By: Herschel Karp (10th Grade)
In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Emor, a pasuk says, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: I am Hashem, your God. Like the practice of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelled, you shall not do, and like the practice of the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you, you shall not do, and you shall not follow their statutes.”
Rashi comments on this phrase that Hashem is saying that just as we accepted His sovereignty on Har Sinai, we now must accept his decrees and laws here again. Rashi also cites Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi who believes that: “It is openly known before Him, that they would eventually be scourged by immoral relations, in the days of Ezra. Therefore, God came to them with the decree: I am Hashem, your God! You should know Who is placing these decrees upon you -- the Judge Who exacts retribution since it uses the name Elokim, however, someone who is faithful will merit to see Hashem’s yud-kay-vav-kay name.”
On this Rashi, we can ask a question. The phrase “I am Hashem” appears quite a few times in the Torah, and Rashi comments elsewhere, “faithful to reward.” Rashi adds that this phrase is explained this way in many other places. Why does Rashi find it necessary to interpret this verse, and to offer a different interpretation?
To answer this question, we must look at the context of the phrase. In all other instances, the words “I am Hashem” are written at the conclusion of the commandment; here, however, they are written before the commandment. We therefore are forced to interpret this verse differently, which is now what Rashi seeks to do.
Rashi therefore explains, “now accept My decrees.” Until this point the Jewish people accepted those mitzvot that are understood logically, as well as the mitzvot that don’t contradict logic. Here, however, the term “decree” is employed, because the laws of immoral relations are not logical. For according to logic, someone of a distinguished lineage should marry his relative, as Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov, and the children of Adam had done too. This is the first of Rashi’s two interpretations. However, the fact that there is a second means that there is a problem with the first which needs to be resolved, needing another interpretation. Rashi’s first interpretation is not entirely smooth, because based on the first interpretation the decree should have been said close to the giving of the Torah at Sinai.
Rashi therefore offers a second interpretation, explaining that the words “I am Hashem” serve as an introduction to the commandment against immoral relations, because the prohibition of immoral relations is severe. For when one marries a non-Jew, his descendants are separated from Hashem, just as it was in the days of Ezra. In his second interpretation Rashi cites Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi when he writes the verse “It is time to act for Hashem, violate your Torah.” This refers to the era of the Mishnah, which unfolded many years after the verse was written. He is discussing the need to write down the Torah She Ba'al Peh, and the need to write it down when it was in danger of being forgotten. Similarly in our case, Rabbi Yehuda Nahasi explains that the verse “I am Hashem” refers to an event that would take place in the distant future during the exile, in the days of Ezra.
With these interpretations in mind, we are able to more thoroughly understand this commandment and the message to follow Hashem’s laws to the best of our abilities.