Shabbat Ekev (delayed post): Shamor and Zakhor – You are not HaShem

שָׁמוֹר וְזָכוֹר בְּדִבּוּר אֶחָד הִשְׁמִיעָנוּ אֵל הַמְּיֻחָד

“Keep” and “remember” in one utterance / we were caused to hear by the G*d that unifies (erev Shabbat song Lekha Dodi)

We are making our way through the gorgeous rhetoric of the book Devarim, whose name in English (from Ecclesiastical Greek via Late Latin) sums up its purpose: Deuteronomy, “second law.” It is presented as the final speech of Moshe Rabbenu, reminding us of all the years we journeyed the wilderness together, and all we learned. 

It has long preoccupied scholars of the holy texts that they sometimes contradict each other. For example, in this week’s parashah we find the following statement as Moshe reminisces:

בָּעֵ֨ת הַהִ֜וא אָמַ֧ר ה’ אֵלַ֗י פְּסׇל־לְךָ֞ שְׁנֵֽי־לוּחֹ֤ת אֲבָנִים֙ כָּרִ֣אשֹׁנִ֔ים וַעֲלֵ֥ה אֵלַ֖י הָהָ֑רָה וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ לְּךָ֖ אֲר֥וֹן עֵֽץ׃

Thereupon HaShem said to me, “Carve out two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain; and make an ark of wood.” (Devarim 10.1)

This statement seems to directly contradict the account in Exodus in which it is clearly stated that the artist Bezalel makes the Ark, which is made of wood but also overlaid with gold. The

great medieval commentator Rashi relies on the explanation offered by the Rabbis of the Talmud, that this was not the Ark that Bezalel made (see Exodus 25.11) but rather another Ark, apparently made by Moshe himself.

Devarim contains other, even more difficult conflicts for those who expect our sacred text to be a perfect book. Perhaps the most famous example is the fact that Devarim contains a second version of the Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Words. The wording for Shabbat differs from the version in Shemot, Exodus.

In Exodus 20.8:

זָכ֛וֹר֩ אֶת־י֥֨וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖֜ת לְקַדְּשֽׁ֗וֹ

Zakhor, “Remember” the Shabbat and keep it holy. 

…and compare Deuteronomy 5.12:

שָׁמ֣֛וֹר אֶת־י֥וֹם֩ הַשַׁבָּ֖֨ת לְקַדְּשׁ֑֜וֹ כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוְּךָ֖֣ ׀ ה’ אֱלֹ-יךָ

Shamor “Observe” the Shabbat and keep it holy, as your G*d HaShem has commanded you.

So which is it? Zakhor or Shamor? This ancient theological difficulty leads to a wonderful insight, for it allows us to remind ourselves that G*d talk is not our talk. The Rabbis insist that every word of Torah has seventy possible meanings. What you see as a contradiction is only shedding light on two possible meanings. You may not be able to say two things at once, but for sure HaShem can! And so the most famous erev Shabbat song, Lekha Dodi, has its most famous line:

שָׁמוֹר וְזָכוֹר בְּדִבּוּר אֶחָד הִשְׁמִיעָנוּ אֵל הַמְּיֻחָד

“Keep” and “remember” in one utterance

We were caused to hear by the G*d that unifies

It’s a delightful contradiction: the Holy Presence that unifies us allows us to discern difference in the single utterance that otherwise we might assume is meant to erase the differences. The erasure of difference is not the work of the Holy One of the Rainbow. “Keep” and “remember” are both right. Or as the old Jewish joke goes, when the Rabbi is confronted by two disputants and says “you’re right, and you’re right” and an onlooker says “Rabbi, how can they possibly both be right?” The Rabbi responds “and you’re right!”

For further frustration for those who want one clear text: There Was Never One Bible


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: