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A New Angle on the Ten Commandments

By: Rav Ari Shvat

Much has been written on the differences between the Aseret HaDibrot as they appear in parshat Yitro in sefer Shmot (ch. 20), as opposed to the way they appear in parshat VaEtchanan in sefer Dvarim (ch. 5). Nevertheless, none of the suggested answers succeed, or even claim to succesfully explain all of the 31 variants.1

On the other hand, we believe that every letter or variation in the Torah is extremely significant, so we must continue to search for that common explanation. B’Ezrat Hashem, the following innovative suggestion2 has been accepted enthusiastically by many in recent years as the key, and was apparently “right under our nose” in the classic Mechilta as cited in Rashi, on the pasuk (Shmot 19, 3):

"ומשה עלה אל הא-להים, ויקרא אליו ד' מן ההר לאמר: כה תאמר לבית יעקב ותגיד לבני ישראל",

“And Moshe went up to G-d, and Hashem called to him saying,

‘So you shall say to the House of Ya’akov, and tell the Children of Yirael’”:

Rashi: ‘So you shall say’- in these words and in this order’, ‘to the House of Ya’akov- these are the women, to whom you shall say it gently’(from here is the source of the name of the Bais Ya’akov girls schools!). ‘and tell the Children of Yisrael’- the punishments and details which you shall word harshly to the men’ (Vataged from the root: “gid” which is a bitter herb).

Apparently, most people never noticed that chazal are explaining the different wording (“these words, in this order”) between the two versions: that the Yitro commandments are more gentle and worded to educate the feminine aspect of Israel [the Zohar explains that the entire world, and every individual, has a feminine and masculine side to them, where in women, generally the feminine is more dominant and vice-versa for men3], and the VaEtchanan commandments are worded stricter, threatening more punishment and offering more reward, for our masculine facet.

If you’d like a mnemonic device to remember: Dvarim-Gvarim [=men]. We are told here that the order, “ladies first” (“in this order”), is significant, for the idealistic, gentle and mild wording of the commandments (the Shmot version) is really preferable on all accounts, to us, and to G-d, as well, and as is commonly accepted today in modern education.

Parents, including l’havdil, our Father in Heaven, prefer whenever possible, to coach their children through love and ideals, rather than discipline. Fittingly, if one examines his local Aron Kodesh, the earlier Shmot version is the universally accepted custom to draw/write on the tablets!

In the scope of this short article we will give several examples:

1. For many reasons (including the stubborn “Male Ego”) boys/men generally demand more discipline, and accordingly, the forceful addition that Hashem is “pulling rank” on us, is stressed 3 more times to do “as you are commanded” (lines 13, 24, 28) in Dvarim, as opposed to Shmot. This also explains the respectful “distance” stressed in the 3rd person (“His mitzvot”, the ktiv) as opposed to the friendlier 2nd person (“My mitzvot”, line 9).

2. Similarly, G-d’s Name of Justice/Midat HaDin: E-lokecha (literally: your Judge) is stressed 4 times in Dvarim (13, 21, 26, 28), as opposed to Shmot, where the parallel lines either omit or prefer: Hashem, the Name of Midat HaRAchamim (Mercy), more fitting for the women.

3. The male education not only calls for a stress on more threats (note the small additions in lines 7-8), but also for more incentive of reward (line 30), corresponding to the more physical-oriented men (see the Hebrew article where the general spirituality/religiousity/morality of women as opposed to the more violence and less morality of men, is universally and empirically documented).

4. The additional warnings felt in the atmosphere in Dvarim, is stressed by the extra vav’s between each of the last 5 commandments (lines 32-37).

5. There is an additional allusion to the stronger physical desire found in men in the extra: don’t desire (line 37).

6. Regarding Shabbat, the men (Dvarim) are warned “Shmor” [“Guard”] regarding the many complex details (as in the Mechilta) involved in the serious negative prohibitions and their accompanying death penalty, as compared to the positive and pleasant “Zachor” [“Remember”], observed pleasantly with wine in Kiddush, with no threatened punishment.

7. Similarly, the imposing “mighty Hand and outsretched Arm” of Dvarim (line 23), and humbling “for you were a slave in Egypt” (20), are unnecessary for the women who’s parallel is the more pleasant “rest on the seventh day”.

8. So one shouldn’t think that the more spiritual women always have it easier, the additional stress upon idolatry (extra vav in line 4), may stem from that same feminine spirituality, which when mixed with emotion and a natural leaning to asthetic beauty, can more easily mislead to religious physical statues or pictures, or the similar witchcraft which is uniquely and distinctively geared towards women ("מכשפה" ).4

9. The female audience (Shmot) is first cautioned not to covet their friend’s house, as opposed to the men (Dvarim) who are warned first not to desire their neighbor’s wife (lines 36-38).

10. Similarly, it’s more common for men to covet their neighbor’s farm (line 39), and relate in detail to the laboring ox and mule (line 17), which is less applicable to women, and accordingly omitted in Shmot.

11. Universally, women live longer than men, so the longevity offered for honoring one’s parents (line 29) calls for more external Divine intervention (לשון הפעיל, "יאריכון") in Dvarim, than the ktiv in Shmot (יארכן).

12. The major difference, between the universal Shabbat of Shmot, zecher l’ma’aseh breishit (creation), as opposed to the national Shabbat of Dvarim, zeicher l’yetziat mitzraim (the exodus from Egypt, lines 20-23) is also understood according to our explanation. The dissimilarities between nations are generally more male-related as expressed in national politics, economy, and especially military conflicts. Contrarily, women excel in the more universal field, where motherhood, mercy, family and nurturing are common denominators between all women. International women’s movements have done wonders for the sake of womens’ and childrens’ rights, protesting violence and drugs, and promoting peace.

