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My Research on the Bible and Biblical Hebrew

“Diber” or “Dever” – Two Modes of Divine Dialogue with Humankind in a World of Free-Will

The Ten Commandments, in their original biblical Hebrew, are — The Ten Dvarim, or Ten Dibrot (the singular of which is Diber); The Holy of Holies, where the tablets with the Ten Commandments were held in the first and second Jewish temples, is — Dvir; A plague is — Dever‼ All these share a common root in biblical Hebrew — D.B.R (ד.ב.ר).

The main use of this root in Hebrew is a verb… to Speak‼

What???? What is going on here?? Who is speaking to whom?

And how are these most central precepts of Judeo-Christian civilization linked to such a simple everyday verb… “to speak”?

This post answers in detail all these questions, and some else. And the answers are astounding‼

We have formerly addressed, at length, Bible distinction between “say” and “speak“. This distinction is particularly of high significance when it comes to Bible description of God “saying” and God “speaking“. Read, for example, here.

Let us start with a brief review when, in the original Hebrew Bible, God “says” and when does God “speak”. The Hebrew Bible is highly consistent here. The distinction is simple:

  • When God says — this is a monologue; No human response is expected (even though such is sometimes given). An implication of this is that when God says — this is a command; And a command from the Divine is fulfilled, to the letter; No space here for human free-will;
  • When God speaks — this is the start of a dialogue, between Jehovah and a member, or members, of humankind; This is a dialogue typified by recognition, and acknowledgement, of the availability of free-will to the latter (humankind).

Let us address two major “episodes”, described in detail in the Bible — Genesis Creation (of “the heaven and the earth”; Genesis 1); and Divine giving of the Ten Commandments, via Moses, to the Israelites, on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land.

In the Hebrew biblical descriptions of these two episodes, when does God say and when does God speak? Let us learn.

Genesis 1:3:

“ויאמר אלוהים יהי אור ויהי אור”

  • “And God said Let there be light and there was light”.

In Hebrew, the Ten Statements by which God had created the Heaven and the Earth are Asarah Maamarim; Singular — Maamar, of same root, A.M.R (א.מ.ר), as Le-Emor, namely, to say.

God keeps “saying” throughout Genesis Creation narrative, not ever “speaking“. You scan Genesis further on, and you do not find a single instance of God speaking. God is always saying — to Adam and Eve, to Cain and Hebel, and even to Noah, prior Noah’s flood.

Where, in the Bible, does the Divine stops saying and for the first time starts speaking to humankind? The answer is amazing: The first time God speaks to humankind, indeed starting a dialogue between the creator and the created (never ceased since) is after the old corrupt generation of human beings perished in a flood (Noah’s flood), and “New World Order” is finally established‼

Is this a sheer coincidence, that this dialogue starts concurrently with Divine promise, regarding Noah’s flood — “Never again”? Let us read the first Divine speak in the Bible:

  • “And God spoke to Noah, saying: Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and the wives of your sons with you” (Genesis 8:15).

And then, immediately thereafter, Divine assurances:

  • “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake, for the impulse of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis, 8:21).

We move to another historic event, receiving of The Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai by Moses. The Ten Commandments are supposed to be the shield, which God provides humankind to protect against “the impulse of man’s heart that is evil from his youth”. But are these really Ten Commandments? Are there at all Ten Commandments in the Bible?

We read the introductory verse preceding the detailed reading of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-14):

שמות כ:1: “וידבר אלהים את כל הדברים האלה לאמר:”

  • “And God spoke all these words…” (Exodus 20:1).

In the original Hebrew — no commandment‼ Just God speaking. Extremely strange. What did God speak? In Hebrew— Dvarim:

  • “And God spoke Kol Ha-Dvarim Ha-Eleh…” (Exodus 20:1).

However, Dvarim is not “words”. This is an inaccurate translation. In biblical Hebrew, Dvarim is plural of Davar! What is Davar (singular of Dvarim)? The noun of to speak, namely, Davar is simply a verbal utterance, with same root as to speak, implying a dialogue between God and mankind. Alternative forms, which one may find in the Hebrew Bible, are Diber or Dibra. In modern Hebrew, based on Jewish tradition — Aseret Ha-Dibrot. This, in an unfortunate wrong English translation, has become the Ten Commandments‼ But commandments they are not, just Dvarim.

All three forms found in the Bible, Davar, Diber, Dibra, originate in the same root, meaning — to speak; meaning — dialogue between Heaven and Earth, between the Divine and us, the created, mere mortals on the face of Planet Earth.

We will shortly explain why in a world of free-will the Ten Commandments cannot possibly be called such. But let us first ask a required question: Perhaps this notation for the Ten Commandments is still a coincidence! Perhaps in other verses of Exodus, the Ten Commandments are “correctly” specified, namely, as Commandments?

We move to another chapter in Exodus, to find out that the Ten Commandments are addressed, yet again, as Aseret Ha-Dvarim:

  • “… And He wrote upon the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten Dvarim” (Exodus 34:28).

