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The Ten Commandments

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

The idea that out of 613 mitzvos Hashem handpicked ten for special highlighting on the two luchos, the two tablets, leads to a lot of fascinating speculation. Let me share some of my musings with you.

The three most vital relationships for a man are his marital relationship, his relationship with his children, and finally his relationship with his parents. I have always wondered why, of those three vital relationships, the Ten Commandments only mentions one, namely, “Kabeid es avicha v’es imecha – To honor your father and your mother.” Why is it silent about the spousal connection which is perhaps the closest of all relationships and why does it not make mention of the responsibility of chinuch, to educate our children? Perhaps we can answer that parents are the only one of the three relationships that every person must have for, while some people will sadly never get married and others unfortunately will not have children, everyone must have parents.

[As an important aside, I would like to note that there is a difference between those who don’t have children and those who never marry for, while there are some who are Divinely slated to be childless, everyone has a specifically designed mate. As we are taught, “Arboim yom kodem yetziras havlad, bas kol machreses v’omeres tipa zu l’ploni – Forty days before the creation of one’s embryo, the Divine echo announces this drop is destined for so and so.” If one does not marry, it is only because they didn’t do the proper hishtadlus, the proper effort.]

Getting back to our answer, one might wonder about an orphan who never knew his parents – like the Talmudic figure Abaye. [We are taught that when Abaye was conceived his father died and when he was born his mother died.] The answer is that even when one’s parents are no longer living, there is still a mitzvah of kibud av v’eim, to honor one’s parents, even after their demise. As a matter of fact, the Zohar teaches that the mitzvah of honoring parents is even greater when they are already in the Afterlife since, at that time, they rely solely on our sending them packages of merit through our charity and mitzvos.

A further observation and question I always had is why the Ten Commandments do not include the most important of all mitzvos, the study of Torah? After all, we are taught that ‘Talmud Torah k’neged kulom,’ the study of Torah equals all of the other mitzvos, and we know that it is the very purpose of creation, as it says in Pirkei Avos, “Ki l’kach notzarta – It is for This [Torah] that you were created.” Furthermore, when the Roman general Vespasian told the great Rebbi Yochanan Ben Zakai that he was commissioned to destroy Yerushalaim and he offered Rebbi Yochanan Ben Zakai a boon, Reb Yochanan asked him, “Tein li Yavnah v’chachamehah – Grant me clemency for the yeshiva of Yavnah and her sages.” What he was saying is that, upon the destruction of the Temple, the very future of Klal Yisroel hinges upon Torah. As we are taught, “Ein l’HaKodosh Boruch Hu b’olomo ela daled amos shel halachah bilvad,” that all that Hashem has in the world is the four cubits of Torah decisions alone.”

You might answer that the Ten Commandments are universals and for all mankind, and therefore they don’t include the mitzvah of Torah study. However, this is not true for the Ten Commandments include the Fourth Command of Shabbos and Shabbos is reserved only for the Jewish People, as it says, “Goi she’shavas chaiyav misah – A gentile who keeps the Sabbath transgresses a capital offence.” Then you might attempt to answer that the Ten Commandments are to be equally applicable to Jewish men and Jewish women while the mitzvah of Torah study is reserved only for men. But, the idea that the Ten Commandments are totally egalitarian is also incorrect, because the Ninth Commandment, “Lo sa’ane v’rei’acha eid shoker,” not to testify falsely about your neighbor, is reserved only for men since women do not give testimony in a Jewish court. So, once again we are left perplexed why the Ten Commandments do not include the awesome mitzvah of Torah study.

Perhaps, you might next suggest that the mitzvah of Torah study doesn’t fit into the dual ‘thematics’ of the mitzvahs of the Ten Commandments for, as we know, the First Tablet discusses mitzvahs ‘bein adom l’Makom,’ the commandments between us and Hashem, like belief in G-d, the prohibition against idolatry, Shabbos, etc., while the Second Tablet discusses the mitzvahs ‘she’bein adom l’chaveiro,’ those commandments between us and our fellow man, such as the prohibitions against murder, adultery, and kidnapping. You therefore might argue that the study of Torah doesn’t fit into this set-up for it’s not a relationship mitzvah. This also is incorrect for the Torah is very much a relationship activity between us and Hashem as we are taught, “Yisroal, v’Oraisah, v’Kudsha berich Hu, Chad hu – The Jews, the Torah, and Hashem, are One.”

