1. On the verse, “And G‑d spoke all these words,” our Sages commented:

This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, recited the Ten Commandments in a single statement, something which is impossible for a human being to do. If so, what is meant by [the statement] of the commandments individually, “I am the L‑rd,...” “You shall have no other gods...”? He returned and explicitly mentioned each commandment in its own right.

We find the concept that G‑d recited two commandments simultaneously mentioned in two other instances in connection with the Ten Commandments: a) Our Sages relate that the first two commandments: “I am the L‑rd, Your G‑d” and “You shall have no other gods” were recited as a single commandment. b) In the first account of the Ten Commandments, it is written, “Remember the Shabbos,” and in the second account, it is written, “Observe the Shabbos.” Our Sages explain that both these commands were given as one.

The above concepts raise several questions. Firstly, since G‑d ultimately repeated each of the Ten Commandments individually, of what value was it to mention them all together? Also, every narrative in the Torah is intended to be a lesson in the service of G‑d. What lesson can we learn from G‑d’s mention of all the commandments together, something which is obviously beyond our human potential?

Furthermore, it is necessary to understand: Why after the entire Ten Commandments were recited together was this phenomenon repeated in regard to the first two commandments and then repeated again in regard to the commandments for the Shabbos?

These questions can be resolved on the basis of our Rabbis’ interpretation of the verse: “And G‑d spoke all these words, saying.” Generally, the word “saying,” laimor in Hebrew, implies a charge to relay a commandment to someone else. In this instance, however, that interpretation is not appropriate for the entire Jewish people were present. Hence, laimor is interpreted to mean “to repeat,” to repeat the words of Torah, in a manner that the words of Torah spoken by a Jew will be “G‑d’s word.” Our mouths will be merely intermediaries to communicate G‑d’s Torah.

Since the concept of G‑d’s relating all the Ten Commandments in a single statement and the concept that our Torah study is a reflection of G‑d’s word are derived from the same verse, we can assume that they are interconnected. Although it is impossible for man, with human power, to make two statements at the same time, since our study of Torah is not human speech, but G‑d’s word, we can also emulate this transcendent level.

To explain this concept in terms of our service, we must examine our Sages’ statements in regard to the Shabbos commandments: Our Sages taught:

“Remember” and “Observe” were recited in one statement. Similarly, the commandments “Those who transgress it (the Shabbos) will surely die,” and “On the Shabbos day, [offer] two lambs (whose sacrifice transgresses the Shabbos laws)” were recited in one statement. This is what is meant by the expression, “G‑d made a single statement. I heard two things.”

This quote reflects how the positive commandments — “Remember” and the offering of the Shabbos sacrifices — and the negative commandments — “Observe” and the prohibition against work — are in a essence a single matter. Both together express the holiness of the Shabbos. The fulfillment of the positive commandment and the observance of the prohibition have a single intent, increasing the holiness of the Shabbos. Therefore, the fulfillment of the positive commandment of offering the Shabbos sacrifices does not merely supersede the Shabbos prohibitions. In this instance, offering the Shabbos sacrifices — which involves performing forbidden labors — is an expression of the negative commandment as well for the goal of both the positive and negative commandments are the same.

To explain the above concept: The difference between positive commandments and negative commandments is that positive commandments involve “doing good,” performing a positive activity which draws down G‑dly light within a person’s soul and within the world at large. In contrast, the negative commandments involve “turning away from evil,” separating oneself from activities and elements which are against G‑d’s will. Our negation of these elements and activities nullifies and removes the spirit of impurity in the world at large.

Nevertheless, although the negative commandments appear to involve merely refraining from undesirable activity, they also possess a positive dimension. This can be inferred from the Maharsha’s interpretation of our Sages’ statement that Chabakuk established all the 613 commandments on a single base, “A righteous man will live by his faith.” The Maharsha explains that the multitude of mitzvos is only from the perspective of man, from G‑d’s perspective, all mitzvos share a single thrust.

The Maharsha continues, associating this concept with G‑d’s statement of the Ten Commandments in a single utterance, explaining that this reflects how He and His mitzvos are one, and that there is no multiplicity. Similarly, by coupling the mitzvah of believing in G‑d with the prohibition against other gods, all the positive and negative commandments are coupled together. This is impossible, however, for a human being limited by the constraints of material and temporal existence to emulate. Nevertheless, Chabakuk’s directive again included all the mitzvos in one single command, reflecting how even after the mitzvos are separated into positive and negative commandments, they can be unified in a single thrust.

To focus on this concept: All the commandments, even the negative commandments, are intended for a single purpose: to reveal G‑d. The manner in which the negative commandments perform this positive function does not involve carrying out a particular activity, but rather, refraining from action.

This is because their source is a higher dimension of G‑dliness which transcends the means of expression we have available. There cannot be an act which draws down this source within the world — as is the case in regard to the positive commandments — because this level cannot be comprehended. All we can do is ensure that we do not prevent the expression of these levels by transgressing these commandments and thus, creating obstacles.

