Language is funny. We have words that sound the same, but mean different things, and in other cases, we have words that are different, but mean the same thing.
We’re stuck in that vicious grammar cycle in this week’s Torah portion. Moses is basically giving his first big legal speech. I’m got going to get into the particulars of it…but let’s just say that it’s a whole lot of “thou shalt nots” that are really good to look into, when you have some free time.
After G-d tells Moses all the good stuff, he relays it to the Hebrews. And they reply, “we shall do”. In other words, “yeah, it’s cool. We’ll take on that Torah stuff.”
Later, Moses writes down these laws, and the Hebrews reply again. This time they say, “we shall obey.”
Why is there a difference here? Why is it that when Moses says some words, the people “do”, while in written form, people “obey”? I’d think that if I was wandering the desert with some guy who is talking directly to the creator of the universe, I’d obey everything that’s going down, whether it’s on paper or a conversation or text message or whatever!
I think the reason why the Hebrews get more serious with a written Torah is that they are invested in it. Many cults that are based around a leader fall when the leader dies or is shown to be a fake. They last when there is something written down. Writing, in its best form, lasts forever. When Moses put those words down on a scroll, he was making an investment in the future. He was saying, “OK, this isn’t about me and what I experience on top of mountains. This is about the future. This stuff is gonna last, with or without me.”
That’s why the Hebrews say “we will obey”. Moses is showing that this whole Judaism thing isn’t a passing fad or a power trip on his part. It’s legit.
A lot of times when we start something, we tend to bottle it up, to keep it to ourselves. We get on these ego trips where we think that we’re the only one who should have any control. It’s funny to see charities and outreach organizations that are supposed to be a collaboration, turn into a dictatorship where the only person really getting any attention is the fearless leader.
I think Moses understood that. He didn’t want to be Pharaoh. He just wanted to deliver a message and do the best he could, until his time was up. And since we’re still talking about him today, he must have done a pretty good job.