I’d like to suggest the possibility that Torah study is indeed included as a very integral part of the Fourth and Fifth Commandments. The Fourth Commandment is to keep the Shabbos day. The Torah dictates to us, “V’yom haShvi’i Shabbos l’Hashem Elokecha – And the Seventh day should be a day of rest to Hashem your G-d.” This means that our Shabbos pursuits should be G-dly ones. In practical definition this translates to spending more time in prayer; as we say, “Mizmor shir l’yom haShabbos; tov l’hodos l’Hashem – A song for the Shabbos day; it is good to thank Hashem,” for while during the rest of the week we are constantly dashing out of shul to catch a bus or meet a client, Shabbos is the one day each week when we should be able to take our time in shul and linger over the beautiful words of our tefillos. How sad that so many people have become clock-watchers in the synagogues on Shabbos and get tetchy and irritable if the davening is going a few minutes longer than usual. The other pursuit of Shabbos dedicated to Hashem is of course the study of Torah. Hashem wanted everyone to have a chance to dedicate himself to the study of Torah so He gave all of us a one-day-a-week spiritual oasis called Shabbos for Torah study.

The Fifth Commandment, honoring our parents, also includes the mitzvah of Torah study in a very concrete way for the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch informs us that the best way to honor our parents is to do as many mitzvahs as we can for then the people who see us living righteously will comment, ‘Look what a good job his or her parents did in raising them.’ This is especially true when a child studies Torah, as the Gemora comments about a great Torah sage, “Ashrei yuladeto – Fortunate are the parents who gave birth to him.” Thus, we see that study of Torah is directly included in the Fifth Commandment as well.

Here’s another fascinating observation about the Ten Commandments. We all know that there is beauty in symmetry. The human face is perfectly symmetrical. Both eyes are equidistant from the nose, which is perfectly centered. Both ears are symmetrically positioned with the mouth perfectly centered as well. Surprisingly, the Ten Commandments are absolutely not symmetrical. The right side of the Ten Commandments, which speak about our relationship with Hashem, starts off with belief in G-d, which is a mitzvah of the mind. Then it goes to not saying Hashem’s name in vain, which is a mitzvah of the mouth, finishing-off with Shabbos and honoring your parents, which are mitzvos of action. Then, surprisingly, the left side, which speaks about our relationship with our fellow man, does just the opposite – starting off with the prohibitions against murder, kidnapping and adultery, which are mitzvahs of action, going on to not testifying falsely which is a mitzvah of the mouth, and finally ending-off with, “Lo sachmod,” not to covet, which is a mitzvah of the mind. Why does It make this switch-a-roo? Why such a reversal?

I once heard a beautiful explanation that, when it comes to the mitzvahs between Hashem and us, there are many people who say, ‘It’s enough to have a Jewish heart. G-d doesn’t need my prayers and rituals,’ to which Hashem replies, ‘That is incorrect. You must progress from believing in Me with your mind, to honoring Me with your mouth, and eventually to doing mitzvahs for Me even with your actions.’ On the other hand, when it comes to our relations with our fellow men, many people have the attitude, “‘Sticks and stones can break bones, names won’t every hurt anyone,’ and what I am thinking is surely no one’s business.” To this sentiment, Hashem responds, ‘Absolutely wrong. Not only must you behave with your fellow man with proper actions, you must also control your speech and even learn to regulate your thoughts.’

Indeed, the Torah practices spiritual mind control. As it says, “Lo sisnah es amicha bilvavecha – You should not hate your friend in your heart,” and, “Lo sisah – You shall not bear a grudge.” This is why, referring to us Jews, the Torah gives us the directive, “Kedoshim tihiyu – You should be holy,” for to be truly holy, one must be pure even in the way they think.

In the merit of our Torah study and observance, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.

Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss