Shamor VeZachor BeDibbur Echad: The Message Behind the Song by Rabbi Raphi Mandelstam


One of the most discussed difficulties concerning the Aseret HaDibrot is that we find a number of changes between the original version as it appears in our Parashah and the repetition of the Dibrot in Parshat VaEtchanan. Perhaps the most well-known difference is that the Mitzvah of Shabbat is introduced in Parashat Yitro with the words “Zachor Et Yom HaShabbat LeKaddesho,” “Remember the day of Shabbat and keep it holy” (Shemot 20:8), while in VaEtchanan we find it changed to “Shamor Et Yom HaShabbat LeKaddesho,” “Observe the day of Shabbat and keep it holy” (Devarim 5:12). In explaining this particular change, the Gemara says that in truth, “Zachor VeShamor BeDibbur Echad Ne’emru”, “Zachor and Shamor were both originally said by Hashem simultaneously” (Rosh HaShanah 27a). What is still puzzling is why the Torah did not simply say both phrases separately in both places. What do we learn from the fact that they were literally said as one?

The Ramban (Shemot 20:8; s.v. Zachor) explains that Zachor and Shamor represent the two different aspects of our observance of Shabbat, with Zachor representing the Mitzvot Asei of Shabbat, such as Kiddush, while Shamor refers to the obligation to refrain from the 39 Melachot, the Mitzvot Lo Ta’asei of Shabbat. The fact that the Torah links the two as having been said in the same breath, instead of stating each as separate statements, demonstrates that there is an intrinsic relationship between the Zachor aspect and the Shamor aspect, the Mitzvot Asei and the Mitzvot Lo Ta’asei of Shabbat. On a Halachic level, the Gemara (Berachot 20a) derives that although women are normally exempt from time-bound Mitzvot Asei, they are obligated in Kiddush on Shabbat because of the connection between Zachor and Shamor. Since they are obligated in the negative commandments of Shabbat, Shamor, then they are also obligated in Kiddush, which is based on Zachor.

In expanding the connection between Zachor and Shamor, the Ramban explains that all Mitzvot Asei, represented by Zachor, refer to serving Hashem out of love--we engage in certain activities to show our desire to connect with Hashem. On the other hand, the Mitzvot Lo Ta’asei, represented by Shamor, refer to our Yir’at Shamayim--we refrain from certain activities because of Hashem’s decree.

Based on this Ramban, we can understand why it is necessary for the Torah to combine the obligations of Zachor and Shamor in one statement. It is very common for people to prefer a certain mode of serving Hashem. Some have an easy time expressing their love for Hashem, whether through davening, learning, or other Mitzvot. But when it comes to refraining from certain temptations, it is not always easy to exhibit self-control. Other people may be inspired to go to great lengths to avoid prohibitions, in consonance with the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (1:1) which states “Asu Seyag LaTorah,” “Make fences around the Torah’s [prohibitions].” However, these people who may lack the passion and desire to connect to Hashem out of love. The intrinsic connection between Zachor and Shamor comes to teach us that we cannot have one without the other. Ahavat and Yir’at Hashem are both crucial elements of our relationship with Hashem.

It is also not coincidental that it is in the context of Shabbat where the need for both Ahavah and Yir’ah in our relationship with Hashem is expressed. Shabbat is the one day of the week where we come together with family and put the stresses of the workweek aside to work on our relationship with Hashem. May we all be Zocheh to maximize our expression of both Zachor and Shamor.

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