Within this context, we can understand the function of the negative commandments in the Era of Redemption. All the mitzvos, both the positive and the negative commandments will still be in effect in that era for, “This Torah will never be rejected.” Yet one might ask: In that era, after “the spirit of impurity has been removed from the world,” what will be the function of the negative commandments? However, on the basis of the above, this question can be resolved. Then, we will realize the true purpose of the negative commandments, i.e., that it is not the negation of evil as at present, but rather drawing down those transcendent dimensions of G‑dliness of which we can have no positive appreciation.

At present, the negative commandments involve the nullification of undesirable elements because we live in a world where such negative elements exist. Thus, we are given commandments that involve refraining from activities so that we will not grant strength to these undesirable entities and thus hinder the revelation of G‑dliness.

After the negation of the evil, however, when “I will cause the spirit of impurity to depart from the earth,” the negative commandments will perform a higher function. Man and the world at large are capable of receiving only a limited measure of G‑dly revelation, that which is appropriate for them. A G‑dly revelation which transcends their existence can be appreciated only through the approach of negation, and this will be the role of the negative commandments in the Era of Redemption.

Thus from G‑d’s perspective, all the mitzvos both the positive and the negative commandments, have a single goal — “G‑d made a single statement” — the revelation of G‑dliness.1 However, since the intent is revelation within a world of division and this intent is accomplished through the service of man whose personality is similarly diversified, “I heard two things;” i.e., as the mitzvos are applied by man, there are differences.

With the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, G‑d nullified the decree separating the spiritual realms from the physical. This allowed for the potential for man to realize and express the oneness of the mitzvos as they exist from G‑d’s perspective through his own service. Although by nature, man is limited and diversified, the giving of the Torah extended the opportunity of reflecting G‑d’s transcendent oneness in our approach to mitzvos.2

Man must begin by approaching the mitzvos with a recognition of the differences between the positive and the negative commandments and the differences in their intent, drawing down holiness and the negation of evil. The ultimate purpose, however, is to appreciate the Torah and mitzvos as they exist within G‑d’s perspective, that they are mediums for the revelation of G‑d’s will within the world. Thus, even the negative commandments have a positive purpose. They afford man a chance to develop a connection with G‑d, for they are also mitzvos and thus are a means of tzavsa, connection with G‑d. Indeed, they establish a connection with the higher levels of G‑dliness to which we can relate to only in this manner.

In this context, we can understand Rabbi Akiva’s statement that, when responding to the Ten Commandments, the Jews answered “Yes” to both the positive and negative commandments. At that time, the Jews saw all the commandments of having the same goal, drawing G‑dliness into the world.3

On a deeper level, although as explained above, the existence of negative commandments reflects a recognition of the limitations of the world, it can be explained that it is the negative commandments in particular that go beyond those limitations. As explained above, it is through the negative commandments that we can relate to the higher, transcendent aspects of G‑dliness. Also, the negative commandments extend a connection to Torah even to places and situations which are not fit to serve as vessels for G‑dliness. In contrast, the positive commandments are limited according to the nature of man and the world and they are capable of drawing G‑dliness only into places fit for positive activity.4

The significance of the negative commandments can be explained further through an analysis of our Sages’ statement in regard to kiddushin, the establishment of the marriage bond.5 They explain that this act “causes [a woman to be] forbidden to the entire world, as a consecrated article (hekdesh).”

The act of kiddushin is two dimensional: a) It establishes a positive connection between the groom and his bride; he acquires her as his wife; b) it causes relations between the women and other men to be forbidden.

These two dimensions are reflected in the ultimate marriage bond, the connection between G‑d and the Jewish people. There is a positive dimension, the unity between the Jews and G‑d. (This is expressed by the performance of the positive commandments.) There is also a dimension that involves prohibition. As a woman must set herself apart from other men, so too, the Jews must separate themselves from the undesirable elements in the world. (This is expressed through the observance of the negative commandments.)

The definition of kiddushin as causing a woman to be “forbidden to the entire world, as a consecrated article (hekdesh)” implies, however, that there is a positive dimension to the establishment of these prohibitions. This is reflected in the comparison to hekdesh, articles on which holiness above the nature of the world6 has been conveyed. It also implies that a bond with this holiness has been established7 and that this holiness is drawn down into the world.

It was explained above that the negative commandments draw down a level of G‑dliness that transcends the limitations of the world. For that reason, this level cannot be drawn down by a positive act, only through refraining an activity, i.e., negating our potential for action. This, however, is also a limitation.