Now, may be Exodus uses the name incorrectly, but in others books of Torah, the Ten Commandments are at last specified “correctly”, as commandments. We move on to the final book of Torah, named in the original Hebrew, not surprisingly… Dvarim (Deuteronomy):

  • “And He declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to do, Aseret Ha-Dvarim, and he wrote them upon two tablets of stone” (Deuteronomy 4:13); Note that the speaker, Moses, is careful to say that God commanded the Israelites to do the covenant, not the Ten Commandments!

In the next chapter, Deuteronomy (5:6-18), the Ten Commandments are repeated by Moses (with slight variations to Exodus), reciting them before the assembled congregation of the Israelites, prior to entering the Promised Land. What is the closing verse? How does Moses conclude reading the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel?

We read, Deuteronomy (5:19):

  • “These Dvarim Jehovah spoke to all your assembly in the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud and the thick darkness with a great voice which was not heard again..”

No commandment‼ Later in the same book, Deuteronomy Ch.10, Moses talks about receiving the tablets the second time, after he had broken the first ones, yet again referring in the same identical and consistent way to Aseret Ha-Dvarim, no commandments:

  • “And He wrote on the tablets, according to the first writing, the Aseret Ha-Dvarim, which Jehovah spoke to you in the mountain out of the midst of the fire…” (Deuteronomy 10:4);

Obviously, when Moses refers directly to the Ten Commandments (not to the covenant), God spoke them, he never commanded Moses, or the Israelites‼

Last example, for use of same root, D.B.R, is the Hebrew for The Holy of Holies, the most sacred space in the temple, where only the High Priest was allowed in, and then only once a year, in the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). How is Holy of Holies denoted in Hebrew? Dvir‼ (mentioned 16 times in the Bible). Again, a derivative of… to speak‼

Why this bizarre way of presenting The Ten Commandments, always and without exception, as resulting from God speaking, never God saying, which would necessarily imply God commanding? How is it that in the original Hebrew, God never commands (“say”) the Ten Commandments?

In other words: What is the root of this mystery and what is lurking behind it? Why the Ten Commandments are not Divine Command, always Divine speech?? The answer:

Free Will

This answer needs clarification. It is twofold, however both components are tightly linked to free-will. They complement one another.

First, note that the Ten Commandments, by definition, cannot be Divine commandments. Calling the Ten Commandments such is contradiction in terms. In Genesis creation narrative, when God commands — this is always fulfilled, to the letter. If God said “Let there be Gravity”, then there would be Gravity, and we, mere mortals, have no freedom to decide whether we wish to comply with it‼

Can we say the same about the Ten Commandments, that being Divine commandments they are invariably fulfilled? When God spoke to the Israelites “Thou shall not murder” (Sixth Commandment), apparently it is not a command for if it were — it would always be fulfilled. Therefore, the Ten Commandments are “only” a Divine declaration, God speaking, within God’s dialogue with humankind.

The second answer is also tightly linked to free-will. A famous Rabbi was once asked (a well-known question):

“Can God create a rock that heavy that even God cannot lift??”

The rabbi shrewdly answered:

“Yes, He already did. It is called Free-Will‼”

Torah, and later the Hebrew prophets, never tire of repeating this message, in no uncertain terms — that we have free-will, and we are free to choose whether to pursue the Ten Commandments, and derivatives thereof; However, we need to remember that this is what God wishes of us, this is what He expects of us to be. Our first answer was that the Ten Commandments cannot be Divine command because if they were — they would always be fulfilled. The second reason, complementing the first (why God spoke the Ten Commandments) is Free-will. In Torah, existence of free-will, granted by God to humankind, is left, right and centre. It is declared therein in no uncertain terms:

דברים ל:15: “ראה נתתי לפניך היום את החיים ואת הטוב, ואת המות ואת הרע”;

דברים ל:19: “העדותי בכם היום את השמים ואת הארץ החיים והמות נתתי לפניך, הברכה והקללה, ובחרת בחיים למען תחיה אתה וזרעך”;

English translation, respectively:

  • “See, I set before you today life and that which is good; and death and that which is bad” (Deuteronomy 30:15);
  • “I call Heaven and earth to witness this day against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; Therefore, choose life that both you and your seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Likewise, Hebrew prophets repeatedly insist:

מיכה ו:8: “הגיד לך אדם מה טוב ומה אדוני דורש ממך כי אם עשות משפט ואהבת חסד והצנע לכת עם אלהיך”

  • “He has told thee, O man, what is good and what does Jehovah requires of you but to do justice and love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

God has bestowed upon us free-will; It is up to us to decide whether we are willing to pursue the Ten Commandments, or, alternatively, to ignore them.

Let us summarize:

Divine commandments, as revealed in Genesis Creation, are not subject to free-will. Law-of-Nature demands total compliance. Since God said these commandments, they represent Divine monologue. No dialogue, no communication. Conversely, The Ten Commandments — they were spoken by God, they are part of a dialogue, God speaking to humankind, expressing what the Divine desires of us. Now it is for us to decide‼

The next required question is this: Why do we have free-will?

