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06 July 2004 @ 04:24 am
CAUTION: Religious Musing Ahead  

I've probably gone completely 'round the bend and am engaging in theological speculation far, far beyond my depth, but I just had this thought. First, however, some background:

The introductory verse to the Ten Commandments reads as follows: "And God spoke all these words, saying" (Exodus 20:1). Rashi, quoting the Midrash, finds a source for an additional aspect of the story. The phrase "God spoke all these words" suggests that before He enumerated each of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, God uttered it simultaneously, in one oral expression. …

But the Midrash does not explain why God would want to make all the words be heard in one instant, when they could obviously not have been understood by the people that way. If God had to repeat them subsequently, for the sake of comprehension, what was the point of having them shouted out in one chilling moment of incomprehensibility?

Neither Rashi nor the Midrash address themselves to this problem.


God chose to recite all ten laws in one instant, before He began to articulate each one in a comprehensible manner, because He wanted to ensure that we do not make the error of granting additional value to any one portion of the Divine law. … Had the ten categories been articulated one after the other, they would have had built into them the implicit assumption that arises from the fact that sequence bespeaks priorities. If "this" precedes "that," there must have been a reason; obviously "this" is more important.
—Benjamin Blech, Understanding Judaism: The Basics of Deed and Creed; Jason Aronson Inc.; Northvale, New Jersey; 1992, pages 28-32.

Now I think. Hmmmm. That's a very interesting point. Yes indeed. But… might there be more to it? Hmmmm, I think…

"All these words." Simultaneously. Now this is God we're talking about, not just some guy off the street. Hashem. You know. So "simultaneously" could very well mean simultaneously. Not "in time," not, that is, along the dimension of time, but at a single point of time. Wait. Not even a single point of time, not even an infinitesimally small point of time. They were said without regard for time, regardless of time, not "of time," not "within" time: outside of time. And yet we are told, "God spoke all these words."

So these were not normal words, spoken within the normal flow of time, about which could then be said, "Oh, they were said then, so they're not applicable now." Without the dimension of time, "then" and "now" are identical; there is nothing to distinguish one from the other.

"All these words," of course, being not just the "Ten Commandments" but the Whole of the Torah—the Law—given to us through Moses at Mount Sinai. Being outside of time, being not bound by time, all these words were/are/will be spoken simultaneously throughout time, for all time, eternally, since the beginning and until the end.

But what do I know? It's just a thought…

Oh. One other thing. This would also explain the Talmudic tradition that the entire Hebrew nation—all of the Jewish people, even those not yet born—were there, were among those who heard God speak at Sinai.

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Stephen Leighsleigh on July 6th, 2004 05:04 am (UTC)
Assuming "And God spoke all these words..." is an accurate translation from the original, I fail to see the implication that they were uttered simultaneously. That seems to be utterly stretching the statement to the point of incredulity. Occam's Razor.
Carol Kennedycakmpls on July 6th, 2004 07:21 am (UTC)
From an ordinary, everyday point of view, I agree. But from the point of view of one who has edited numerous works of philosophy and theology, I have to say that you ain't seen nothin' yet.
Fred A Levy Haskell: eyes of the Fredcritterfredcritter on July 8th, 2004 02:29 am (UTC)
Well, yeah....

Good points. But negating the premise puts an immediate end to the game: I say "potato" and you say … gosh, no thanks, I think I'll have a hamburger instead. It neither rhymes nor scans. End of song. But that's okay. There'll be other songs and other times, my friend.

Carol Kennedycakmpls on July 6th, 2004 07:23 am (UTC)
Sounds good to me. I've read theologians of various stripes who do less with more.
Fred A Levy Haskell: eyes of Geri's Fredfredcritter on July 8th, 2004 02:32 am (UTC)

I found it a diverting and amusing game. I think I was influenced in part by the PBS 3-part series on String Theory I just watched recently on DVD. Fascinating stuff, that.

songs in the key of me: 'Portrait' - outside - ponytailchorus on July 6th, 2004 10:40 am (UTC)
It's an interesting concept, but I have to say that I would never have taken it that way myself. I would have taken it as assertion: It was God who spoke all these words.

But then, I'm not a Jew.
Fred A Levy Haskell: eyes of Geri's Fredfredcritter on July 8th, 2004 03:01 am (UTC)
Talmudic Thought

Well, I am a Jew, and I must admit that I wouldn't have taken it that way either, which may be part of why I found that particular exegesis interesting to expand upon. I'm still not sure that I do take it that way, but I find it an interesting point of view … not to mention an interesting concept to play around with. We sometimes likes our games of thought and talk, we does.

I would have taken it as assertion: It was God who spoke all these words.

Oh, I'm certain that it is taken as that assertion as well. But it is the tradition to wrest the fullest meaning out of every word of Torah; after all, only by studying God's word carefully can we know what He wants of us. So the scholars engaged in this process look(ed) at the verse/phrase: "God spoke all these words, saying:" and ask themselves: now why does the Torah indicate "all" these words? Why not just say "God spoke these words"? What's the difference? There doesn't seem to be a lot of difference to us. But we know that God chooses His words carefully, He wouldn't use an extra word where it wasn't necessary. So what possible meaning can the apparently superfluous word be conveying? And so on.

Seems a bit strange, I know, but there it is. Truth to tell, until recently I would have found it all pretty incomprehensible myself. I've lately been doing a lot of reading about Judaism. I don't think I'll never decide to be strictly observant in the Orthodox manner, but I do find my new knowledge rewarding, fulfilling, interesting … stuff like that.

Peter Hentgesjbru on July 7th, 2004 01:11 am (UTC)
Reminds me about a bit of rambling Arlo Guthrie does on one of the albums of a concert he gave with Pete Seeger that I have. The ramble is titled "Celery Time," and Arlo goes off, in typical Arlo style about how he was reading this book that was about how time, as we know it, doesn't exist. Time seems sequential to us because information has to flow from one cell to the next in the form of electro-chemical impulses. So if we could get all the cells together and, as Arlo suggests, "jump on 'em," then there wouldn't be a past, present and future, there would just be now. (To which Arlo muses, "does that mean that when I was here before, that I was here now? Or am I not really here now, because I'm going to be here later?)
Fred A Levy Haskell: eyes of the Fredcritterfredcritter on July 8th, 2004 03:08 am (UTC)

As I said when you brought your iPod over to my desk so I could listen to Arlo himself, "Oh, didn't he ramble?"

Arlo muses, "does that mean that when I was here before, that I was here now? Or am I not really here now, because I'm going to be here later?"

Reb Levy Haskell spoke, saying: Is it not said by our Sages, how can you be in two places at once when you're not anywhere at all?