Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Va-Ethanan 5767/ July 28, 2007

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,



Between Exodus and Deuteronomy


Eliezer Daniel Jesselson


Chairman of the Board

The Ludwig and Erica Jesselson Institute for Advanced Torah Studies



In the volume of Bikkurei ha-Ittim that appeared towards the end of 1827, [1] S. D. Luzzatto published a comprehensive article on the differences between the earlier and later versions of the Decalogue. [2]

In clear and concentrated form, Luzzatto presents an exhaustive interpretation of the differences between the commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy.  Alongside, Luzzatto also presents further interpretations and general insights that are tied in various ways to the Ten Commandments.  The more important expansion in his article is found in his concluding words, at the end of the article, where Luzzatto describes his stand vis-à-vis the plain sense of the text and his frustration at the fact that the numerous scholars who disagree with him do not take the trouble to delve into the plain sense.

In this article we shall set forth Luzzatto’s comparison of the Ten Commandments in Exodus as opposed to Deuteronomy and present his general views as they emerge from this article.

The status of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy

Anyone who studies the differences between the earlier and later versions of the Ten Commandments must take a position regarding the status of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy: were the Ten Commandments as cited here given together with the Decalogue in Exodus, as the Midrash puts it, “ ‘Remember’ and ‘Keep’ (Zakhor ve-shamor) were said together in a single commandment,” or were they given in accord with the Exodus version and simply reiterated by Moses in the context of the review of Israelite history in the wilderness? [3]

Luzzatto takes the second view.   According to his approach, the Decalogue in Deuteronomy was adapted by Moses to the current condition of the people forty years after the Ten Commandments were first given at Mount Sinai.  The need for adaptation stemmed from two factors:

1)      The differences between the generation that received the Torah and the generation that was about to enter the land.

2)      Misunderstanding the Ten Commandments, which led to the sin of the Golden Calf.

Due to these two factors, “in his prophetic spirit Moses found it necessary” to formulate the Decalogue differently the second time.

Reasons for the differences between versions of the Decalogue

Luzzatto lists twelve differences between the commandments in Exodus and those in Deuteronomy, and presents six fundamental points to account for Moses’ different formulation.

  1. The first Decalogue was given to dwellers in the wilderness, who did not own fields and vineyards; the second Decalogue was give to those who would inherit the land and would own permanent dwellings, fields and vineyards, which they would have to work regularly.
  2. The first Decalogue was given to those who subsisted on manna, the second to those who had to labor for their livelihood.

The commandment, “Honor your father and mother,” appearing in Exodus, has an addition in Deuteronomy:  “as the Lord your G-d has commanded you.”  Since, when the first Decalogue was given the Israelites were eating manna and were not exposed to the hardships of earning a living, honoring one’s parents under such conditions was natural, for “their fathers and mothers brought them into the world to enjoy a pleasant life.”  Those who would enter the land, in contrast, would have to work hard for their livelihood, and in such a situation they might be likely to come to feel disrespect for their parents, “for bringing me to this hard life, eating bread by the sweat of my brow.”  Therefore, they were told, “as … G-d has commanded,” indicating that the commandment of honoring one’s parents was given by the Holy One, blessed be He, and there is no room for any doubts about it.   It should be observed as commandment that is independent of any specific circumstance, and should not be restricted solely to the generation that subsisted on manna.

  1. The first set of commandments was given before the sin of the golden calf, the second, after it.

The sin of the golden calf stemmed from the people’s misunderstanding of the commandment, “you shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness” – as if they were only forbidden to make a sculpture that was to be a real deity worthy of being worshipped.   The people understood from the expression, “sculptured image or any likeness,” that there was nothing wrong with worshipping an idol that was not viewed as a deity itself, but only as representing the Holy One, blessed be He.  The people equated the idol as a tangible representation of the Lord with the Tabernacle, also a tangible representation of the Lord’s presence.   This comparison and misunderstanding caused the people to bow down to the golden calf, worshipping it.   To prevent the people from making any such mistake in the future, in the second version of the Decalogue Moses included all possible sculptured images and likenesses.   Moses did this by eliminating the conjunction in the phrase “sculptured image and any likeness.”   The expression, “a sculptured image, any likeness” (pesel kol temuna) is to convey the message that there is a flat prohibition:  all sculptured images and all likenesses are forbidden, whether they be considered deities or whether they be considered only representations of the Holy One, blessed be He.

  1. The first Decalogue was given before the details of the commandments were received, the second Decalogue, after the commandments were received.

