws. Therefore, we are not surprised to find material from the four earlier Books of the Torah repeated in the fifth book: Mishneh Torah, Deuteronomy, literally means "the repetition of the law."

One particular repetition, found in Parshat Va'etchanan, is of particular interest: The Revelation at Sinai. Parshat Va'etchanan recounts that Revelation, and restates its content, the Decalogue - or the Ten Commandments. This seminal event, and the founding principles of Judaism that were transmitted at that event, were surely worthy of repetition, and we find nothing strange in Moshe's reminder to his young audience:

Only take heed to yourself, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; but teach them to your sons, and to your grandsons; The day when you stood before the Almighty, Omnipotent God in Horev, when God said to me, 'Gather the People together, and I will make them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.' And you came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. And God spoke to you out of the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of the words, but saw no form save a voice. And He declared to you His covenant, which He commanded you to perform, ten commandments; and He wrote them upon two tablets of stone. (Devarim 4:9-13)

Rather than simply reminding them of the Revelation, Moshe goes one step further; he repeats the words which echoed from Heaven - more or less. A close reading of the Ten Commandments as recorded in Parshat Va'etchanan reveals deviations from the wording of the Ten Commandments in Shmot, Parshat Yitro. Many scholars have offered explanations of these variances, each taking into account one or more of the relevant factors of time, place, experience, purpose and point of view of those hearing the speech and of the speech itself.

Moshe repeated the Ten Commandments on several occasions, the first of which was at Mount Sinai. The people recoiled from the sound of God's voice; the experience of direct communication was overwhelming, terrifying, and Moshe was called upon to transmit the Ten Commandments to the people.2The second time Moshe repeats the law to the People is in our present parsha. The Ibn Ezra suggests that the Ten Commandments as found in Yitro are the Words of God, while those found in Va'etchanan are the words of Moshe.3 As evidence for this position, Ibn Ezra points to the wording of the Fourth and Fifth Commandments in Va'etchanan: "...as the Lord your God has commanded you." 4

The Pnei Yehoshua (Yehoshua Yaakov Falk, 1680-1756) raises a different possibility: God said the Ten Commandments twice in Yitro, each time in a different way; First God uttered all Ten Commandments simultaneously,5 in an act of Divine Speech. Then God uttered each of the Commandments again, in a form of speech more easily recognized by human senses; the first two Commandments were spoken directly to the entire People, and when they recoiled, the rest were said exclusively to Moshe who in turn relayed the teaching to the People. The Pnei Yehoshua goes on to suggest that the two repetitions, both spoken by God, had differences. The first version is reflected in the text of Shmot, and the second, in Devarim.6

Another variable that comes into play is the fact that there were two different sets of Tablets. Do the differences between Shmot and Devarim stem from God's commandment to record different words on each set of Tablets? In Yitro, God spoke and Moshe repeated the words. While we would expect Moshe to faithfully and precisely transmit the Word of God, is it possible that Moshe, our teacher par excellence, added explanatory comments along the way? The suggestion that Moshe might have changed anything in the Torah is disturbing,7 even bordering on heretical. Surely, we must be extremely precise: It is a tenet of Jewish faith that the entire Torah is divine, and was dictated by God to Moshe. Nonetheless, Moshe most certainly needed to explain the law in a manner that would make it accessible and understandable. This necessitated the use of different explanatory words, in order to assure that the content was understood, and unchanged. Were these explanatory words included only in the second retelling? Or does each version of the Commandments include different explanatory comments added in by Moshe, tailored to the different audiences?

In other words, what is the correlation between what God said,8 and what Moshe said? Between what God told Moshe to write in the Torah in Exodus and in Devarim? Between what was written on the first Tablets, which were shattered, and the second Tablets, which were successfully received by the People?9

Each of these variables could result in a different explanation for the differences between the two versions of the Ten Commandments. But rather than plumb the depths of the possible causes or reasons for the differences, let us examine the differences themselves, for there is so much to be learned from them. Specifically, I would suggest that the first major, substantive difference between the two "versions" is in the Fourth Commandment; up until that point, most of the differences may be considered explanatory, with more words and explanations provided in Devarim. In the Fourth Commandment, concerning Shabbat, the difference is not a question of details, nor a question of the language used to make the point. Here, the difference represents a new perspective altogether.

