Parashas Va’Eschanan: Sinai and The Noahide
Rabbi David Katz
In the Parsha of this week, we approach concepts with mammoth proportions, as the very nature of the Ten Commandments quite literally forms the basis of the entire Torah; after all, this is the essence of all of Sinai Revelation! In the scope of this article, we will address a few issues that relate to the Noahide amongst the myriad of issues that one could extract from Sinai. As we know from the Midrash, Shem was actually present at Sinai, as he stood for 1300 years awaiting the time to be freed from his Torah mission, thus Shem was literally present at Sinai. Equally known is that Jethro had left Sinai just before revelation, and this was because he was the Noahide representative of Sinai, and thus perforce he could not attend revelation. Jethro simply had to leave under the concept, “the only repair of schism can come from schism.” Moses and Jethro had to be separate under the Sinai umbrella, for had they been together, eternal Jewish / Noahide schism would endure, as Jethro would then have no need for the Torah of Moses; it would be the Torah of Jethro – to the Noahides. The other two issues at hand in the Parsha come under the Hebrew term “גר” / Ger, which can mean: stranger/Convert to Judaism/ converted soul into the realm of the Holy, i.e. “A Noahide.” The direct offspring of this condition brings light to the concept of the Noahide and his Sabbath, as the verse in Devarim [5:14] that we are discussing in particular, is of the 4th Commandment amongst the 10 Commandments, that addresses the Noahide, and thus begs the question of their Sabbath, and ultimately raises all of the Sinai related questions in relation to Shem and Noahides.
In Devarim [5:14] we are confronted with the following verse: “ויום השביעי שבת ליהוה אלהיך לא תעשה כל מלאכה אתה ובנך ובתך ועבדך ואמתך ושורך וחמרך וכל בהמתך וגרך אשר בשעריך למען ינוח עבדך ואמתך כמוך” / “but the seventh day is Sabbath to Hashem, your God; you shall not do any or all of your work - you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, your ox, your donkey, and your every animal, and your Ger within your gates, in order that your slave and your maidservant may rest like you.” Notice the word highlighted and underlined, “Ger” – this is the word worth a thousand words! As we mentioned in the opening paragraph, a “Ger” can mean a stranger [dweller], Noahide, or a Convert to Judaism. It should be simply understood from the context of the nature of the 4th Commandment in association with the Sabbath that this “Ger” is clearly speaking of a Noahide, or more specifically a “Ger Toshav” – The Noahide by Law who dwells [literally] in the Land. By process of elimination [although not necessary, as the Pshat (simple meaning) is a clear expression as Noahide (Ger Toshav)] by having already clearly seen the Truth expressed in the verse, we can easily eliminate the dweller and the Jewish Convert from context conformation. The Jew is a Jew; obviously he will keep Sabbath, and the dweller would simply not fall under the category of “Ger” in this context, as the Talmudic definition of such a person would be under a different terminology. Thus we have a definitive source going back to Sinai, from the Mouth of Hashem Himself, that the Noahide is present and accounted for at Sinai, and is represented as the resident Ger, for all intent and purposes of distinction.
Now that we have set a precedent that Noahides are Divinely included in Sinai, by the Word of Hashem, one can take the liberty to observe the Noahide presence of Sinai, and what better place to start than the original Sinai Noahide, of whom we learned by the same degree of scholarly usage of the term “Ger”: Jethro, who was the Sinai “Ger” as explained in commentary.
As brought down by the Rambam, a proper Noahide is determined by the subject’s willingness to observe the Seven Laws of Noah as dictated to Moses on Sinai. Once he does so, he is a true Noahide, connected to Sinai, lives within the realm of Torah and her study, and merits the rewards given to such an individual […and should he find the gates of righteousness, he is fit for the World to Come, mentions the Rambam]. Thus there is always a need to be conscious of Sinai, not only for Jews but for Noahides as well. For this we look to Jethro, who stood as the eternal Noahide when he realized that he needed to leave Sinai to gain Sinai. As mentioned above, the repair to schism is from schism, and not the other way around, for the opposite would decree eternal schism from a supposed state of non-schism. It was for this reason that Jethro [of whom Sinai is originally in the Parsha that bears his name!] fled Sinai to prepare the World for the Revelation of Torah, and with high hopes of finding Noahides in the World who would be ready for Sinai under the same terms. From Jethro we see that Sinai and The Noahide are synonymous, no matter how ironic the circumstances are, and as they remain.
Within the 10 Commandments we can find a basis for the 7 Laws of Noah, along with hints of the 3 proactive measures that Jethro took upon himself: circumcision, offering, and ritual bath. The obvious arithmetic of 7+3 = 10 shows the basic hint of the Noahide having a relationship to the 10 Commandments, being that the Noahide is rooted in the essence of Sinai. The revelation of this essence can be found not only with Jethro [and as we will/have show(ed) with Shem] but with our revelation of the word “Ger.” As we have mentioned, the usage of “Ger” came under the condition of the observance of the Sabbath. As the Torah demands upon the Jewish People a proper observance of Sabbath, it is absolutely clear that the Noahide has a portion of some type of Sabbath observance. The commentaries are quite clear in their extractions from the verse that only the maidservant and the slave must observe a Jewish Sabbath; however the Noahide is mentioned along with everyone in the verse as at least being present, yet obviously unique in his worship. It should be obvious from the verse that The Noahide and The Jew can in fact very easily have a Sabbath relationship, as this comes from even an elementary conclusion of the verse. An interesting observation to place one’s intention of mind would be to contemplate the nature of this Noahide Sabbath, and how it inherently differs from the Jewish Sabbath. Although the objectives are different, the concept specifically enters both camps, to the point that the Torah demands a peaceful coexistence between the two, while not desecrating the spirit of the day. In short the Jews and the Noahides have a relationship that extends to the umbrella of Sabbath, one that caters to the spirit of God [and His Day.]
So here we have it; Sinai was an event that contained the Jews, Noahides, Jethro, “Ger[im (plural for Ger)]”, Sabbath for each camp, and the unspoken scholar in residence: Shem!
The Midrash tells that Shem offered the Torah for 400 years, to the tune that only Abraham accepted it fully from Shem. From there, Shem went to Sinai for 1300 years, went through “Sinai” and ultimately was released when King Solomon came with the Torah of David and released Shem, as it was now cemented that the Torah would never be severed from Earth and that there would be a redemption; Shem’s mission was fulfilled. But the essence of what Shem stood for [no pun intended, as he quite literally stood there for 1300 years says the Midrash] was the full potential of Sinai – and it was successful! If Shem went to Sinai on a mission to witness both the Noahide and the Jew would have a root at Sinai, then this was achieved as we mentioned with Jethro and the infamous Ger. The offshoots of the implications of such Noahide reality are endless, and extend into the very service of God in a proactive sense to God from the Noahide. [i.e. Noahide Sabbath!] Once again we can lay tribute to the “Last action was first in thought” – Today Noahides are finding out that Sinai includes them, which will only strengthen their Noahide service as is pointed out by the Rambam, but the real visionary was once again Shem ben Noah, for not only did he pre-empt Abraham to the Temple Mount, but he equaled this by crashing the Sinai party. He didn’t just show up, he was the one that realized this was the place to be, to the tune of 1300 years! The real revelation is to realize that we were all there, and the Torah we seek may very well be found in Sinai Torah. At the very least, the flavor of Shem is there, and that alone is worth investigation, and as always, produces a novel understanding of the Torah and the Noahides as well.