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זכור ושמור בדבור אחד — “Remember” and “Keep” in one speech-act (Lecha Dodi)

The most famous song sung at synagogue every Friday night, Lecha Dodi, contains within it an allusion to the two different words used to describe the commandment of Shabbat mentioned in the two places in Torah where the Ten Commandments are recorded.  Shmot/Exodus says “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” (20:8), while Devarim/Deuteronomy says “Keep the Sabbath day according to its holiness” (5:12).   This is only the most famous of many instances of using different words to mean essentially the same thing, and the Ibn Ezra, commenting on the parsha this week, makes this explicit.  In the context of explaining the euphemism used in Shmot 11:5 “…from the first-born of the Pharoah who sits on his seat to the first-born of the maidservant that is behind the millstone…” (all translations mine), the Ibn Ezra makes a general statement: “And I already stated that the prophets [namely, the writers of scriptural texts] do not retain the exact words, only the meaning…” (Ibn Ezra on 11:5).

For many of the medieval commentators, this would probably be a radical statement.  No more proof is needed for this than the verse from Lecha Dodi quoted above, as it is calling to mind the midrashic tradition (see, for example Midrash Tannaim on Devarim 5:12) that the two words were literally said in one breath (a feat only God could accomplish), and thus there is no difference between the two statements.  Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, is much more comfortable saying that, while the text is divinely inspired, the prophets who transcribed the Torah were concerned more with retaining the meaning than the exact words ‘spoken’ by God.

When transmitting

Tradition over years,

We keep the meaning

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