By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
In the mitzva of honoring parents as it appears in this week’s Torah portion, it is written, “Honor your father and your mother, as your G-d has commanded you, so that your days will be long, and so that it will be good for you” [Devarim 5:16]. This is somewhat different from the wording in the Torah portion of Yitro, where the phrase “it will be good for you” does not appear.
The wise men of the Talmud discussed this difference, and here is what they said:
“Rabbi Chanina Ben Agil asked Rabbi Chiya Bar Abba: why is it that in the first version of the Ten Commandments the good does not appear while in the second set it does? He replied: Before you ask me why good is mentioned, ask me whether the concept of good appears in the commandments or not, since I do not know if it appears or not. Go and see Rabbi Tanchum Bar Chanila’i, who was a companion of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi, who was an expert in Aggada. He went to see him, and he explained that the reason was that the first set of the Ten Commandments would be destroyed. And what did it matter if the first set was to be destroyed? Rav Ashi said: This might be taken to imply that the good for Yisrael might come to an end.” [Bava Kama 54b]
These words of the Talmud are quite perplexing. Could it be that the wise men of the Talmud were not familiar with the text of the Torah? (This is in fact the way the Tosafot interpreted the passage.)
In addition, even if the rabbis did not know the text, why didn’t they simply say, “Let us take a Torah scroll out and see,” as appears many times in the Talmud? It is also not clear why masters of the Aggada were needed to answer the simple question of whether the concept of “good” appears in the Ten Commandments or not.
Some Torah scholars have explained this passage in the following way (for example, Rabbi Reuven Margaliyot and Rabbi Leib Shachor, in his book “Avnei Shoham”):
Bnei Yisrael were given two sets of the Ten Commandments. The first set was given to them on Shavuot, and it was shattered on the seventeenth of Tammuz, and the second set was given on Yom Kippur. There are a few differences between the two versions. We might ask whether the two versions were in fact the same, with the text that appears in the portion of Yitro, but that Moshe modified the text when he wrote the version in Devarim. Or, can it be that the actual texts engraved on the tablets were different.
When Rabbi Chanina asked why the concept of “good” does not appear in the first version while it does appear in the second one, Rabbi Chiya replied that he does not know if the engraved version of the second set contained the concept of good or not, since it might be that the words “so that it will be good” only appear in the Torah but not on the engraved tablets, and that the two sets of tablets were identical. He was therefore sent to Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi, an expert in the Aggada, who verified that the texts engraved on the two sets of tablets were in fact different, and not only the wording in the Torah. He explained that in the first set the phrase “so that it will be good” does not appear, since these tablets would be shattered, which might imply the end of good for Yisrael.
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“Midarchei Hakerem” – three volumes related to the holidays, the Torah, the nation of Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael, written by Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg. This was awarded the Rav Kook Prize by the Tel Aviv municipality for 5776. It can be purchased by phone at: 08-8562007.