Saturday, October 4, 2014

Essentials Of Judaism — The Sinai Covenant

The Decalogue Codex was engraved on two tablets: the five etched on the first tablet deal with humanity’s relationship with God while the five etched on the second deal with man’s relationship with his fellow man.

Of the 613 biblical commandments, God selected these ten commandments for special attention. He directly communicated them to the Children of Israel without using Moses as an intermediary, and inscribed them on the tablets which were placed in the Sacred Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies.

It is evident that although all the mitzvot 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.

I am the Lord, thy God, who took thou out of the Land of Egypt

It is not beneath God — the Almighty Omnipotent God, 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 controlling all the events which affect our lives.

Thou shall not take for worship other deities in My Presence

God is the Only One Who controls all events and occurrences. No other entity in existence — not your government, not your boss, not your spouse — can benefit or harm you, unless God has so decreed. Every one of us shares a special relationship with God, and no power can interfere with or disturb this relationship.

Thou shall not take the Name of the Lord, thy God, in vain

The aforementioned relationship may indeed be intimate and personal; however, you must never lose perspective — He’s your Creator, not your buddy.

Remember the Sabbath Day to sanctify it

Maintaining this relationship with God requires effort on our part. All too often, we are so immersed in our routines that we forget that in actuality it is our connection with God which matters most. Therefore, God 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 to draw inspiration for the following week.

Honor thy 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 God, we must not forget to express gratitude to those people whom God has empowered to help us in our journey through life. As the Talmud says:
“The wine belongs to the host, but thanks is said to the waiter.”

Thou shall not slay another wrongfully

Murder is a result of one person’s deeming another person totally insignificant. In truth, every human was created by God in His holy image, and therefore has an innate right to exist. The first message we must internalize is the importance of respecting every individual. God thinks this person is important, so should you.

Thou shall not indulge in sexual immorality

Do not commit adultery: Misguided love. Yes, we must be loving, kind and respectful to everyone, but love isn’t acarte blanche which justifies all. There are guidelines which we must follow. Sometimes, faithful love — to a child, student, member of the opposite gender, etc. — entails being severe and abstaining from exhibiting love.

Thou shall not commit foul play upon thy kith and kin

The essence of foul play and deception is utilizing another for personal gain. Focus on being a real friend; don’t be in the relationship only for your benefit. Be there for your friend even when it is uncomfortable or inconvenient for you.

Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor

Do not bear false witness against your neighbor: Every person is a judge. We are constantly observing our acquaintances and friends, judging their every word and action. We must be wary of a tendency to “bear false witness” in the process of issuing our personal verdict. We must always give the benefit of the doubt, taking into consideration various factors of which we may be unaware, ensuring that we don’t reach an erroneous judgment.

Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's possessions

Be happy for your neighbor’s good fortune! All the aforementioned exercises greatly pale in comparison when upheld next to this final message imparted by the Decalogue. After you’ve trained yourself to intellectually respect your fellows and consistently view them in a positive light, it is time to get your heart involved. Love them. Be happy with their accomplishments. Share their sorrow during their difficulties. Don’t be afraid of getting emotionally involved — that’s what family is all about! And family and friends are of the greatest blessings from the Bounty of God.

Although most of the above prohibitions are admonitions against egregious sins which most of us wouldn’t even consider committing, the prohibitions have subtle undertones which are applicable to every person.

— Rabbi Naftali Silberberg, The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute

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