Dear Rabbi Simon
I’m struggling to understand Exodus Chapter 20 and the events at Mount Sinai. I’d appreciate guidance on this subject to help me better understand the text. My issue comes from the shift from the 1st person to the 3rd person being used – I’ve used the Chabad English online torah as reference. I notice that vv. 2-6 are in the first person but 7-14 are in the third person. Why is this? Personally, I am wondering if the reason may be given to us in vv. 15-18: G-d spoke directly to Israel in vv. 2-6 which Israel could not endure at that time. So Israel told Moses “You speak with us, and we will hear, but let G-d not speak with us lest we die.” Making Moses the conduit for all Divine communication, and 2-6 the only part which was directly spoken to Israel. Why is this not the commonplace interpretation of the scripture?
I have another question about Ex. Ch. 20, if you’d be willing to share your thoughts with me: If Exodus 20:2-6 was given by G-d at Mount Sinai to the Jewish People in the most literal sense, and the rest of the Ten Commandments and Torah were given through Moshe, should we hold Exodus 20:2-6 in higher regard than the rest of the Torah? Given that the rest of the Torah was given via Moshe–a great prophet who may still be susceptible to human error in recording the words of G-d.
Please let me know if I have misunderstood something. Thank you very much for your time.
Thank you for your learned questions.
In a word, your analysis is astute. See Ramban (Nachmanides) to 20:7, who explains that this is the basis of the Rabbinic tradition that the first two commandments were communicated directly by G-d, and the subsequent eight were conveyed via (or explicated by) Moshe. See also Artscroll Stone Chumash pp. 406-7.
Regarding your other question, Rambam asserts definitively (Principles of Faith #8) that Moshe was an ”unerring secretary” (so to speak) in recording the actual word of G-d. The Rabbis say “the Shechina [Divine presence] spoke through the throat of Moshe”. Indeed, this is why acceptance of the authority and credibility of Moshe is essential to the belief in the Divine origin of the Torah itself. However, your observation is certainly to the point regarding the rest of the 24 books of the Hebrew cannon (other than the five books of the Torah itself). The prophets of Israel, great as they were, recorded their own perception of their prophetic experiences.
Best wishes and keep reading the Torah with care.
Rabbi Rashi Simon