3 Moses ascended to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "So shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel,
Question: Why the repetitive language?
Answer: Rashi, 19:3
to the house of Jacob: These are the women. Say it to them in a gentle language.
and tell the sons of Israel: The punishments and the details [of the laws] explain to the males, things that are as harsh as wormwood.
A husband and wife came to the rabbi for guidance on resolving their different parenting styles. The wife began: “Isn’t it important to establish rules and regulations, so that kids will know what is expected of them?” “That’s true,” said the rabbi. The husband continued, “Aren’t rules rigid? It’s important that we show our children how much we love them—right?” “That’s true,” nodded the rabbi. Frustrated, the wife responded, “How can what I said be true, and what he said be true as well?” “That’s true, too,” concluded the rabbi.
In this week’s Torah portion, G‑d tells Moses, “So shall you say to the house of Jacob, and tell the sons of Israel.” The verse appears to be redundant. If Moses is told to address the “house of Jacob,” is that not the same thing as talking to the “sons of Israel”?
Rashi’s interpretation is well-known: “The house of Jacob” refers to the women, while the “sons of Israel” is a reference to the men. Moses is advised to talk to the women softly, as indicated by the Hebrew term tomar, “say.” The men, on the other hand, are to be addressed strictly, as is evident from the stronger word tagid—“tell.”
Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar,1 an 18th-century biblical commentator and kabbalist, provides a unique interpretation. He explains that on a deeper level, the verse in its entirety is indicating how Moses should address all the Jewish people, irrespective of their gender.
In general, there are two ways of serving G‑d; each has its advantages and disadvantages. The first level is one who serves G‑d out of fear, like a servant who stands in complete submission to his master. Understandably, this is not considered the optimum level. A higher level is a person whose commitment to G‑d stems from love, much like a child who adores his parent. Yet this level of intimacy may lead such an individual to become “too comfortable” with G‑d, which might lead to a lapse in his uncompromising obedience.
“Jacob,” which means “heel,”2 alludes to a Jew who is in on a lesser spiritual level, whose service of G‑d stems from fear. “Israel,” whose letters can be rearranged to spell li rosh, “to me is the head,” is the name that Jacob was given after having prevailed over Esau. This symbolizes the Jew whose relationship with G‑d is greater because it is inspired by love.
In truth, both love and awe are necessary ingredients to develop a holistic relationship with G‑d. Therefore, G‑d tells Moses to address the Jewish people in a manner that is both loving and awe-inspiring at the same time. Hence, the terms tomar, which denotes softness, and tagid, which implies strictness. To find balance, each Jew has to reflect upon how he or she naturally serves G‑d, and then make sure to incorporate the opposite characteristic. The “Jacob Jew,” who serves G‑d based on awe, has to temper it with tomar, a generous dose of love. While the “Israel Jew,” who serves G‑d out of love, is advised to cultivate some tagid, a good measure of reverence.
The next verse begins with the words, “You saw that which I did to Egypt.” These words provide a deep meditation to simultaneously arouse feelings of awe and love of G‑d. When one contemplates the punishments that G‑d meted out to the Egyptians, he will come to develop a sense of awe, inspired by the unbelievable miracles and supernatural acts, that G‑d initiated. Eventually, his heart will be stirred by love, when he comes to the realization that G‑d turned over heaven and earth because of His profound love for His people.
The verse concludes with the words, “I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you close to Me.” G‑d elaborates on His feelings of love for the Jewish people, using the powerful imagery of an eagle doting on her fledglings. This indicates that although both awe and love are important, ultimately, serving G‑d out of love takes precedence.3.
The giving of the Torah—the cosmic marriage between G‑d and the Jewish people—offers us insight into marriage here on earth. The Talmud teaches us that a husband should love his wife as much as himself—and respect her more than himself.4 Find a happy, newly married couple, and you’ll see two people who are totally in awe of one another and treat each other with the utmost respect. Yet, after a while, the initial admiration is replaced by adoration, a healthy familiarity and closeness. Although the love is much greater and richer, it also has a downside. “Surely, she’ll forgive my grouchy mood and missing smile.” “And if I’m ever abrupt, he’ll take it in stride in the name of love.”
“So shall you say to the house of Jacob, and tell the sons of Israel”: A balanced relationship needs both. So if you find yourself turning into “Israel,” you’ve got to rebound to “Jacob.” And once you are back to “Jacob,” remember that “Israel” is most important, after all. It is the tension between the two that provides the framework of a beautiful relationship.
This concept holds true for any number of relationships, from parenting to educating. It’s a tricky balance of discipline and love, but ultimately, it’s the love that is most important!