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The Ten Commandments: The Inside Story

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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The Ten Commandments were engraved on two tablets. The five commandments etched on the first tablet deal with Man’s relationship with G-d; the second tablet contains five commandments which concern Man’s relationship with his fellow Man.

Of the 613 Biblical commandments, G-d selected these ten commandments for special attention. He directly communicated them to the Jews without using Moses as an intermediary, and inscribed them on the tablets which were placed in the Holy Ark within the Holy of Holies. It is evident that although all mitzvahs are vital, the five carved into the first tablet were chosen because they form the basis of our relationship with the Creator, while the latter five serve as the foundation of our relationship with fellow people. The following is an attempt to delve briefly into the deeper meaning of the Ten Commandments.

First Tablet:

1. I am the L-rd, your G-d, Who took you out of the Land of Egypt: It isn’t beneath G-d – the A-mighty omnipotent G-d, before Whom “all is considered like naught” – to personally interfere in the workings of this world, to liberate a persecuted nation from the hand of their oppressors. We can always trust that He is watching over us attentively and controls all the events which affect our lives.

Although all mitzvahs are vital, the five carved into the first tablet were chosen because they form the basis of our relationship with the Creator, while the latter five serve as the foundation of our relationship with fellow people
2. You shall not have other gods in My presence: G-d is the only one who controls all events and occurrences. No other entity – not your government, not your boss, not your spouse – can benefit or harm you, unless G-d has so decreed. Also, every one of us shares a special relationship with G-d, and no power can interfere and disturb this relationship.

3. You shall not take the name of the L-rd, your G-d, in vain: The above described relationship may indeed be intimate and personal, but you must never lose perspective—He’s your Creator, not your buddy. Just as “familiarity breeds contempt,” so, too, prayer three times a day can dull one’s senses and cause one to lose some of the reverence due to the King of kings.

4. Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it: Maintaining this relationship with G-d requires effort on our part. All too often we are so immersed in our daily routine that we forget that in actuality it is our connection with G-d which matters most. Therefore, G-d commanded us to allocate one day every week for “relationship maintenance.” This is the Sabbath, a day to focus on the real priorities in life, and draw inspiration for the following week.

5. Honor your father and your mother: Why is this commandment included in the “between Man and Creator” tablet? Doesn’t this command belong on the second tablet? Perhaps the lesson is that although we owe everything to G-d, we must not forget to express gratitude to those people whom G-d has empowered to help us in our journey through life. As the Talmud says: “The wine belongs to the host, but thanks is [also] said to the waiter.”


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Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.