Thus, the true infinite dimension of the Torah and its mitzvos is expressed in the fusion of the positive and negative in a single act performed by man. This is reflected in our Sages’ statement that the commandments “Those who transgress it (the Shabbos) will surely die,” and “On the Shabbos day, [offer] two lambs (whose sacrifice transgresses the Shabbos laws)” were recited in one statement. In such an instance, the fulfillment of the negative commandment is combined with a positive activity, bringing the sacrifices. Although offering the sacrifices involves the performance of activities which are otherwise forbidden on the Shabbos,8 this positive activity contributes to the holiness of the Shabbos, thus fulfilling the same purpose as the negative commandments.9

There is another positive activity which expresses the aspect of the mitzvos which transcends all limits. Our Sages declared, “Whoever studies the laws of a burnt offering (or any other mitzvah) is considered as if he brought a burnt offering (or fulfilled the mitzvah in question).” Although a person is not a priest, is not in the Beis HaMikdash (indeed, this applies even when the Beis HaMikdash is destroyed), through his study of the Torah, he can be considered as if he offered a sacrifice.

This concept also applies in regard to the negative commandments. By studying the laws of the negative commandments, one is considered to have fulfilled them; i.e., the influence produced by the negative commandments is drawn down through a positive activity, Torah study.

Indeed, the fullest expression of the unity of the mitzvos and their fundamental oneness — “G‑d made a single statement” — comes through the study of the Torah. Here, it is through the same activity, laboring in the study of the Torah, that one draws down the influence produced by both the positive and the negative commandments.10

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2. There is a point of connection to the above concepts in this week’s parshah, Parshas Yisro. At the outset, in the narrative of Yisro’s joining the Jewish people, a concept is communicated which parallels the ideas explained above regarding the positive nature of the negative commandments.

The Torah relates that Yisro was “the priest of Midian,” a priest for idol worship, and quotes him as saying “Now I know that G‑d is greater than all the gods” on which our Sages commented, “There was not a single deity that Yisro had not served.” His conversion thus reflected “a transformation of darkness into light” which brought about “a revelation of G‑d in His glory in the higher realms and in the lower realms” and served as a preparation for the giving of the Torah.

The Torah was given to draw down an aspect of G‑dliness that transcends the world within the world — to use Kabbalistic terminology — to reveal the fiftieth gate of understanding. The transformation of darkness into light draws down this level, for such efforts reveal a level of light that is too great to be enclothed within this world.11

The conclusion of the parshah, the verse, “In every place where you will mention My name, I will come and bless you,” relates to the great levels attained through the study of the Torah. By using the expression “in every place,” the verse indicates that because of Torah study, “mentioning My name,” G‑d “will come and bless” even places that by nature are not fit for blessing. Even though the service of “turning away from evil” has not been completed, through the study of Torah, G‑d’s blessings can be drawn down. This is a result of the fact that when a Jew studies Torah, he is reciting “G‑d’s word,” and thus, there are no limits to its effects.

The above concepts can also be related to the parshah of the coming week, Parshas Mishpatim which we begin reading in the afternoon service. That parshah begins “And these are the judgments that you shall place before them.”

Our Sages emphasize that with the words “And these are,” the Torah connects the laws which are described in Parshas Mishpatim with the revelation at Mount Sinai. These laws are a continuation of the giving of the Torah. Although they represent the aspect of Torah that can be grasped by our intellect, it is obvious that their source is the transcendent revelation at Mount Sinai.

Also, our Sages interpret the phrase “that you shall place before them” as a charge to arrange one’s presentation of Torah concepts “as a set table, with everything prepared for a person to eat.” Although generally, a room should be cleaned before food is served, i.e., in the analog, a person should refine his conduct before attempting to advance further; nevertheless, the nature of Torah study is that, even when a person has not refined himself, he still is presented with “a set table.” Torah study gives him the potential to elevate his conduct, fusing the negation of evil and drawing down positive influence into a single activity.

This produces a directive for action. In general, Shabbos is a time when Jews should gather together for Torah study. In particular, this applies on Shabbos Parshas Yisro when we read the narrative of the giving of the Torah. Similarly, at this time, we should resolve to increase our study of the Torah and our involvement in communal study sessions. These sessions should also involve the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah as emphasized by the connection with Ma’aseh Merchavah (the mystic secrets of G‑d’s being) with the giving of the Torah.12

Study sessions of this nature should be established for every Jew, man, woman, and child, even those who are just beginning their connection with the Torah. Nevertheless, even at the beginning of one’s study, one shares a connection to the totality of the Torah. This is reflected in our Rabbis’ teaching that the kamatz alef aw which a young child first learning the alphabet studies reflects the kamatz alef aw which begins the word Anochi, the first word of the Ten Commandments and which includes within it, the entire Torah.

May our increase in the study of the Torah hasten the coming of the era when, “A new Torah will emerge from Me” in the Era of Redemption.13 Even before the Era of Redemption, the Jews will live in security. They need not fear despite the fact that the nations of the world challenge one another and the entire world is seized with panic and consternation. On the contrary, they must realize that “All that I have wrought, I have performed only for your sake” and that Mashiach will soon “stand on the roof of the Beis HaMikdash and proclaim, ‘Humble ones, the time for your redemption has come.’ ”