by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Yisro(66)This week's sedra contains the Ten Commandments. It is its claim to fame.
Let us look at the second commandment.
Exodus 20: 3
You shall have no other gods in My presence ( Literally: "on my face" Hebrew: al panai")
In My presence: RASHI: As long as I exist. (that is, forever) [It was necessary to say this] so you should not say only that generation was prohibited from idol worship.
What would you ask on Rashi's comment?
A Question : What is the basis for Rashi's comment, that only the generation of the exodus received this commandment?
An Answer: The verse before says "I am the Hashem Your G-d Who brought you out of Egypt, from the house of slavery."
That looks like very much like an introductory phrase, it specifies G-d's redeeming Israel from Egypt. Our verse follows immediately. Therefore I might have thought that this commandment of having no other gods, referred to those who were redeemed from Egyptian slavery. Rashi tells us that the additional words "al panai" exclude this possibility.
A more serious question can be asked here. Rashi seems to say that were these words ("In My presence") not written, we would have thought that idol worship would be permitted for Jews in the generations after of the Exodus! Is that true? How could anyone think that? Idol worship is one of the most basic, if not the most basic, tenets of Judaism. How could it disappear after one generation?
A difficult question.
Can you suggest an answer?
A Suggested Answer: I can only make a suggestion, since the Rashi-commentaries do not deal directly with this question. I would say that after all the miracles of the Exodus and the Splitting of the Sea, after having seen G-d manifest Himself so openly which lead the Jews to believe in G-d and Moses his servant - after all this and when the Jews were now leaving this Wonderland of the Supernatural, perhaps they would again see the world as a natural place where nature is the most influence factor in their lives (as many do today). This reliance on nature is actually a form of idol worship, for in such a view G-d's influence takes second place. They may have thought that this "benign" belief - that nature rules our life - is a permitted belief. Thus we need to be told that we should have no other gods forever, - even a belief in the powers of nature, independent of Hashem.
Compare this Rashi-comment on our verse in Yisro with the Rashi-comment on same verse in parashas V'eschanan (Deuter. 5:7) where the Ten Commandments are repeated. You should have a question
STILL ANOTHER QUESTION
A Question: There Rashi makes the following comment on the words " In My presence : "In any place where I am and that includes the whole world. Another interpretation: So long as I exist."
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING ?
Rashi's second explanation is the same as the one he offers on our verse. But his first explanation is different. Instead of saying the commandment is eternal, he says it is universal.
Why would Rashi offer a different explanation here?
An Answer: The Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) is Moses' final address to the people. It takes place soon before they are to enter the Land of Israel (without Moses). His long speech emphasizes their new stage in development - entering Israel and living their lives in the Holy Land. Perhaps Rashi chose his comment based on this theme. Until now you have been living here in the Wilderness under G-d's close protection (the Manna, the portable Well and help in their battles). There was no other civilization, no other culture in the vicinity. Now you enter Israel, the Land of Canaan, where idol worship was rampant - you will be more on your own and under the influence of your neighbors. Remember (says this commandment) "Have no other gods besides me - any where, even in the Land of Canaan.
Perhaps that is why Rashi emphasized this aspect of the mitzvah here but not in our sedra.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at Judaica bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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