Parshat Yitro

February 17, 2017

When we read Parshat Yitro this coming Shabbat, we will be reciting the עשרת הדברות - The Ten Commandments.
There is a widespread custom to stand during the reading of the עשרת הדברות.  We rise in deference to this majestic moment in our history where every member of Bnei Yisrael beheld the vision of God.

Yet, some authorities, most notably the Rambam (Teshuvot HaRambam 46), oppose this practice based on a statement in Masekhet Brakhot, 12a, that the עשרת הדברות were read daily in the Beit HaMikdash. However, Chazal prohibited the daily reading of these verses in locations outside the Beit haMikdash.  The reason not to allow the reading outside the Beit HaMikdash was due to a concern that if we institutionalized reading these ten laws, perhaps an ignorant listener would misunderstand and come to the wrong conclusion that only mitzvot come from God.  Perhaps, the rest of the Torah was not, chas v'Shalom, from God.  Therefore, Chazal tried to prevent a daily public reading of the Ten Commandments.  Thus, the Rambam took this teaching and extended it to any practice which would set the Ten Commandments apart from any other part of the Chumash - like standing specifically for the reading of the Ten Commandment during parshat Yitro or when they are read on Shavuot.

 

Jews from Yemen, who strictly uphold the Rambam's ruling, remain seated during a minyan even where others stand for the עשרת הדברות.  Even though, normally, Yemenite Jews would conform to the customs of other communities, here, they refuse to conform given the Rambam's strong stance on this issue.
 

Rashi understands that the Aseret HaDibrot form a compact version of what the entire corpus of halakha is. 
In Shmot, 24:12, Rashi says:    

כל שש מאות ושלש עשרה מצות בכלל עשרת הדברות הן, ורבינו סעדיה פירש באזהרות שיסד לכל דבור ודבור מצות התלויות בו: 

"All six hundred and thirteen mitzvot are included within the Aseret Hadibrot, and Rabbeinu Saadya explained in the Azharot that he established for every one of the dibrot the mitzvot that are dependent on it."

Not only do the Aseret Hadibrot set forth fundamentals of Jewish ethics, but they also conceptually encompass all mitzvot. In addition to the broad-reaching halakhic significance of the Aseret Hadibrot, the experience of mass revelation that occurred on the sixth of Sivan has significant philosophical ramifications. 

Additionally, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, in his Sefer HaKuzari, speaks about the revelation at Har Sinai as a proof for the Torah’s authenticity: The fact that Matan Torah was experienced by an entire nation rather than by an individual prophet is a testimony to the historical accuracy of the story. As a result, the revelation of the Aseret Hadibrot set the stage for and substantiated the more comprehensive revelation that Moshe experienced in the forty days that he spent on Har Sinai immediately after the giving of the Aseret Hadibrot. Since all of Bnei Yisrael experienced the initial stage of revelation and believed in its truth, they also accepted the truth of the subsequent revelation that Moshe received. 

In his Iggerot Moshe, Orach Chaim, vol. 4, 22, Rav Moshe Feinstein therefore, understands the practice of standing during the reading of the עשרת הדברות differently.  Rav Moshe says that that standing during the reading of the Ten Commandments should be upheld because there is little danger of misrepresenting that only the 10 commandments come from God - even if there was a public reading daily of these pesukim each day. Rav Moshe quotes multiple sources which demonstrate that actually the ten commandments may have been read in outside shuls, not just in the Beit HaMikdash.  Reading these pesukim would not lead to a misunderstanding, thinking that the entire Torah does not come from Hashem, chas v'shalom.  Rav Moshe explains that one can appreciate that the quality of these ten laws form a strong foundation of the rest of the Torah - appreciating the revelatory moment and therefore, specific emphasis on them. In the Beit HaMikdash, Rav Moshe emphasized that there were many kohanim and chachamim available to teach and guide the people - where misunderstandings would be prevented.

Therefore, Rav Moshe is not concerned about standing during the Aseret haDibrot.  In fact, this pivotal moment in Jewish history, where each and every member of Am Yisrael came together and bore witness to this extraordinary event is critical.  According to Rav Moshe, rising in commemoration of this new beginning for the Jewish people will not run the risk of leading to misrepresentation of the Divine nature of the Torah.  As a result, Rav Moshe maintains that one should not remain in one's seat during the reading of the Aseret haDibrot if everyone around this person is standing.  One should not go against the place's custom.

Most follow the custom where if someone does not normally stand for the entire K'riyat haTorah, based on the ruling of many poskim, they then stand for at least the entire aliyah, to give the impression that one is standing for more than just the ten commandments.

In our Kehilah, we stand for the entire 6th aliyah of the Aseret haDibrot.  We commemorate the initial revelation at Sinai and the transmission of the Aseret haDibrot.  Here the Torah was given beyond the Aseret HaDibrot.  This transformative and historical moment, both for the mass revelation and the Aseret haDibrot, gives us a deeper appreciation of this historical moment for our entire people to experience.  

Shabbat Shalom.

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