First Person or Second Person

Dear Rabbi,

I really enjoy reading your section in The Jewish Weekly and I would like to ask you a question. We know and have learnt that G-d wrote the Torah. The Torah itself claims that G-d wrote it. So why isn’t the Torah written in the first-person, G-d’s perspective? A verse at the beginning of the Torah says, “And G-d said……” and then the next verse says, “And G-d saw……” Why would G-d write in this way? A way that does not make it clear to us that G-d was the author of the Torah. So why isn’t the Torah in first-person?


Dear Leora

It’s an excellent question. The Ten Commandments switch from first person (the first two commands) to third person (3rd command and on). Nahmanides explains that the Jewish people heard the first two clearly articulated from G-d, whereas the last eight had to be taught by Moses in the third person (because they found the whole experience too overwhelming). This is also alluded to when we find the Torah says, “Torah tziva lanu Moshe” – “Moses commanded us the Torah.” Did he? Wasn’t it G-d? Yet when you add the numerical value of the word Torah you get 611. Indeed 611 of the 613 commandments were communicated over to us by Moses. The initial two of the Ten Commandments were communicated directly by G-d thus ensuring that we would know that the rest came from Him as well.

Moreover, if Moses was talking and he would keep communicating in the first person then that too would have sewn confusion – is this from Moses or from G-d. Some parts would seem totally incomprehensible if written in the first person e.g. the first verse would read “in the beginning I created the heaven and the earth…” this may leave more questions than answers.

Now inasmuch as G-d could have switched the person even if He Himself was articulating that may have confused people to believe that there were two G-d’s speaking.

Finally, The Torah is written “in the language of mankind.” Hence it uses human terms like, “G-d’s wrath,” “G-d’s jealousy” etc. It is a narrative that was chosen by G-d as best to communicate the divine message. “Getting to know G-d” is gradually transmitted through the narrative, stories and subsequent lessons we learn.

Ultimately however, we may never know the real reason for the exact stylistic choices of the Infinite.

The Key To Success Is In Your Challah

Dear Rabbi

There is this concept of making a “key challah” on the Shabbat after Pesach. I don’t know if that means sticking your house key into the Challah (how hygienic is that) or making a Challah into the shape of a key (sounds like fun for pre-school kids). Whichever way, can you please tell me, what on earth is that all about? In fact I heard that this is more a pagan concept which somehow made its way into Judaism. Is that true? Maybe you can let me know this week so I’ll have time to still bake if I am convinced of your answer.



Dear Cynthia

Apparently, keys used to be manufactured in the form of a cross, and at Easter time, Christians would bake them into a rising loaf of bread to symbolize you-know-who rising from the dead. (This is the source of everyone’s favourite, “hot cross buns.”). That is the basis therefore, for some self-acclaimed historians to argue that the custom of making key shaped, or key filled, Challah’s is also sourced in Christian or even pagan culture, and should hence be banished from amongst Jewish tradition.

Certainly there is no issue for one to perform an action customarily done by Jews for righteous reasons, even if there are non-Jews who do so for their own pagan reasons. Moreover, this is a Jewish custom that has been passed from generation to generation and mentioned in numerous sacred texts, and is done for specially Kosher and Jewish oriented reasons then it does not need any defence or legitimisation to legalise its continuity, even if something similar is done in other faiths. We find many other precedents of Jewish customs that can be presumed to have originated from non-Jewish sources, and are nonetheless traditionally done, and defended by the great Halachists through the ages.

As to the actual reason for this custom: Pesach is a particularly auspicious time when Jewish mysticism tells us all the heavenly gates are open. (In fact the 7th day of Pesach is analogous to Neilah on Yom Kippur). After Pesach these same heavenly gates are closed once more. The symbol of the key on the Challah is to show that we are opening the gates slightly through our continued honouring of the Shabbat and our commitment to take the spirit of Pesach with us into the weeks and months ahead. In response, we anticipate that G-d will be sure to open them for us fully once more.

Alternatively, it represents the opening of the gates of sustenance, as after Pesach the manna that fell in the desert ceased, and we were required to fend for our own livelihood. As such, it is considered a special omen for livelihood.

As to whether it involves sticking a key into the Challah or baking it into the right shape, you might want to hedge your bets and do both. Either way, you still have 24 hours from reading this, so get baking.