The 7 Noahide Laws in the Book of the Covenant

The following talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, on 27 Shevat 5742, is presented with permission from Sichos In English (adapted from Sichos In English, Vol. 12).

In the Torah portion Mishpatim, it states (Exodus 24:4): “And Moses wrote all the words of the L‑rd.” On the words “And Moses wrote,” Rashi explains: “From Bereishis (“In the beginning…”) until Mattan Torah [the giving of the 10 Commandments], and he wrote the mitzvos (commandments) which they were commanded at Marah [1]” (mitzvos [which were new] such as the Sabbath and the red-heifer, [in addition to the Seven Noahide Commandments that had been given previously] — see [Exodus] 24:3, Rashi [2]…) The source of Rashi’s comment seems to be the Mechilta, which brings three interpretations on this verse… [including one that says,] “The mitzvos which Adam was commanded, the mitzvos which the Children of Noach were commanded, the mitzvos which they (the Jewish people) were commanded in Egypt and at Marah, and ‘all the other mitzvos’ ” [i.e., all the other mitzvos they had been given at Marah and up until that time, such as morning prayers and circumcision on the 8th day (from Abraham), afternoon prayers and tithing (from Isaac), evening prayers and not too eat the sciatic nerve of cattle (from Jacob), and the laws of jurisprudence and honoring parents].

The interpretation which Rashi writes “From Bereishis until Mattan Torah, and he wrote the commandments which they were commanded at Marah” is not [the same wording as] any of these [interpretations from the Mechilta]. Rashi, it is true, only quotes interpretations that are consonant with the plain meaning of the verse. But since Rashi’s source is the Mechilta, why doesn’t he interpret our verse according to [the wording of] the Mechilta which is according to the plain meaning of the verse?

…[the interpretation] that Moses wrote “From the beginning of Bereishis until now” (i.e. until Mattan Torah), is according to the plain meaning of the verse. Why then does Rashi think it necessary to add the words “and he wrote the mitzvos which they were commanded at Marah?” Or in slightly different words: “The mitzvos which they were commanded at Marah” are included in that part of the Torah which is “from Bereishis until Mattan Torah.” Why then does Rashi add the seemingly redundant “and he wrote the mitzvos which they were commanded at Marah?”

Three verses later, it states (24:7): “And he took the Book of the Covenant.” Rashi, on the “Book of the covenant,” explains that it consisted of “from Bereishis until Mattan Torah, and the mitzvos which they were commanded at Marah.” There are several perplexing points here. 1) Only three verses earlier Rashi explained the exact same thing. Why does he find it necessary to do so again? 2) In his earlier explanation, he writes: “From Bereishis until Mattan Torah, and he wrote the mitzvos which they were commanded at Marah.” In his explanation three verses later, on verse 7, he writes “From Bereishis until Mattan Torah, and the mitzvos which they were commanded at Marah” — without the words “he wrote.” Why the difference? Indeed, it would have made more sense to omit the words “he wrote” in his explanation on the earlier verse since it is already stated in the verse [itself] that “Moses wrote.”

The explanation of all the above:

The plain meaning of “And Moses wrote all the words of the L‑rd” is that Moses our teacher wrote everything in the Torah that had been said up until that moment. The purpose of writing it was to strengthen and emphasize all the Torah said until then, for when something verbal is written down it assumes more strength and permanence. Although the people had already accepted to do all that G‑d said to them, nevertheless, Moses still wrote all of it down (“Moses wrote all the words of the L‑rd”). Then “He took the Book of Covenant (i.e. that which he wrote down) and read in the ears of the people, and they said: ‘All that the L‑rd has spoken we will do and obey’ ” — for after writing G‑d’s words, they assumed greater significance and strength.

Since the purpose of the writing was to give greater emphasis to the words of G‑d said until then, Rashi cannot explain our verse as the third interpretation of the Mechilta, that only the actual mitzvos were written (and not the stories [of the forefathers] etc.), for in the plain meaning, everything was given this extra emphasis… Hence, Rashi writes that Moses wrote down all the words of the L‑rd “from Bereishis until Mattan Torah (not including what was said at the [subsequent] Mattan Torah itself), and he wrote the mitzvos which they were commanded at Marah.” All these things had already been said to the Jews, and they now, through being written down, received extra strength and emphasis.

The reason why Rashi adds the words, “and he wrote the mitzvos which they were commanded at Marah,” is because these mitzvos were written differently than that written “from Bereishis until Mattan Torah.” In other words, there were two writings: 1) that of “Bereishis until Mattan Torah” and 2) a special writing in regard to the “mitzvos which they were commanded at Marah [including the Seven Commandments for the Children of Noah].”

The reason why Rashi makes a distinction between the two is as follows. It is logical to say that Moses wrote “from Bereishis until Mattan Torah” in the same manner (i.e. the same language etc.) as these sections are written in a Torah Scroll — according to the order of the Torah portions, Bereishis, Noach, Lech Lecha etc. However, in regard to the “mitzvos which they were commanded at Marah,” we cannot say that Moses wrote them in the same manner and language as these mitzvos are written in a Torah Scroll, for the sections of the Torah in which such mitzvos are spoken about (e.g. the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments and the red heifer in the portion Chukas (Numbers ch. 19) [and the universal prohibition of blasphemy in Leviticus 24:10-17] had not yet been given to the Jews on the 4th of Sivan [before the 10 Commandments were spoken by G-d on the 6th of Sivan, after which Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the rest of the commandments for the Jewish people]. Thus, the “mitzvos which they were commanded at Marah” are a separate entity, and were written in a different language and style than how they were (afterwards) written in the Torah. They were written in their own style — the style and language in which Moses said them to the Jews at Marah.

In verse 7, Rashi states that the “Book of the Covenant” consisted of those things “from Bereishis until Mattan Torah and the mitzvos which they were commanded at Marah,” and does not say “he wrote the mitzvos which they were commanded at Marah.” The reason for this is that the verse says “He took the Book of the Covenant” — singular tense, one book. Hence, although there were two separate writings — from Bereishis until Mattan Torah” and a separate writing of the mitzvos commanded at Marah — Moses joined them together and made one book out of them — “He took the Book of the Covenant.” Although the covenant was on both things — the Torah from Bereishis until Mattan Torah and the mitzvos commanded at Marah, it was in the form of one book — Moses had joined them together.

Thus Rashi does not in verse 7 say “He wrote the mitzvos etc.,” for in this verse the emphasis is on the two things as they were bound together (and not on how they were written, separately or otherwise.

Footnotes added by Ask Noah:

[1] See Exodus 15:23-25 – “They came to Marah… there He gave them a statute and an ordinance, and there He tested them.”

[2] Exodus 24:3 – “So Moses came and told the people all the words of the L-rd and all the ordinances, and all the people answered in unison and said, ‘All the words that the L-rd has [previously] spoken we will do.’ ”
Rashi explains: “and all the ordinances”: “The Seven Commandments that the Children of Noah were commanded [to observe], in addition to [Jews keeping] the Sabbath [for the first time], honoring one’s father and mother, [the laws of] the red cow, and laws of jurisprudence, which were given to them in Marah” (quoting from Mechilta on Exodus 19:10, and Tractate Sanhedrin 56b).
Also included were the mitzvos that had been introduced for the Jews by their forefathers, as mentioned above.

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