If the Ten Commandments are, in the original Hebrew, Ten Dibrot, expressing God speaking (Elohim Medaber, not God saying or commanding), so that free-will is maintained — Why do we NEED free-will? What is the purpose?

There is only one answer: We are here to create ourselves, to give ourselves a form. Each of us is given an opportunity to shape up his or her own world, and this requires free men and women, each maintaining free-will. In abundance…

In Hebrew, when a person has passed away you say: “Ha-Lach Le-Olamo” – literally “Went to his world”! This idiom derives from Qohelet (Ecclesiastes):

קהלת 12:5: “כי הלך האדם אל בית עולמו, וסבבו בשוק הסופדים”

  • “…The man goes to the home of his world, and the mourners go about the streets” (Ecclesiastes12:5);

We, Earth-bound mortals, are doomed to have free-will because it allows us, each, to create and shape up our own specific and special world — via the thoughts that we think, the decisions we take, the words we utter, the deeds that we do. Brick by brick, each of us build our own world; And when we die, this is the world that we are going to dwell in. Bible’s idea and truth, explicitly stated‼ (not my own personal interpretation).

To build our own personal world, our future “home” after we die, free-will is essential. The Ten Commandments are, therefore, not Divine commandments but Divine declaration that God has spoken to us, within his communication to humankind, so that our own personal world, that which we keep creating while alive, be for us a deserving hospitable home, once we die.

How is all these connected to current pandemic? to a plague, Dever (derived from same root as Diber)?

There are two legs to Divine communicating with humankind, God speaking to us, maintaining a dialogue. God speaks to us via the Ten Dvarim (singular of which is Davar), but also through Dever, identically written, somewhat differently pronounced. What is Dever? A plague, that under special circumstance may turn into a pandemic.

Both Davar and Dever derive from same root as “to speak”‼

Could we conceive of a more bizarre link as that between the Ten Commandments and a pandemic? What is this link signalling to us?

Inescapably, it signals to us that as the Ten Commandments is Divine communication — God speaking to us — so is a plague, Dever. And both, put together, signal to us a choice, a simple choice — Either Diber (Ten Commandments) or Dever (bearing the consequence of going astray from the Aseret Ha-Dibrot). This theme is endlessly repeated by the prophets, linking Dever (plague) to Diber (member of the Ten Commandments).

The Bible refers to Dever (49 times) always as a tool in the hands of God to send his punishment for ignoring His Dvarim. Biblical prophets (mostly Jeremiah and Ezekiel) enumerate three adverse Divine responses to human iniquities (violating the Ten Dvarim): “Sword, Famine, Plague”:

The sword (Cherev), Famine (Raav), Plague (Dever).

These are major punishments that Jehovah “sends”, or “judges with”, or “strikes with”, humankind gone astray; And the plague, Dever (like Diber, Commandment), would always remind us, reading the Bible in Hebrew, the double-message of Divine communication with human beings — Both Diber and Dever are Divine speaking, maintaining a dialogue with us not as a collective, but as individuals. The Ten Commandments are all pronounced, in the original Hebrew, as Divine call to the individual. They all are articulated in the singular. A plague is no different: It is striking the individual, not the collective or the community, as in an earthquake (‼). And it is up to each of us, as individuals of free-will, to choose — Diber or Dever:

  • Divine Monologue: “Say” — Law-of-Nature; No free-will; Total compliance;
  • Divine Dialogue: “Speak” — Randomness, granting Free will; and a choice— The Ten Commandments (Diber) or Plague (Dever).

This is our life; this is the basic structure of the world that we are doomed to create for ourselves, while alive; and to dwell in thereafter, ever after‼

5 replies on ““Diber” or “Dever” – Two Modes of Divine Dialogue with Humankind in a World of Free-Will”

B”H
Dear Prof. Shore, I knew that this distinction, which is so explicit in Sanskrit, was embedded into Jewish culture somewhere, probably in the Torah, but I just did not know where or how to look for it. Your explanation makes perfect sense. God knew that I was looking for this explanation and you provided it. To me, this is personal proof that God knows what is in our hearts. Best regards, Marion

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B”H
Thank you, Prof. Shore, for another very interesting and enlightening explanation. As it turns out, there is a parallel in Sanskrit for the say-speak dichotomy. The Sanskrit adjective “dhunatmik” is associated with the “say” aspect of creation. God “said” various aspects of the universe into being, such as light for an example. A “dhunatmik” word cannot be uttered (by humans), written, or read. It pertains to creative acts that only God can do. The opposite of that is “varnatmik” which can be uttered, read, and written. God spoke to each of us individually using the “varnatmik” aspect of words, so we could read, comprehend and make appropriate choices.

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Dear Dr. Ceruti, It is pleasure to hear from you, and thank you for reading and commenting. I was completely surprised by the content of your message, and indeed pleased to learn that such distinction between “say” and “speak” exists in other cultures. This obviously validates the essential truth of this dichotomy. Take care and much blessing, Haim

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