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In Exodus 20:3 the words lo yihyeh ( לֹא יִהְיֶה־לְךָ) are often translated as: 'you shall not have'. The base word is היה (hayah) meaning "to exist." Which reminded me of the Adon Olam phrase: 'V'hu hayah, v'hu hoveh, v'hu yihyeh'.

Shouldn't the phrase be rendered as: 'not to exist to you' i.e. other gods shouldn't exist to us?

Yihyeh could also be understood as: 'To be' as in "yihyeh tov, it'll be good, yihyeh tov ken, yes, it will be good", so that the phrase could be read as: 'there aren't to be any other gods'.

Because HaShem teaches us many times not to make idols for ourselves I wondered if yihyeh could be rendered in anyway as 'to be made', so that it could be read as “You shall not make any gods” also.

To put it simple: Could the verse be rendered in other ways (based on the words used) to deepen out it's meaning?

  • If you ask about the Hebrew language - in Hebrew לא יהיה means "will not have", as in the present יהיה is translated as יש - this is clear (I'm a native speaker), e.g you can say to your kids - "לא יהיה לך חופש" or "לא יהיו לכם שיעור בית". However, if you ask Halachicly, you can interpret it in any way you like as long as it does not contradict the existing Halachah. – Al Berko Jul 14 '18 at 18:49
  • @Al Berko I agree completely. – Levi Jul 15 '18 at 7:41
  • Where are you getting this translation from? If I had to translate the phrase, I’d say the most literal translation would be “there may not be to you,” as you indicate. Who translates it as if it used a possessive? – DonielF Jul 16 '18 at 0:07
  • @DonielF: from the Sefaria website: "You shall have no other gods besides Me", Chabad.org reads: "You shall not have the gods of others in My presence", normally I would look at Mechon Mamre but they use the words "You shall not make unto thee (לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה לְךָ) " instead. Which is why I gave my last interpretation of yihyeh possibly be rendered as 'to be made'. – Levi Jul 17 '18 at 12:35
  • @Levi The words לא תעשה לך actually appear later in the Dibbur. Are you sure you’re not just looking at the wrong passuk? – DonielF Jul 17 '18 at 13:58
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R' Samson Raphael Hirsch's translation1 of this verse is similar to the convention you cite:

Thou shalt have no other God before My Presence.

However, R' Hirsch's commentary on this verse does sound very much like it's directing us to take the phrase "לא יהיה" to mean an absolute negation of being1:

... If God is God, then everything except Him is "no-god", everything besides Him is only His creation, His servitor, every fibre of its being, every atom of its power is dependent on Him. The greatest and tiniest achievement is entirely dependent on His sole free almighty Will. Before His Presence, — and this Presence comprises the whole universe, — there can be no other god, not the remotest idea of the possibility of any such other god shall be given space in our minds. ...


1. As translated from German into English by Dr. Isaac Levy.

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The two phrases are not directly related to each other; meaning, we don't make a gezerah shava between the yihyeh's to give them the same context/definition(so to speak). I don't know of any tradition that does so, that we may learn from it.

In Adon Olam, the phrase proclaims that God's existence was(haya), is(hove), and always will be(yihyeh); meaning that God's existence and presence spans throughout the past/present/future(all at once!).

In the mitzvah of "lo yihyeh lecha elohim acherim al panai"; the meaning is that one is forbidden to make an elohim(a god; the non-holy word for deity according to the Torah) on the face of God, as if he/she/it is God. It is forbidden to ascribe God-like holiness to any created being or physical entity; to do so is forbidden by the Torah in the second commandment(of the ten commandments). It is also a fundamental part of accepting God(commandment #1 of the ten commandments) in that it rejects/forbids belief in something else alongside God as the Creator and Ruler of the universe. To fulfill the first, without fulfilling the second, is tantamount to not fulfilling either of the two commandments.

For further explanation, see here:https://torah.org/learning/halacha-overview-chapter4/

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