In the Decalogue in Exodus it says:   “You shall not bear false (Heb. sheker) witness against your neighbor,” forbidding one to give testimony that is not precisely correct, testimony that distorts the details of the incident.  In the Decalogue in Deuteronomy, it says:  “You shall not bear false (Heb. shav = vain, lacking substance) witness against your neighbor,” – you shall not give testimony that is altogether unfounded, in no way connected to reality.  The difference stems from the fact that between the first and the second versions of the Decalogue, further details and laws were added to the commandments, including the laws of willfully false witnesses.   In the first Decalogue, before the law concerning willfully false witnesses was given, we were warned not to bear false witness, even if it is based on something that happened.   The laws of willfully false witnesses, given subsequently, include a legal procedure that enables the court to caution the witnesses, examine them thoroughly, and reveal the contradictions in their testimony, showing their evil intent; however, the court cannot show up as willfully misleading testimony about similar instances that have no basis in reality.  Therefore, after enactment of the laws concerning willfully false witnesses, less danger was presented by false testimony, yet the problem remained of testimony which was totally unfounded and could not be disproved, since it was only the fruit of the witnesses’ imagination.  Therefore, in the second version of the Decalogue, Moses commanded us:   You shall not bear false (shav) witness,” i.e., do not give testimony that you have dreamed up and that has nothing to do with reality.

  1. The Decalogue in Deuteronomy contains further elaboration on the Decalogue in Exodus of the form, “do not do this, nor even that.”

The first version of the Decalogue forbids coveting (lo tahmod) that which is forbidden you, whereas the second version extends the prohibition to craving, as well, in the form of “do not covet, nor even crave” (lo titaveh).   A person must take care not to covet that which is forbidden him, but he must also aspire not to crave even that which is permitted him.  Luzzatto therefore notes that since your neighbor’s wife is always forbidden you, the injunction not to crave could not apply to her; therefore even in the second version of the Decalogue, the formulation pertaining to “your neighbor’s wife” is “you shall not covet.”

  1. The first version of the Decalogue was originally given by the Holy One, blessed be He; the second, by Moses as a narrative repetition.

In the first version of the Decalogue each of the last five commandments was separated and voiced by the Holy One, blessed be He, independently (according to the view of those who hold that the Holy One, blessed be He, voiced all the commandments to the Israelites).   The presentation of the second Decalogue is described in narrative fashion by Moses; hence the addition of a conjunctive vav (= “and,” not rendered in the JPS translation) before each of the last five commandments.  That is, “as a person who reads something that is not new, and therefore combines them together, one after another, with a conjunctive ‘and.’”

Luzzatto’s concluding remarks about relating to the plain sense of the text.

Luzzatto viewed his explication of Scripture, especially his linguistic interpretations, as a full and true expression of the plain sense of the text.  The reasons for these variations show the precious glory of understanding the plain sense.”   Luzzatto also believed that his interpretations of the plain sense were the only truth in the interpretation of the text, for “there is one plain sense, as there is one Truth.”   On the basis of this position, anyone who disagreed with him would be challenging both the plain sense and the truth.  Since the Sages long ago established the principle that Scripture cannot be wrested away from its plain sense, how could any Bible scholar challenge his views and disagree with the Truth?  Whence did this evil come to us?  Who led astray masses of adherents of the Torah to change their way, envisioning for us falsehoods and vanities? [4]  

Luzzatto ascribed the position of those who disagreed with him to their fear of the truth.  The path of Truth for him was a most narrow one, “for there is one Truth and its way is very narrow, leaving no room to diverge right or left.   He who lands on the fine line will find it and he who looks hither and thither will go astray.”

In Luzzatto’s opinion, in order to avoid entering controversy with those who go astray, on one hand, or agreeing with their mistaken views, on the other, the Sages extended the methods of interpretation.  They took the edge off the single plain sense (the Peshat) and made it possible to raise many different views and interpretations (the Derash), all of which are legitimate, as an expression of there being “seventy facets to the Torah.”   Thus any view can be accepted, and one Bible scholar may not criticize another – “for does not the plain sense approach present difficulties, forcing them to prove to the one who is in error the flaws in his views, or else to agree with him in all his erroneous opinions? Therefore, “together they advised to broaden the way, so that one sees communities of learned people gathering together, each opening his mouth and revealing his own ideas.”


[1] Bikkurei ha-Ittim was an annual published in Vienna from 1821 to 1833, for the purpose publicizing the works of Enlightenment authors throughout Europe. Luzzatto published extensively in this periodical, especially articles on synonyms in the Bible.

[2] Samuel David Luzzatto, a leading figure in the Jewish Enlightenment in Italy, was born on the first of Elul, 1800, in Trieste, and died on the night of Yom Kippur, 1865.  His commentaries on the Torah were collected by his sons and first printed in Padua in 1871.  A new edition of his commentary appeared in Jerusalem, on the occasion of 100 years since his passing.  

[3] A related question that is not the main thrust of our article: what was actually engraved on the second set of stone tablets?   Was it the formulation as it appears in Exodus, or the one that appears in Deuteronomy?   On this question, see the article by Rabbi Reuben Margaliyot, in his book, Ha-Mikra ve-ha-Massorah, Mosad Ha-Rav Kook, 1964, and the article by Rabbi Hanoch Erentrau in his book Iyyunim be-Divrei Hazal u-vi-Leshonam, Mosad Ha-Rav Kook, 1978.

[4] On the status of Truth in Luzzatto’s research and writings, see the article of Reuben Bonfil in Samuel David Luzzatto: The Bi-Centennial of His Birth, ed. R. Bonfil, I.Gottlieb, H. Kasher, Italia Conference Supplement Series 2, Magnes Press: Jerusalem, 2004.