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   by Jacob Solomon

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The Ten Commandments open with:

'I am the Lord your G-d who brought you out of Egypt, from slavery' (20:2).

The first five of the Ten Commandments addressed to the Israelites contain detail. The elaborations include divine punishment for those who follow pagan practices of worship and swear falsely in G-d's name. They also promise blessing and reward to those faithful to G-d's service, parents, and observance of the Holy Sabbath: 'therefore G-d blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy' (20:11). As one worships G-d out of hakarat hatov - sincere gratitude, one similarly respects one's parents 'so that your days may be many on the land that G-d gives to you' (20:12).

In contrast, the next four commandments are brought tersely - without commentary. 'Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not give false testimony' (20:13). The last one - 'Do not covert' (eye enviously someone else's property), however, is expanded with the objects of coverting: 'neither his wife, servant, maidservant, ox, donkey, nor anything else belonging to him' (20:14).

Thus the details are not evenly spread among the Ten Commandments. The ones most fully described tend to be between Man and G-d. The five latter ones between Man and his neighbor - with the exception of: 'Do not covert' stand as they are - headings, without further comment.

This discrepancy may be explained in the following way.

Earlier on, the Giving of the Torah opens with the Covenant. Through Moses, G-d tells the Israelites that 'if you keep my commandments… you shall be an am segula - a treasured people… a kingdom of priests and a holy nation' (19:5-6). The Sforno writes that though all peoples and nations are precious to G-d, the act of accepting the Covenant makes the Israelites the most precious.

Accepting and carrying out the seven basic laws of humanity (c.f. Gen. 9:4-7) is what enables all peoples and nations to be loved by G-d. They are stressed in the Ten Commandments with: 'Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal'. The seven basic laws include institutionalized justice. For that to work, the Commandments reinforce with 'Do not give false testimony'. These codes were familiar to the Israelites, as well as to other nations. And the Israelites needed to be constantly reminded of them.

But that alone is not what makes Israel the most precious to the Almighty. It is the acceptance of His Omnipotence - He alone is the Source of All Things. And it is the taking that very concept into one's daily existence that establishes the relationship with G-d which gives the Israelite the status of 'the most precious'.

And this may explain the reason for the presence of more detail in the tenth commandment - 'Do not covert'. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch implies that last commandment puts the personal acceptance and internalization of G-d's absolute supremacy into practice. A mortal ruler can legislate against murder, adultery, theft, and perjury. But the act of coverting is known to G-d only. Refraining from it puts into practice the notion that G-d is indeed watching all the time - our thoughts and intentions, as well as our deeds…

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

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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