"G‑d then spoke all these words, saying..." (Ex. 20:1)

In all other instances in the Torah where the word "saying" (in Hebrew, "leimor") is used, it means that the message is to be conveyed to a third party. In most cases, it means that Moses is to relate to the Jewish people what G‑d is telling him. In this case, however, there was no third party to hear these words later on: every single Jew alive at the time was at Mount Sinai and heard G‑d say these words. It cannot even be understood as the obligation to transmit the Torah to later generations, for the Midrash teaches us that the souls of every Jew that would exist throughout all of history were present at the giving of the Torah. (Shemot Rabba 28:6; Zohar 1:91a) Every mitzvah is an expression of G‑d's will…

Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Ishmael explain that the word "saying" in this verse indicates that the Jews responded to each of the Ten Commandments. According to Rabbi Ishmael, they responded, "Yes [we will do it]" to the active commandments (such as to honor one's parents), and "No [we will not commit that sin]" to the passive commandments (such as not to steal). According to Rabbi Akiva, they responded to both the active and the negative commandments with "Yes!", meaning, "We will do whatever You say." (Mechilta)

Their difference of opinion may be explained as follows: Every mitzvah is an expression of G‑d's will. In this respect all mitzvot are equal, since they are all equally the will of G‑d. On the other hand, each mitzvah has its particular, unique effect upon the person performing it and upon the world. We are not allowed to relegate G‑d and His Torah to the synagogues and yeshivas

The question of which aspect of the mitzvah should be paramount in the mind of the person performing it underlies the disagreement between the two sages. Rabbi Ishmael maintains that the emphasis must be on the particular aspects of each mitzvah ("yes" to positive commandments, "no" to negative ones), since the purpose of the mitzvot is to bring holiness to all the various and different facets of the individual's life. Rabbi Akiva, in contrast, maintains that the emphasis must be on the transcendent nature of the mitzvot, i.e., how they express man's surrender to the will of G‑d ("yes" to everything).

The Maggid of Mezritch offers an alternative explanation:

Two verbs are used in this verse for speaking: "G‑d then spoke all these words, saying" These two verbs allude to the ten statements with which G‑d created the world (which begin "And G‑d said, let there be…") and the Ten Commandments (which are introduced with "G‑d then spoke…"). Thus this verse can be read as follows: "G‑d spoke all these words" (meaning G‑d gave the Jewish people the following commandments) in order that they be implemented within and have an effect upon His "saying" (i.e. the physical world created through the ten decrees).

Even when there is no one else to transmit the Torah to, further transmission is still required. It is not enough for a Jew to study the Torah; he must ensure that it permeates every aspect of his life, such that everything that he does, says, or thinks is a result of his connection with the Torah. This is the point of the word "saying": that the Torah not remain as it was when G‑d told it to the Jewish people, but rather that it be implemented and actualized within the physical world.

We are not allowed to relegate G‑d and His Torah to the synagogues and yeshivas. Whatever a person does and wherever he goes, he must be accompanied by the same consciousness of divinity as is present during his times of prayer and Torah study.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 6, pp. 124-5; vol. 1, pp. 148-9
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org