Let us compare the Fourth Commandment as it appears in Shmot and in Devarim. In each instance there is an introductory command:

In Shmot 20:8:

Remember (or, commemorate) the Shabbat day, to sanctify it.

In Devarim 5:11:

Keep (or, guard) the Shabbat day to sanctify it, as the Almighty your God has commanded you.

The word 'remember', zachor, is replaced with 'guard' (or 'keep'), shamor, and the problematic "as the Almighty your God has commanded you" is tacked on. Next comes the body of the law:

In Shmot 20:8-9:

Six days shall you labor, and do all your work; But the seventh day is Shabbat of the Almighty your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates.

In Devarim 5:12-13:

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; But the seventh day is Shabbat of the Almighty your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is inside your gates; that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you.

The additional words in Devarim do not contradict the earlier version in any way; they provide more explanation: "that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you."

The final section of the Commandment is the reason for Shabbat, and it is here that we find two divergent rationales for Sabbath observance:

In Shmot 20:10:

For in six days God made the heavens and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore God blessed the Shabbat day, and sanctified it.

In Devarim 5:14:

And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Almighty your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm; therefore the Almighty your God commanded you to keep the Shabbat day.

In Shmot, the rationale for Shabbat is Creation: Shabbat is a testament to our belief in the Creation and the Creator. On the other hand, in Devarim the Shabbat is commanded as a reminder of our enslavement in Egypt, and of our liberation by God's Hand. This is no mere explanatory comment; here are two vastly different, potentially contradictory reasons for observance of Shabbat.

To summarize our findings: The introductory statements for each of the versions of this commandment use unique language to describe the active commemoration of Shabbat - "to remember", on the one hand, and "to guard", on the other. In both versions, the main body of the commandment consists of a similar list of laws, albeit more fully developed by presumably explanatory material in Devarim. The conclusions drawn by each of the two versions seem to offer mutually exclusive philosophical underpinnings for the Shabbat.

Most traditional commentaries focused on the first of these differences, the terms shamor and zachor, 'guard' and 'remember' ('commemorate'), and they refer us to the nature of Divine Speech: zachor and shamor were uttered simultaneously, in a way that human speech is incapable of imitating.

Zachor (Shmot 20) and shamor (Devarim 5) were pronounced in a single utterance, - an utterance which the mouth cannot utter, nor the ear hear. (Talmud Bavli - Shevu'ot 20b)

One may ask, which of the words "zachor and shamor" was actually spoken by God; the Talmud's answer is that both are Divine - and were said in a Divine fashion.

These two words represent two different concepts: Technically, remembering is a cerebral act which may be performed at any time during the week - on Shabbat, before Shabbat, or after Shabbat. Therefore, our Sages considered preparations for Shabbat as part and parcel of the process of "remembering" or "commemoration". Similarly, reciting the Kiddush is, according to some rabbinic opinions, a fulfillment of zachor - "Remember the Shabbat day, to sanctify it". On the other hand, "guarding the Shabbat" is associated with avoiding prohibited actions.

Upon analysis, each of these aspects of Shabbat is incomplete. We can easily imagine a 24-hour period in which we do no creative activity, a sterile non-working day in which we have indeed fulfilled the commandment of shamor to the letter, without actually having observed Shabbat:

He who took trouble [to prepare] on the eve of Shabbat will eat on Shabbat, but he who has not troubled on the eve of Shabbat, what shall he eat on the Shabbat? (Talmud Bavli Avoda Zara 3a)

Similarly, one may prepare for Shabbat and not keep Shabbat - preparing all his needs before sundown, even reciting Kiddush, yet continuing all his creative workday pursuits on the seventh day itself. The two aspects of Shabbat are two sides of the same coin. Each aspect is incomplete without the other; together they create a complete, sanctified day of rest. God uttered "zachor andshamor" simultaneously.

