This week’s parsha has many interesting elements, but none capture the essence of what Judaism is like the Ten Commandments. Understandably, the commentators – classic as well as modern – have a lot to say on the Ten Commandments as a whole, and individually, and their commentary sheds light on their own historical contexts as often as it does on the text itself. Sforno is no exception, and he makes a very interesting comment on the word אלהיך (you God) in the first commandment. Sforno says: “Eloheicha – I fulfill what you have taken upon yourselves to be your God, without any middle-man, and therefore to me alone shall you pray and me shall you serve, without any middle-man” (commentary to 20:2, translation and emphasis mine). Note how Sforno repeats the underlined phrase, stressing that the meaning we are to glean from the (common) doubling of God’s name(s) is that we are to communicate directly with Hashem, and not through any intermediary. This strikes me as being an extremely particular direction to take the text, one quite possibly reflecting Sforno’s own interactions with Christians, who do interact with God through an intermediary. Rabbi Eliezer Berkovitz, writing in 1966 about the differences between Judaism and other religions, makes the same observation: “The God of monotheism, who tolerates no mediator between Himself and man, is not the deity that by its very nature necessitates a mediator. Man, too,, is understood by monotheism in a manner vitally different from the way he is seen by Christianity. The man of monotheism can only confront God without a mediator; in Christianity, man cannot confront God except by way of the mediator.” While the word that Sforno uses as his springboard for the insistence on direct contact between people and Hashem might seem tenuous, the parsha does support such a reading, as the Ten Commandments are uttered directly by Hashem and heard by the Israelites – an unprecedented, direct act of revelation.
Between people and God
Must be direct