Who Shall Command?

David L. BowmanThought, TorahLeave a Comment


Photograph by Wade Lambert @wade_lambert

Who Shall Command?


Due to my love of the Rambam z”l, I’m compelled to find meaning within each of his letters and words.  This leads one down a complicated path of determining why the Rambam may have chosen one word over another and to that extent, I attempt to gain deeper understanding within the Rambam and the Torah.

Within the Rambam’s introduction to Mishneh Torah, the Rambam provides incredible insight into the transmission of both the Written Torah and the Oral Tradition.  Not just within its historical context, but also within how the Torah was taught and depending upon what type of teaching occurred and to what extent it could be used.

Understanding Moses our Teacher, Peace be Upon Him:

The Rambam’s incredible understanding of prophecy and its variant levels lies outside the scope of this article, but It is readily apparent he understands Moses’ exclusive level of prophecy as the highest possible.  He mentions:

ההתנות ב’משה רבנו’ אבל אם אפשר שיראה הנביא עוד ‘במראה הנבואה’ כאילו האלוה ידבר עמו – הוא רחוק אצלי ולא יגיע כח פועל המדמה לזה ולא מצאנו זה הענין בשאר הנביאי.

The Prophecy of Moses our Teacher, the highest degree a prophet can attain according to Scripture, provided he has, as reason demands, his rational faculties fully developed.[1]

This is important, because as we move throughout the Introduction to the Mishneh Torah, we’re going to develop a hierarchy of vocabulary concerning the learning and sharing of the Torah.  With Gd being the Torah’s originator, it’s important to separate the relationship between Gd and Moshe and Moshe and his students.

The Written Torah – Understanding the Word “To Give” (נתן):

The Rambam begins his introduction by explaining how Moses received the Torah from Gd.  He states:

כל המצוות שנתנו לו למשה בסיני בפרושן נתנו, שנאמר “ואתנה לך את־לחת האבן, והתורה והמצוה”

All of the commandments that were given (נתן) to Moses on Sinai were given with explanations.  That it is said[2], “I will give (נתן) to you stone tablets, the Torah and the Commandments.”[3]

Both the Torah and the Rambam are careful to use the word to give (נתן) regarding Moses’ receiving of the Torah.  Moreover, it’s important to notice the word to give (נתן) is used for both the Written Torah and the Oral Tradition.  This is of extraordinary importance as the transmission of the Written Torah from Moses to his students continue to use the word to give[4] (נתן); whereas, the transmission of the Oral Tradition uses separate language.

The Oral Tradition:

The Rambam notes the specific way in which Moses taught his students.  He states:

למדה משה רבנו כלה בבית דינו לשבעים זקנים; ואלעזר ופינחס ויהושוע, שלשתן קבלו ממשה. וליהושוע שהוא תלמידו שלמשה רבנו, מסר תורה שבעל פה וצוהו עליה; וכן יהושוע, כל ימי חייו למד על פה.

Moses our Teacher taught (למד) his Beis Din, the Elders and Eleazar, Pinchas and Joshua; these three received (קבל) it from Moshe.  And unto Joshua, he was the student (למד) of Moses our Teacher, he transmitted (מסר) the Oral Tradition and commanded (צוה) upon it all the days of his life he taught (למד) it orally.[5]

The Relationship Between למד and קבל:

Twice in this paragraph we learn the meaning of the word to teach (למד).  First, we understand it as a verb, in how Moses teaches the Elders, Joshua and Eleazar.  This is the Teacher-Student relationship where the Teacher imparts his knowledge to his students.   The teacher teaches (למד) and the students accepts (קבל).

The Relationship Between מסר and צוה:

The Rambam also elucidates a special relationship between Moses and Joshua.  Joshua is not just the student of Moses (תלמידו) but the one chosen to carry on the tradition of ruling the Jewish people.  For this reason, Moses transmits (מסר) the Oral Tradition upon Joshua allowing him to both teach (למד) and command (צוה) upon it.

An important implication of this distinction is those who learn (למד) the Torah but have not had it transmitted (מסר) to themselves, are unable to command (צוה) upon it.  In this case, only Joshua and not the Elders are able to command.

Understanding the Word “To Command” (צוה):

The Rambam notes the importance who can command and how.  He states:

אלא צוה בה לזקנים וליהושוע ולשאר כל ישראל, שנאמר “את כל־הדבר, אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם – אתו תשמרו, לעשות

Moses commanded to the elders, Joshua and the rest of Israel.  That it is said[6], “All of these matters I have commanded you, you shall guard yourselves to do.”[7]

In this paragraph and the one prior, the Rambam distinguishes those who are taught (למד) and those who are commanded (צוה).  Both the Elders and Joshua learned (למד) and were commanded (צוה); whereas, the remainder of Jews were only commanded (צוה).  This is an important distinction, as it will allow us to better understand why one is commanded.  Let’s fully investigate the remainder of the verse quoted by the Rambam.

את כל־הדבר אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם אתו תשמרו לעשות לא־תסף עליו ולא תגרע ממנו

All of the matters that I have commanded you, you shall guard yourself to do; neither add to it nor take away from it.[8]

From this verse we can determine the importance of a commandment is for it to be guarded and completed.  Also, we can infer should one be commanded (צוה) poorly upon the law, they’re likely to either add or subtract from the law.  This inference becomes more likely as the proceeding verses concern themselves with false-prophets and dream-diviners who ask you to break the Law.

An Important Conclusion:

All Should Learn; Few Should Command:

We may infer from the simple understanding of the Rambam that all should learn (למד) the Torah; as Moses taught everyone.  Although, it’s also made clear only those who have had the Law transmitted (מסר) to them are able to command (צוה) others.

Today’s Society:

Many of those who spend their lives learning (למד) Torah feel they have the right to determine, command (צוה) or advise others regarding the stringencies and leniencies of Jewish Law; although, it is implicit within the Rambam only those who have had the Law transmitted (מסר) to them by one who should lead are able to command (צוה).

In short, those who learn but have no transmission of authority should avoid commanding others; as one could easily infer the following and concluding verse[9] to the one mentioned above to be concerning their own actions:

ההוא יומת כי דבר־סרה על־יהוה אלהיכם המוציא אתכם מארץ מצרים והפדך מבית עבדים להדיחך מן־הדרך אשר צוך יהוה אלהיך ללכת בה ובערת הרע מקרבך

He shall be put to death, because he causes disloyalty to Gd; who freed you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery; to make you stray from the path Gd commanded (צוה) onto you.  Thus, you will sweep out evil from your midst.

[1] The Guide for the Perplexed II:XLV

[2] Exodus 23:12

[3] Mishneh Torah, Transmission of the Oral Law 1:1

[4] Mishneh Torah, Transmission of the Oral Law 1:2 – ונתן ספר לכל שבט ושבט; וספר אחד נתנהו בארון לעד

[5] Mishneh Torah, Transmission of the Oral Law 1:4

[6] Deuteronomy 13:1

[7] Mishneh Torah, Transmission of the Oral Law 1:3

[8] Deuteronomy 13:1

[9] Deuteronomy 13:6