Shemot Twenty: 10 Commandments

Mount Sinai is full of fire and smoke and thunder and lightning, and now, God begins to speak to the people. The words that He chooses to say to them are the ten commandments. I find it interesting that the words that God shares with the people begin with “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage (Exodus 20:2).” It’s as though God is introducing Himself to the people. Is this really necessary? Don’t the people know who God is, and what He did?

So, the ten commandments:

1. I am the Lord your God (etc.)

2. You will have no other gods before Me (this encompasses not making images, or worshipping idols)

3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy

5. Honor your father and mother

6. You shall not murder

7. You will not commit adultery

8. You will not steal

9. You will not bear false witness against your neighbor

10. You will not covet your neighbors’ house, or his wife, etc.

Of all of the commandments that God eventually gives to the people, why are these ten the first ones, and the ones delivered directly to them? Do they all have equal weight? What does it teach us that these are meant to be the priorities of our relationship with God?

“And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood far away (Exodus 20:15).” Clearly the direct encounter with God was a terrifying experience for the people. It’s understandable that they stood before God in fear and awe, given the circumstances of this revelatory moment. What does it mean for us? There’s a midrash that says the souls of every Jew that would ever be born were present during the giving of the commandments at Mount Sinai. Therefore, these words were said directly to us. This experience is one that we had on some level. Our souls have stood before God. How do we perceive this concept, and what it means for us in our lives?

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