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  • Writer's pictureRuth Schapira

Passover: The Inner Message of Freedom

Hebrew is full of secrets, embedded with layers and layers of meaning, woven from the thread of reality as Judaism sees it.

I happened on two verses from Shemot / Exodus while preparing for my course "Secrets of the Hebrew Aleph-bet". There, two verses in particular speak to the Holiness of the Torah:

Thereupon Moses turned and went down from the mountain with two tablets of the Pact in his hand, tablets inscribed on both their surfaces, they were inscribed on one side and on the other.

וַיִּ֜פֶן וַיֵּ֤רֶד מֹשֶׁה֙ מִן־הָהָ֔ר וּשְׁנֵ֛י לֻחֹ֥ת הָעֵדֻ֖ת בְּיָד֑וֹ לֻחֹ֗ת כְּתֻבִים֙ מִשְּׁנֵ֣י עֶבְרֵיהֶ֔ם

מִזֶּ֥ה וּמִזֶּ֖ה הֵ֥ם כְּתֻבִֽים׃

The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing, engraved upon the tablets.

וְהַ֨לֻּחֹ֔ת מַעֲשֵׂ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים הֵ֑מָּה וְהַמִּכְתָּ֗ב מִכְתַּ֤ב אֱלֹהִים֙ ה֔וּא חָר֖וּת עַל־הַלֻּחֹֽת׃

16 -32:15

The verses are powerful enough in English, and if you read them through again, they seem to almost be part of a legal if the sentences are unequivocally affirming the origin of the Torah. You can take an imaginary leap and picture a heavenly attorney, building a clear case for those who would, thousands of years later, question the authorship of the Torah.

The scene might go a little like, "Yes, if it please the court, I will now present evidence that will clear up the matter without a doubt. I am proud to offer the clearest response to those who still doubt and wonder----as I bring immutable proof right here---that it is definitely God who wrote the Torah. See? it says so right here....'The tablets were God's work and the writing was God's writing'. Is there anyone in the court who can dispute this? If not, I offer these verses as evidence to the court".

Okay so that's just one take on a possible scenario, but there are others and I will go in another direction.

Look closely at the word in the second sentence, חָר֖וּת [charut]. It is translated as engraved. This is a different word used from the verse right before it which describes the writing process as inscribed [כְּתֻבִים֙ ]. So, when a description of the Tablets are given, the word used is inscribed. But when the process is described, it is made clear to us that letters were engraved by God.

So, take a minute to think about both words, and what images come to your mind. Which seems more permanent? Which one might take more effort? The Merriam-Webster definition of engraving is: 1a : to impress deeply as if with a graver i.e. the incident was engraved in his memory. 1b : to form by incision (as on wood or metal) 2a : to cut figures, letters, or designs on for printing. If you were making an agreement with someone, would you want their signature to be inscribed or engraved? (if you had to choose).

So, here's the thing...we also know that there are no vowels or punctuation in the Torah, so the word for engraving, charut can also be read with the same exact letters, as cherut meaning freedom.

What is the message here, embedded right in the word describing the Tablets? What is the connection we are asked to make between freedom that is engraved?

The law has is engraved, both on the Tablets and as God says, on our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:6). But following the laws allow us freedom, which is definitely counter-intuitive.

Yet, we know that lawlessness breeds chaos, while structure and rules provide us with the essential freedom to live our lives without fear.

On Passover, this is Judaism's essential teaching. We are no longer slaves, we are free. But that freedom is not a floating concept. It is clear what the purpose of freedom is...Moses requests that Pharaoh let us go to the wilderness so that we can worship our God (Exodus 5:1, 7:26, 8:16, 9:13, 10:3). We will then be free to commit to the rules that govern a civil society, a society where the community cares for the less fortunate, the widow and orphan, and regards the stranger with honor.


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