by Mal Eisenberg - July 31, 2015
In 2007, when Donna Beyer was Temple President and Benjamin Sharff was Assistant Rabbi, Sharon Geiger, who was then Drash Chair, asked me if I would write a drash, which I reluctantly did. My first drash was this week’s parashah. Since then I have written many more drashot. So whenever you see Sharon, feel free to either thank her or blame her for letting the Mal Genie out of the drash-writing bottle.
However, this time around nobody had to twist my arm to write a drash. In spite of the age old Army maxim, “never, ever, volunteer for anything,” I eagerly called Ellen Adelstein, the former Drash Chair, and I asked her to write my name in for this spot, in honor of my upcoming 35th wedding anniversary on August 3rd. So I humbly stand before you tonight, hoping to pique your interest, amuse and not bore you, while at the same time, teaching you, perhaps, something new.
This week’s parashah contains another version of the Decalogue with just a few differences. Prior to these Ten Commandments, the only moral guide human beings had were the Seven Laws of Noach, which I am sure you all remember. These laws can easily be remembered by an acronym which I created - SAM FIBS. Do not Steal, Do not commit Adultery, Do not Murder, Do not tear the Flesh off a live animal (talk about being hungry), Do not worship Idols, Do not Blaspheme, Set up courts of law.
These seven were in place for everybody, Jews and Non-Jews alike, until we were given the Ten Commandments...and then God lovingly added another 603 for good measure because we were his Chosen people (talk about tough love). Although in today’s times, 613 drops precipitously to 270 because we do not have a king or a priest or a temple, we do not live in Israel, and some of these mitzvot might just never come up.
BTW, when I was a student at Yeshiva of Flatbush High School in Brooklyn and I discovered that gentiles had only 7 laws to follow, my first reaction was, “where and when can I convert?”
The Rabbis realized that although the Ten Commandments were, in fact, actually carved in stone they decided to modify some of these commandments. The Talmud, which was written from the 2nd Century through the 6th Century in the Common Era, discusses for pages and pages, just what constitutes stealing. Does the old adage, “Finders keepers, losers weepers” really apply? The Talmud answers, “well, maybe? It depends on where the item was found, what was the item, did the item have any identifiable marks and did the owner give up all hope (yea-oosh) of ever finding it?”
The Rabbis of the Talmud even discussed what needed to be done before anyone could be put to death for violating one of the commandments such as not observing the Sabbath or committing murder. Two male witness, unrelated to each other, must warn the person before he or she fails to follow either of those commandments and then they actually must see that person commit the crime. There is no such thing as circumstantial evidence in these cases. Rambam once said, “it is far better to set free 1000 guilty people then it is to put one innocent person to death.”
Early on in my drash, I said this version here of the Ten Commandments differs slightly from the one given to us on Mount Sinai. On Mount Sinai we were told to, “remember the Sabbath because God rested on the seventh day.” Here we told to “observe the Sabbath because we once were slaves in Egypt.” All the other commandments in either version are virtually the same.
So was this an “oops” by God? Did God make a mistake and change his mind? Was this a different writer?
When there are questions that cannot be answered or resolved, the Talmud often says, “Teyku,” which is an acronym for Tishbi- the Mesiah, Yevah-air- will explain, Kushiot- difficulties, U’Ba-a- yot- questions.
May it be God’s will that we be present when the Messiah comes so that these irregularities will be explained to each and every one of us.
Cain Yehi Ratzon.
P.S. - As I said at the start, this week's parashah was the very first drash that I ever wrote. Since 2007, I have gone on to write 13 more. I feel that I have gone full cycle so this will be my last one. Thank you all for your patience and for putting up with my "strange" sense of humor and for my peculiar way at looking at things. It has been a fun experience for me and I hope it has been one for you too.