The Ten Commandments:
Sources & Analysis Questions

1. The First Commandment:

"I am G-d..."
                                        Shemot, 20:2

It is accepted that these words are a commandment, as explained here:

"To believe that in the world there is only one G-d who, by His will
and His strength, created all which exists as it has been is and will
be. He brought us out of the land of Egypt and gave us the Torah, as it
says in the beginning of the Law-Giving: "I am the L-d, your G-d, Who
brought you out of the Land of Egypt and the house of bondage."

"These words must be undertood as if it had been expressed in the
following manner: 'Know and believe, that in the world there is a
G-d,' for the word "I" indicates existence, and the words "Who brought
you forth" require that you should not imagine that the Exodus from
Egypt and the accompanying miracles were accidental, but you should
realize that "I brought you forth", because He desired this and was
concerned about you, in the light of the promises He made to your
forefathers."
                                                Sefer HaHinuch, 25


Teacher Focus

Comprehension:

  • What does the first of the Ten Commandments comprise?
      [This question can be used to study all the commandments]
  • What does the word "I" signify?
  • Why does the Torah use the expression, "Who brought you forth from the land of Egypt?"

In-depth study:

  • In your opinion, why does the Torah say: "Who brought you forth from the land of Egypt", rather than: "Who created Heaven and earth"?
  • What is the connection between faith in G-d and the Exodus from Egypt?

Additional Study:

  • In your opinion, can one demand of a person to believe in G-d?
  • How can the commandment demand of one to "believe"?

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2. The Second Commandment:

The second commandment is a continuation of the first. It forbids belief in the existence of any
other gods, i.e., objects of worship, beside the Almighty. It also forbids the making of any images for worship. In the synagogue, it is for this reason that there are no images and no pictures to be
found. Furthermore, when a Jew prays - wherever he or she may be - s/he never faces any image form.

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3. The Third Commandment:

"Thou shalt not take the name of the L-d thy G-d in vain"

"The Sages of the Talmud explained this commandment as follows: It is forbidden to swear using the name of the Almighty in vain. For example, it is forbidden to swear to something that is false or obviously true, such as that a marble column is made of gold or - conversely - that it is marble, when the fact is visible to all. In the simplest context, this commandment forbids the enunciation of the
name of the Almighty in vain, needlessly."
                                                         Rambam, Mishneh Torah, 20/7

Teacher Focus

Comprehension:

  • How does the Rambam interpret the expression, "in vain"?
  • Is it permissible to swear that the sun will rise tomorrow?
  • Discuss on what occasions it is permissible to use the name of the Almighty.
    [Prayers, Torah readings]

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4. The Fourth Commandment:

"Remember the Sabbath day...."

In-depth Study:

  • Can one work, other than on the Sabbath?
  • Should one work, other than on the Sabbath?
  • What is meant by the following: "Six days shall you work and do all of your work"? Is it possible to complete all one's work?
  • Is one permitted to make a servant work on Shabbat?
  • In commemoration of what particular event was the Sabbath established as the day of rest?

Moshe [Moses], who repeated the Ten Commandments 40 years later to a new generation that had not been present at Sinai, said:
 "You shall do no form of work, neither you, your son, your daughter, your slave nor your bondswoman... and you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt."
                                                                  Devarim 5: 14-15

  • In your opinion, why is the fact that we were slaves in Egypt recalled in connection with a day of rest, as a basis for the commandment?

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5. The Fifth Commandment

"Honor thy father and thy mother"

The Ten Commandments were inscribed on two tablets of stone - five on the first and the remaining five on the second tablet. It is quite usual to see the two tablets of the Law depicted in synagogue art.

The Ramban explains that the five commandments on the first tablet are those relating to man's obligations to the Almighty, while the other five regulate human relations.
The question therefore arises as to why the commandment ot honor one's parents appeared on the first tablet, rather than the second. His answer is that one's parents must be honored for the same reason as the Almighty, because they are also one's "creators":
"Three partners are involved in the conception of a person - the Almighty, the father and the mother. When a person fulfils the precept of honoring his or her parents, the Almighty declares, 'I consider that I am dwelling among you Myself.'"

Teacher Focus

In-depth Study:

  • Define what you understand by the word to "honor" someone.
  • Apply this to dilemmas in the context of family relations:
    - What happens if parents and children disagree over one's choice of friends, the time to  come home at night, the choice of a career?
    - Is there a different solution which would allow a young person a measure of independence and enable him or her to still honor a parent's will?
    - If a child, now adult, chooses a different lifestyle, chooses to live in Israel, or chooses to become religious and the parent[s] disagree, is the solution different again?
    - What happens if one's parent is wicked, or a criminal? Does a child old enough to understand this still have to honor him or her -- and if so, how?
  • One's parents as one's "creators". How have your parents continued  to fashion you as a person? What is your own relationship and sense of closeness to your parents?

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6. The Sixth Commandment

"Thou shalt not kill"

The original Hebrew term is the verb root "resh-tzaddi-het", employed only in the connotation of a killing forbidden by law. In all other cases, a different verb "heh-resh-gimmel" is utilized. This is because the Torah, on certain occasions, authorizes us to use force to the point of killing, such as in defense of one's family from an assailant or a murderer, where it is permitted to slay the attacker without this being defined as murder, should no other alternative exist. It has been erroneously interpreted by some to mean that all forms of killing are forbidden as a pretext for avoiding military service, but this interpretation is not substantiated in any Jewish sources or traditions.

Teacher Focus

In-depth Study:

  • Is someone else's life sacrosant at all costs? Why/why not?
  • What constitutes illegal taking of life [murder] in the Torah? Draw examples from contemporary events in your own society.

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7. The Seventh Commandment:

"Thou shalt not lie"

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8. The Eighth Commandment:

"Thou shalt not steal"

"To steal is to take items without the consent of their owner. For certain types of theft, the presribed penalty was death. For example, the theft [kidnap] of a person with the intention of selling him [or
demanding a ransom]. The same is prescribed for concealed theft of belongings from their owners or robbery in front of their eyes, as well as fraudulent acounting, fraudulent weights and measures."
                                                                             Ibn Ezra

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9. The Ninth Commandment:

"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor"

This is also a prohibition on slander and libel of others, although it refers literally to presenting false evidence in court.

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10. The Tenth Commandment:

"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, nor his wife, his slave, his bondswoman, nor his bull, his ass, nor anything that belongs to thy neighbor."

"It comes as a surprise to many that one can demand of a person not to covet a particular item. Let me give a simple parable:
        A simple villager will not fall in love with a princess,
        because he realizes that marriage between them would be
        unattainable and the farmer doesn't want to go out of his mind
        like someone who dreams of having wings and being able to fly.
        A man isn't interested in marrying his own mother, no matter
        how beautiful she is, simply because that is how he has been
        educated from childhood.
"In the same way, a person must realize that that which belongs to others is forbidden him [her], just as much as he will never sprout wings and fly."
                                                            Ibn Ezra

There is, however, another interpretation of this commandment:
"Anyone who wishes to acquire a slave, bondswoman or ornament belonging to someone else -- or any item which can be purchased for money -- and who attempts to persuade the owner to sell it to him for a substantial sum, even if he pays for it, has broken the commandment of 'thou shalt not covet.'"
                                        Rambam, Sefer HaDibrot, Prohibitions, 265.

Teacher Focus

In-depth Study:

  • Discuss the difficulties of respecting the ninth and the tenth commandments in everyday life.
  • Are there personal or social steps which can be taken to make it   possible to observe them?


 

 

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19 Mar 2007 / 29 Adar 5767 0