13. Acccordingly, the male Shabbat is commanded to be actively “done” by force, as opposed to the female Shabbat which is simply and essentially universally blessed and passively hallowed from the time of creation (lines 24-26).

14. Friday night davening, dedicated to the Shabbat Queen ("בואי כלה"), accordingly deals with the universal Shabbat commemorating creation (" ויכולו השמים והארץ..."), and is thought of in the feminine ("וינוחו בה ישראל"), as opposed to the national Shabbat prayer of the morning ("ישמחו במלכותך שומרי שבת, עם מקדשי שביעי... ולא נתתו... לגויי הארצות")), worded in the masculine ("וינוחו בו ישראל"). Mincha combines the two, ( "ומי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ... מנוחת שלום ושלוה...), and accordingly is referred to in the plural ("וינוחו בם ישראל"). Apparently this is what chazal meant when they said, “Zachor was given to the nations, Shamor was given to Israel”.5

15. Regarding the ninth commandment, women cannot serve as witnesses6, but are often kosher to “submit information” to the Beit Din7. Accordingly, in Shmot, the commandment to Beit Ya’akov is "לא תענה ברעך עד שקר", not to lie (the opposite of submitting truthful information8), as opposed to the men, who are used to giving testimony, who are warned not to be an "עד שוא", give extraneous testimony.

In summary, the explanation of chazal in the Mechilta, succeeds in explaining all of the 31 differences between the two sets of the Ten Commandments, thus, b’Ezrat Hashem “solving” one of the oldest and most famous difficulties on these most basic of chapters. If you enjoyed it, do a mitzva and please pass it on as much as possible!!

Shabbat Shalom!

[1] See the comparitive chart at the end of this article, to fully and visually appreciate the diffferences.

[2] This article is a very (!) condensed version of my original article which appeared as"עיון מחדש בכפילות עשרת הדברות" , in  טללי אורות ט (תש"ס), עמ' 79-88 and in the book שירת עלמות, ירושלים תשס"ד, עמ' 160-172, and can be found on the web at:  See there, note 1, for a concise summary of all of the differences previously suggested by Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Kli Yakar, R.Sh.R. Hirsch, Malbim, Meshech Chochma, et al.

[3]  For the sake of clarification, we have followed the classic generalizations of the Mechilta, although we all know that there were always females and males who were more feminine or more masculine. In fact, the Zohar (Yitro 80a) which parallels the Mechilta here uses the term, “masculine men” ("גבר שבגברים"), inferring that there are also girls/women who act more like tomboys, as well as boys/men who thrive more without threatful disciplining. The Mechilta deals with the atmoshperic difference between the two sets of dibrot, and not the linguistic masculine/feminine, for the Torah is gnerally worded in the masculine, as it is here, which stresses all that more when it’s found otherwise (see note

[4] Shmot 22, 17.

[5] Pesikta Rabbati 23.

[6] Baba Batra 155b.

[7] In the unabridged article (see note 2), this is proven at length.

[8] See Minchat Chinuch (122, 3) who differentiates that in the aforementioned cases, women can transgress this prohibition of עדות שקר, but not עדות שווא. See Shvuot 21a, and Hizkuni and Ktav V’haKabbala, Dvarim 5, 17.



Appendix: Chart

Visualizing the 31 Differences

השוואת עשרת הדברות

דברים – פר' ואתחנן – פרק ה

שמות – פר' יתרו – פרק כ


אנכי ה' אלהיך אשר הוצאתיך מארץ מצרים מבית עבדים


לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני


לא תעשה לך פסל


כל תמונה

וכל תמונה


אשר בשמים ממעל ואשר בארץ מתחת ואשר במים מתחת לארץ


לא תשתחוה להם ולא תעבדם כי אנכי ה' אלהיך א-ל קנא פקד עון


אבות על בנים על שלשים

אבת על בנים על שלשים


ועל רבעים לשנאי. ועשה חסד לאלפים לאהבי ולשמרי


מצותו (כתיב)



לא תשא את שם ה' אלהיך לשוא כי לא ינקה ה' את אשר ישא את שמו לשוא





את יום השבת לקדשו


כאשר צוך ה' אלהיך



ששת ימים תעבד ועשית כל מלאכתך


ויום השביעי שבת לה' אלהיך לא תעשה כל מלאכה אתה ובנך ובתך


ועבדך ואמתך

עבדך ואמתך


ושורך וחמרך וכל בהמתך



וגרך אשר בשעריך


למען ינוח עבדך ואמתך כמוך



וזכרת כי עבד היית בארץ מצרים ויצאך

כי ששת ימים עשה


ה' אלהיך




את השמים ואת הארץ את הים וכל אשר בם


ביד חזקה ובזרע נטויה

וינח ביום השביעי


על כן צוך

על כן ברך


ה' אלהיך



לעשות את יום השבת

את יום השבת ויקדשהו


כבד את אביך ואת אמך


כאשר צוך ה' אלהיך



למען יאריכן ימיך

למען יארכון ימיך


ולמען ייטב לך



על האדמה אשר ה' אלהיך נתן לך


לא תרצח ולא תנאף ולא תגנב

לא תרצח לא תנאף לא תגנב


ולא תענה ברעך

לא תענה ברעך


עד שוא

עד שקר


ולא תחמד

לא תחמד


אשת רעך

בית רעך


ולא תתאווה

לא תחמד


בית רעך

אשת רעך





ועבדו ואמתו שורו וחמרו

ועבדו ואמתו ושורו וחמרו


וכל אשר לרעך






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