Taming The Lion's Roar
The first two of the Ten Commandments were, "I am Hashem, your G-d
(20:2)," and, "You shall not possess other gods before Me (verse 3)."
Before giving these two mitzvos the Torah writes (verse 1), "And G-d
(Elokim) spoke all these words, saying..." Why does the Torah refer to
Hashem here with His name Elokim, which alludes to midas ha-din, the
aspect of strict judgement, and not with the name Hashem, which alludes
to kindness and compassion?
The Talmud (Kiddushin 39b) says that, whereas a person receives reward
for a "good thought" (i.e. planning to do a mitzvah even though he was
prevented from doing so), we are not punished for "bad thoughts" (i.e.
thinking about committing a sin) unless we actually do so. This biased
treatment is a result of the kindness (chessed) with which Hashem
created the world ("The world was built with chessed" [Tehillim/Psalms
89:3]), in that the scales are balanced in our favour - there is more
opportunity for reward than for punishment.
Now Chazal in fact say (see Rashi to Bereishis/Genesis 1:1) that,
"Originally, Hashem intended to create the world with din (strict
judgement)" and not with chessed. Upon realizing that we didn't stand a
chance in a world constructed with strict judgement, Hashem turned
things around and as a result, to our great fortune, we exist in a world
based on chessed and not only on din. (It is our task to emulate Hashem
and build our own lives with kindness and compassion.) In a world based
on din, we would be judged for all our thoughts - the good and the bad.
Mitzvos number 1 and 2, though, are mitzvos which by definition are
judged entirely by thought and not action. These mitzvos, then, are
something of a "window" into the pre-chessed world, before kindness
tipped the scales. Perhaps, says R' Shlomo Kluger zt"l (Imrei Shafer), this
is why these two mitzvos are prefaced with the verse, "Elokim spoke all
these words," because here the strict judgement of Hashem's name
Elokim was preserved.
This also explains, he writes, the wording of the Talmud (Makkos 24a),
"[The mitzvos of] 'I am Hashem,' and, "You shall not possess," were heard
mi-pi ha-Gevura/from the mouth of the Mighty One [himself]." Why do
Chazal accentuate that they were received, "From the Mighty One," as
opposed to, "From Hashem?" It is because these two mitzvos contain the
element of strict judgement, which is Elokim and Gevura.
The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 29:9) in its discussion of the above verse,
"I am Hashem your G-d," references the verse (Amos 3:8), "When the
lion roars, who doesn't fear!?" What does "I am Hashem your G-d" have
to do with the roar of a lion?
Imagine a great and mighty king has assembled his subjects in order to
address them. Everyone stands before the king and awaits his word in
trepidation. Suddenly and unexpectedly, in a loud and powerful voice,
the king calls out someone's name (lets call him Reuven) and instructs
him to step forward. Trembling, Reuven approaches the great throne.
He feels as if his very being is pierced by the unwavering gazes of all the
assembled. "Reuven, this is what you must do for me... " the kings
mighty voice rings in his ears, yet despite himself, Reuven has no idea
what the king is telling him. He has to struggle with all his might to keep
from fainting. Later, he reckons, some kind soul will tell me what the
king wants. In the meantime, he obediently nods his head, as the kings
inaudible instructions wash over him.
What if, after being singled out by the king, Reuven hears the following:
"Reuven, this is what I need Shimon to do for me..." Realizing that it is
not he that is being instructed, Reuven relaxes. Shimon too, even though
he now realizes that it is him for whom the king's words are intended,
is still able to retain his composure. Although he is humbled by the king
requesting his services, he is glad that he can hear his instructions in
third-person, without having to stand before the king and bear his
In English there is no difference between "your" in the singular or in the
plural. In Hebrew, there is. "I am Hashem your G-d," is worded in the
singular, as if it's Moshe alone who's being addressed. The Jews "listen
in" to the instructions intended for them, but are able to do so without
having to stand in the face of the "lion's roar" - the awesome voice of the
This is why, in its discussion of the above verse, the Midrash cites the
verse, "When the lion roars, who doesn't fear?" The Midrash is helping
us understand why the verse, "I am Hashem your G-d," was taught in the
singular, and not in the plural as we might have expected. Hashem
addressed Moshe so that we could listen-in in the third person, and not
be overwhelmed by fear of the lion's roar. (Imrei Shafer)
We spoke above about conducting our own lives in a way that emulates
(to whatever extent possible) the ways of Hashem. What an awesome
lesson Hashem taught us here. How often do we "put someone on the
spot" by confronting them, sometimes publicly, and chastising them or
demanding an explanation for something they've done? Have you ever
been put on the spot like this? Beside it being humiliating, the words of
the rebuker will more often than not miss their mark, falling on deaf
ears, not because the intended recipient doesn't want to listen but
because they can't. In the face of the roaring lion, all they can think
about is their own fear and (emotional) safety - there is nothing left to
listen to or ponder what's actually being said.
In such situations, the teacher/parent/boss etc. will often walk away from
the interaction highly satisfied with their performance. The rebuke, they
figure (often rightfully so) was deserved, and the anxious look on the
face of the recipient convinces them that their words were received
seriously. In truth, it is more likely that their speech will be quickly
forgotten, if it was ever absorbed to begin with. All the recipient will
retain in the long-term are feelings of fear and resentment from being
subjected to the dreadful roar of someone with the power and authority
to do so.
If it's true character-refinement the rebuker is after, he will hopefully
realize that the most meaningful guidance is that which is given in the
"third-person" - privately and with sensitivity to the rebukee's feelings.
Not being put on the spot will allow the recipient to absorb the rebuke
in a relaxed manner, and its effect will likely be enduring.
A wonderful teacher I know always asks an unruly student to "step
outside of the classroom for a moment," before reproaching them for
something they've done. He then says what he has to say in a calm and
collected way, without either student or teacher having to deal with such
an interaction in the public forum where things can easily escalate into
a confrontation. Hashem, in issuing the two most important mitzvos of
the Torah, taught us that a quiet and sensitive voice is often heard more
clearly than the lion's roar.
Have a good Shabbos.
***** This week's publication was sponsored in memory of Rabbi
Shlomo Langner, son of the holy Admor R' Moshe of Stretin, zt"l. And
by R' Zalman Deutsch, in memory of the holy rebbe R' Shiala Belzer,
and in memory of his father. ******
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org