And yet, this concept of Divine, simultaneous transmission of the two concepts,zachor and shamor, does not provide an all-encompassing answer. We might yet ask why one version was recorded in the Book of Shmot and the other in the book of Devarim. Furthermore, we have not solved the dissonance between the concluding sections of the Commandment. My teacher and Rebbi, Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik, addressed these problems, and offered a deep philosophical insight: In reality, the two different rationales for Shabbat do not contradict one another. Rather, they teach the same law from two different vantage points. The formulation in Shmot states: "For in six days God made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore God blessed the Shabbat day, and sanctified it." There is one thing missing here - namely, man. What does man have to do with this? Why should humankind keep Shabbat? Moreover, if Shabbat exists simply because God created, this law should be universal, and not apply only to members of the Covenant, to Jews alone.10 This Commandment, Rabbi Soloveitchik pointed out, is theocentric, reflecting God's perspective. The seventh day is holy because God created for six days and then desisted from creating. This is echoed in the verse in Bereishit, uttered at the very dawn of creation:

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because on it He rested from all His work which God created to make. (Bereishit 2:3)

The fact that God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it does not necessarily affect man; only when man is commanded to keep that day in a similar or imitative fashion is he brought into the frame, into God's frame of reference, as it were.

On the other hand, the rationale for Shabbat as stated in Devarim is of a totally different order, drawn from a totally different sphere: We were enslaved, and God rescued us. "And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Almighty your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm; therefore the Almighty your God commanded you to keep the Shabbat day." This formulation is homocentric. The former slaves are addressed in a particularly compelling way: As slaves, they had no freedom. Now, as free men and women, they are free every day. They have been given all seven days of the week to pursue their individuality, and with this Commandment, God asks that they put aside one-seventh of their gift in return. Seen from this perspective, Shabbat becomes a moral imperative for those whose shackles were broken, homage to their liberator.

The two rationales are not contradictory; one speaks from God's perspective, teaching us that the seventh day is holy and unique. The other speaks from the human perspective, requiring man to rest as well. Had it not been for the first rationale, man would be able to choose his own day of rest; each and every day would be an equally valid candidate, and no one day would have religious superiority over the others. On the other hand, with only the first formulation, man would remain outside the picture; man would have no part in the sanctity of the seventh day, just as he was not a party to Creation.

Both of these perspectives were taught by God, simultaneously, at Sinai. Yet each was recorded, emphasized, at different junctures in the history of the Jewish People. The generation that left Egypt would certainly have no trouble embracing the idea that one day each week should be a day of rest. These former slaves may have perceived this Commandment primarily as a social law instituted to protect workers' rights and prevent future enslavement. Therefore, the generation that left Egypt, the generation of liberated slaves that stood at Sinai, was taught about the other reason for Shabbat: This day is hallowed because of Creation, and by emulating God and keeping the Shabbat we forge a powerful, holy relationship with Him.

The generation that stood poised to enter the Land of Israel knew neither work nor slavery. It was this generation that needed to hear about the human side of Shabbat. They had to be taught that the seventh day is not exclusively Divine in nature. The human and social implications of Shabbat would not have been intuitively understood by those who were sustained by miracles for forty years.

And what of us, the generations who read the words of the Torah millennia later? We are privileged to see both aspects transmitted in the text we have received. We have a multi-faceted Written and Oral Tradition which illuminates at least two sides of Shabbat - the human and the Divine. By preparing for Shabbat during the week and sanctifying the seventh day of each week, we can elevate ourselves and enjoy our own rendezvous with God.



1. See Chizkuni Devarim 5:1.

2. See Shmot 20:16, which is explained by Devarim 5:4-6. Shmot 20:16. "And they said to Moses, Speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die." Devarim 5:4-6 "God talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire I stood between God and you at that time, to tell you the Word of God; for you were afraid because of the fire, and went not up into the mount, saying, I am the Almighty your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery..."

3. Ibn Ezra Shmot 20:1, the Pnei Yehoshua, op cit, also makes this suggestion.

4. See Chizkuni, who makes a similar observation, but notes other words as his evidence.

5. As per the comments of Rashi Shmot 20:1.

6. The Pnei Yehoshua commentary to Baba Kamma 55a.

7. See the Pnei Yehoshua commentary to Baba Kamma 55a.

8. The Chizkuni says, "That which God repeated (i.e., the first two Commandments) Moshe taught faithfully, for they were explained by God, and that which was explained by Moshe (the remaining eight Commandments) is where Moshe needed to add his own explanations," hence there are no differences between the first two commandments in Shmot and Devarim.

9. See Rabbenu Bachya, Bereishit, 18:19 whose overall principle is that the Commandments as they were spoken should be identical to what was written.

10. The Talmud Sanhedrin 58b sees a non-Jew who keeps Shabbat as breaking a law rather than performing a wonderful deed.