Exploring Lecha Dodi, Part 2: Verse #1 – Shamor V’Zachor

Other entries in this series: Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Last week we discussed the refrain of Lecha Dodi. Now we will move on Verse #1.

“שמור” ו”זכור” בדבור אחד
השמיענו קל המיוחד.
ה’ אחד, ושמו אחד,
לשם, ולתפארת, ולתהילה.

Most fans will tell you with a high degree of certitude that Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player of all time. When he played in the same era as Larry Bird, few would have disagreed that, while Bird was great, Jordan was greater. Against that backdrop, it is fascinating how each fared in 2012: Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats compiled the worst single-season record in NBA history. Bird’s Indiana Pacers made it deep into the Playoffs. Bird became the first person to be named Most Valuable Player, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year in the same Gilgul. Jordan’s accomplishments since he stopped playing have been considerably less noteworthy, while Bird’s star has continued to rise. The lesson: Jordan made better plays, but Bird makes better players.

In this verse of Lecha Dodi we celebrate Hashem not merely as the play-maker, but as the player-maker. שמור וזכור בדבור אחד – Hashem was able to state two seemingly opposite commands simultaneously; but even more impressively and more importantly, השמיענו, קל המיוחד – Hashem also caused us frail mortals to hear those commands simultaneously. That engenders responsibility on our part, and one which becomes important to consider as we enter Shabbat. For if we heard the two words simultaneously, as they were said, we have no excuse but to recognize the equal and overlapping nature of the two commands.

Munk in “Otzar HaTefillot” (Heb. Ed., Vol. 2, p. 12) explains the significance of Hashem’s having השמיענו, caused us to hear, both words at once:

“בדבור אחד” השמיען לנו ה’, שכן כשם שאין בפניו – הא-ל המיוחד – לא ניגוד ולא שניוּת ולא סתירה, כך הוא יתברך תובע (claims/expects) גם ממנו התאמה מוחלטת (determined harmony) בין העיסוק החיצוני (outer actions) (שמור) והיות פנימיותנו (זכור) חדורה (imbued) רצון קודשו.

Is that fair? The expectation made of us in Munk’s conception seems laughable. Just as Hashem is perfectly singular, so should we be singular in our service of Him? Yeah, but He’s Hashem! Easy for Him to say! Furthermore, wasn’t this issue settled on the day that Rabban Gamliel was reinstated to the Beit Midrash, acquiescing to the new standard established in his absence by Rabbe Yehoshua that even those who were not “תוכו כבורו,” whose ideals were not perfectly consistent with their actions, could enter and learn? Where is Rabbi Munk coming from in saying that Hashem expects התאמה מוחלטת בין העיסוק החיצוני ופנימיותנו?

Perhaps the difference between the Gemara and Rabbi Munk’s idea is that the former entails responsibility while the latter engenders opportunity. On the level of integration and exclusion, we cannot eliminate someone from the Beit Midrash on account of their not being תוכו כבורו. However, that does not mean that all who do enter should not consider themselves infused with the necessity to try and reach that level. Bird’s Pacers look to him as a model of what they might achieve, and therefore their efforts catapult them higher. Rabban Gamliel’s problem (and perhaps Jordan’s) was that his approach did not inspire anyone to work to get to the level of תוכו כבורו. Hashem (קל, המיוחד) letting us in on the secret of singularity (השמיענו) doesn’t mean that we have to be God, but it does mean that we have to strive to be God-like. It means that we have to exert the effort necessary to begin the process of living an integrated life in which “זכור” and “שמור” are entwined and in peace, because if Coach believes we can, so should we.

A more careful reading of the Gemara from which our song adapts this line further reinforces the power of the mentor’s belief in his protege:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבועות דף כ עמוד ב
ומאי “דבר אחד הן?” דב”דיבור אחד” נאמרו, כדתניא: (שמות כ’) “זכור,” (דברים ה’) ו”שמור” – בדיבור אחד נאמרו, מה שאין יכול הפה לדבר, ומה שאין האוזן יכול לשמוע.

The Gemara informs us that both the speaking and hearing of two things simultaneously is impossible – as the Gemara says in other places, תרי קלי לא משתמעי, two voices cannot be heard at once. In our case, however, Hashem was the speaker and we (the Jewish People) were the hearers. Granted that Hashem could do anything and, if He so chose, say two words at once. But what about us? Weren’t we still within the province of the usual rules of nature? No – because Coach believed we could.

I remember being a kid and watching the Olympics on TV when the gymnast Terry Strugg hobbled her way to victory with her Coach (a burly Russian fellow – anyone? anyone?) chanting behind her, “You can do it! You CAN do it!” For a while, everyone I knew was imitating him with the same thick Russian accent. The power of that moment was not just what she overcame, but that her coach willed her to victory by believing in her fully from the outset. השמיענו, קל המיוחד is Hashem willing us to victory from the start, more confident than perhaps we are about our ability to live an integrated life where זכור and שמור co-exist with seamless fluidity.

Netiv Binah (Vol. 2, p. 31) comments on the fact that “שמור” is before “זכור” in the song, even though in Chumash “זכור” (which appears in the Aseret HaDibrot in Shemot) comes before “שמור” (which appears in the Aseret HaDibrot in Devarim). Netiv Binah notes that the song needed to begin with a “ש” so that the author’s name, “Shlomo,” could appear in the acrostic. I saw another idea in Sefer Lechem Rav (Rav Moshe Chaim Litsh Masz Sigel Rosenbaum, the Rav of Kleinverdein before World War II and grandfather of a Rebbe of mine who introduced me to this amazing work). The Lechem Rav’s answer is based on the Chatam Sofer. Rashi tells us that the ambiguous “שמור את יום השבת לקדשו כאשר ציוך,” as I commanded you, refers back to Marah, where the Jews received a few commandments, among them Shabbat. The reason for “Zachor” not being recorded explicitly in Shemot (even though the words were both stated simultaneously) is because “זכור” refers to creating physical reminders that Shabbat is here, such as Kiddush, which purpose was served in the Wilderness by the cessation of Manna’s falling on Shabbat. For this reason, “שמור,” which is recorded only in Devarim, was actually taught all the way back in Marah, for “זכור” was not necessary at that time.  That may be why “שמור” is listed first in the song. The Lechem Rav’s idea does not explain why “זכור” is then said in the first recounting of the Dibrot if “זכור” was still accomplished at that time by the Manna’s not falling on Shabbat. Perhaps we can say that the Dibrot in general contain a larger, more pluralistic message relevant to both the generation in the Wilderness (“שמור”) and to future times (“זכור”) while in Marah, where only that generation was spoken to, only “שמור” was necessary.

OK – next week we will have to conclude this verse with some attention to the fact that elsewhere in Tefillah we refer to Hashem’s שם being אחד as a futuristic endeavor (ביום ההוא יהיה), but here we seem to say that it is a current reality (ה’ אחד ושמו אחד). We will also have to consider the three epithets at the end. (Hashem’s שם is אחד for שם? Say what?)

This entry was posted in Lecha Dodi, Tefillah. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Exploring Lecha Dodi, Part 2: Verse #1 – Shamor V’Zachor

  1. Pingback: Exploring Lecha Dodi, Part 1: The Refrain | Classroom Declassified

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