Pinny Arnon

The Essence of Torah in One Word

The Alter Rebbe teaches that the essence of the giving of the Torah (which is in this week’s parsha, Yisro) is hidden in one strange word in the introductory verse of the Ten Commandments:

וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים אֵת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר
Vayidaber E-lohim es kol hadevarim ha’eileh leimor.
And God spoke all of these words to say.
(Exodus 20:1)

The last word of the verse – “leimor/to say” – has challenged the Sages throughout the generations. Without it, the verse would have read “and God spoke all of these words,” and this would have been sufficient. What does it add to indicate at the end of the verse that these words were “said/leimor” after it was already stated at the beginning of the verse that they were “spoken/vayidaber”?

Many answers have been proposed. In other cases where this formula is employed in Torah – for example, “God spoke to Moses, saying” (Exodus 16:11) – the Sages explain that “leimor/saying” indicates that Moses was being instructed to “say” to the people publicly what God had “spoken” to him privately. Yet in the case of this opening verse at the giving of the Torah, the Alter Rebbe points out that this explanation cannot apply. For unlike the other cases where God is speaking to one person and instructing him to repeat what was being said to others who were not currently hearing it, in the case of the giving of the Torah, the entire Jewish nation (including the souls of all future generations) was there and heard the words from God Himself.

Rashi interprets that “leimor/saying” here means that the nation answered each of the commandments, explicitly stating their agreement to them. God “spoke” the commandments, and the people “said” we will fulfill them.

But the Alter Rebbe provides a deeper interpretation according to Chassidus and the Torah’s mystic depths. The essence of the giving of the Torah is expressed in this word “leimor/to say,” he teaches, because the entire purpose of Torah is to enable each of us “to say” what God “spoke.” In other words, each of us was created specifically in order to be a vessel through which God’s energy is expressed and manifested. Our ultimate function and purpose is to recognize that we are the instruments of divine communication that He utilizes to reveal Himself in a world where He had initially hidden Himself. Torah is the wisdom that enables us to understand this reality and to articulate it. Torah is the practice that enables us to nullify our ego and allow the Godliness that is our ultimate essence to flow through us without obstruction.

God “speaks” the world into existence every moment. We are here as His mouthpiece, to “say” what He speaks in a language that it can be understood and integrated. Torah enables us to translate His infinite energy into something finite and tangible, and thereby to inform the entire creation of His Oneness and omnipresence.

Pnei Hashem is an introduction to the deepest depths of the human experience based on the esoteric teachings of Torah.

About the Author
Pinny Arnon is an award-winning writer in the secular world who was introduced to the wellsprings of Torah as a young adult. After decades of study and frequent interaction with some of the most renowned Rabbis of the generation, Arnon has been encouraged to focus his clear and incisive writing style on the explication of the inner depths of Torah.
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