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The Ten Commandments Don’t Exist (Yitro 5778)

by in Yitro .

There are not ten Commandments in the Decalogue; there are only nine. There are ten Statements though, which is why we call them the Asseret Ha'Dibrot (Ten Statements), not the Ten Commandments. According to the way we count the Decalogue, the first is not a commandment at all, it merely states: “I am Hashem your Divine Power[1] who removed you from Egypt, from a place of slavery.” (In the Christian version, the first commandment includes:  “You shall have no other gods before me;” but in the Torah this is part of the second statement.) There seems to be no commandment at all in the first statement. What is the purpose of this first statement then, is it merely informational?

There is another place in the Torah where we have ten statements. These are the Assarah Ma’amarot (Ten Sayings) with which the world was created at the beginning of Bereishit (Genesis). Each time it says Va’yomer (‘and He said’) is counted as one saying. According to the Zohar[2] these ten sayings of Bereishit line up to parallel the Ten Statements in Shemot (Exodus). The first saying of Creation is “And Hashem said let there be light,” according to the Zohar. This saying lines up with the First Statement of the decalogue, “I am Hashem your Divine Power.” The parallel between these two phrases, the one describing the creation of light and the other describing the power of G-d in our personal lives, explains the significance of the First Statement, “I am Hashem your Divine Power who removed you from Egypt, from a place of slavery.”

The light referred to on the first day of Creation cannot mean light in the literal sense of how we know light today because the sun and other luminaries had not yet been created. The light referred to on that first day, was energy, it was Divine energy. This energy could of course produce light, and now, knowing E=mc2[3]   we understand that this energy could produce all the energy and matter from which Hashem created the universe.

A further, metaphoric meaning of light is that which facilitates the sight and understanding of things that were previously obscured in darkness; hence terms such as enlightenment and insight. Appreciating this dimension of the word light, allows us to better appreciate the First Statement to which the creation of light aligns. Knowledge of Hashem as the source of Divine Power provides us with the light by which we can gain insight into the entire Torah, our lives and all of history, and find meaning in them. Knowing that there is such a thing as Divine Power and that as individuals we can access this power, is the foundation not only of every other mitzvah and all of Torah, it is also the lens through which we view and interpret life and history.

Consider the story of Dunkirk in the Second World War. We can read the story as secular history, and it is interesting and inspiring. But seeing it through the lens of the First Statement gives it a different complexion. Seeing this event through the lens of Emunah (knowledge of the Divine Power) attaches moral value to the event. This is Hashem engaging with the world, influencing the course of history, beginning in modern times once again the act of “taking you out of the Egypt from a place of slavery.” Seeing it through this lens imposes moral obligation on us. What is our reciprocal responsibility to Hashem after His intervention to save the free world from tyranny?

The founding and flourishing of the State of Israel is another modern-day example. We can look at it without the lens of faith and it is simply an event in the evolution of Jewish and world history. Or one can view it through the lens of the First Statement and see it as one of countless manifestations of Divine Power. Again, viewing it this way demands that we ask ourselves, “What behaviors does Hashem expect from us in this Land of miracles to which He he has brought us back?” Seeing the world through the lens of the First Statement places a moral value on everything we look at, and often entails a moral response.

The same can be said for the personal events of our own lives. Throughout the book of Tehillim (Psalms) we see King David attaching personal meaning to every event he encounters. He sees Hashem’s hand in it all. He feels himself to be walking by Hashem, and Hashem at his side everywhere. We can do the same. Life is more meaningful, and more fun, when you see little events and coincidences through the lens of “I am Hashem your Divine Power.” Notice how when Hashem is in our hearts, events often align to make our lives easier, more beautiful and more meaningful. Whether it is quickly finding a convenient parking place, a coincidental meeting with just the right person or seeing a gorgeous flower or sunset, when we see it through the lens of “I am Hashem your Divine Power,” we feel the difference this makes in the quality of our experience and the nature of our response. When we do this, “va’yehi Or (‘and there was light’) becomes a daily experience rather a one-off event that happened nearly 6,000 years ago.


[1] A more accurate translation for Elokkim than “G-d”, see Nefesh Hachaim and others

[2] Vayikra 11b

[3] Einstein’s famous equation quantifying the relationship between matter and energy and the convertibility of one to the other.

Latest update: February 01, 2018

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