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   by Jacob Solomon

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The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments' first five listings are lengthy. The first - I am the Lord your G-d is illustrated by 'who brought you out of Egyptian slavery' (20:2). The next one, forbidding idolatry is accompanied by dire warnings of His Retribution for those who so indulge, and promises of good things for those 'who love Me and observe My Commandments' (20:6). The third - 'not taking My Name in vain' is reinforced with: 'For G-d will not absolve anyone who takes His Name in vain (20:7). The fourth - 'Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy' (20:8) and the fifth 'Honor you father and mother' (20:11) - are framed positively: 'The Seventh Day is a Day of Rest' (20:10) and 'So that you live for a long time' (20:11). Thus each of the first five Commandments are presented in specific contexts.

By contrast, the last five are staccato. 'Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not give false testimony. Do not covet…' (20:13-14) Why are the first five Commandments treated at much greater length than the second five Commandments?

In response - there is one Commandment that is just not there. That is belief in G-d. Though they open with 'I am the Lord your G-d who brought you out of Egypt', the text does not actually demand that you must believe in Him.

This could well be because conduct can be regulated, but belief cannot. Belief is not a choice. It is not heredity. It must come from the person.

However, observing the first five Commandments enables that belief to grow on its own accord. This is elaborated below.

The First Commandment is to recognize G-d who 'brought you out of Egypt' - which in a wider context is recognition of the things that happen to people against all odds, towards which the perceptive see the Hand of G-d. Hakarat hatov - gratitude - is also within the Fifth Commandment - honoring parents. [As a general rule, parents love their children far more than the children love their parents.] It is that same quality which can come to a realization of the Presence of G-d - when looking at all the great things that the Creation supplies. The Second Commandment gives room for that belief to happen - by forbidding idolatry, and threatening unpleasant consequences to those who attribute success in life to pagan philosophies. The implication is: just try it, and see for yourself what happens. As Moses warned the Israelites before his death: 'They shall say [that all those disasters took place] because they abandoned G-d who took them out of Egypt. They went and worshiped foreign gods' (29:25). In other ways, those who follow idols meet G-d the hard way. The same applies to the Third Commandment - those who swear falsely: 'For G-d will not absolve anyone who takes His Name in vain'. And the fourth - The Sabbath - enables the committed to sense the Shechina - the Divine Presence, which becomes more intense on that day as one interacts with it, by abstinence from worldly matters and following the Shabbat program of activities.

So it may be argued that the first five Commandments are put down in more length, as their supplementary material supplies the means that once believes in G-d. That is the essential foundation to accept the teachings of His Revelation - the Ten Commandments, which (following Saadia Gaon) head the 613 Mitzvot.

On the other hand, the last Commandments: 'Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not give false testimony. Do not covet…' just do not require elaboration. The common decency that underlies them are the norms of society - including the idolatrous…

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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