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  • Writer's pictureAliza Davidovit

Can You Count to TEN?©

Most of us admit that it is nearly impossible to keep all the 613 commandments in the Bible. But most of us pride ourselves on the fact that we at least keep the Ten Commandments. Nonetheless, as the Decalogue is read on the upcoming holiday of Shavuot in synagogues around the world, perhaps it is a good time for us to have a closer look at these laws and see if in their bright light we pass inspection.

The first commandment in the Old Testament is the belief that G-d is the origin of all things: “I am the L-rd your G-d.” It is from this starting point that any of the commandments have infinite relevance. So with that in mind, let’s proceed.

II “You shall have no other G-ds….” Though we may not have golden calves in our living rooms it does not mean we are guilt free of idol worship. ANYTHING that comes between us and our service to G-d is an idol, including our money, our jobs, our egos, and even our habits, addictions and fears. And if perchance, we find ourselves on the golf course instead of temple on the Sabbath, then those iron clubs are rendered idols because we worship them and our desires more than G-d’s will.

III “Thou shalt not take the name of the L-rd in vain.” Although most decent people won’t swear to G-d if something is not true, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say most of us have made a promise or two to G-d and not kept it. Once our plane lands safely, or the medical result comes back A-OK, all the deals we make with G-d vanish in quick time. That, too, is calling upon G-d’s name in vain.

IV “Remember the seventh day and keep it holy.” Whether people keep the Sabbath or not is pretty clear cut. But, the justifications and excuses as to why they don’t are always creative. People will say that they serve G-d in their own way, when they have the time, and not necessarily on the allotted day. Just try that routine on your girlfriend and tell her you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day on June 3rd or tell your wife you’ll remember your anniversary when you get a chance. The Sabbath is not just a concept that can be applied when it suits us. It’s a divinely determined appointment with energies unique to its time and place in the universe.

V “Honor they mother and father.” Most people think this decree means not to be rude to your parents while they are alive. It doesn’t stop there. This commandment doesn’t have a statute of limitations and does not expire when our parents pass on. Even after they die our behavior in this world reflects on them. If we behave immorally, are corrupt, or, conversely, are decent to others, our behavior honors or dishonors them. Remember it doesn't say to love our parents, just honor the fact that they gave us life. Don't make efforts to diminish them, embarrass them or criticize them, even if they are already lowly characters or not everything you wanted them to be. The Kabbalists say that the souls of unborn babies actually pick the parents they will be born to. So if you have any complaints, well, you picked ‘em!

VI “Thou shalt not murder.” Just as you were about to breathe a sigh of relief and count this as a commandment you surely didn’t break, know that embarrassing a person in public, according to the Talmud, is tantamount to murder as it causes the blood to rush away from someone’s face. Breaking someone’s pride and dignity and crushing their spirit is also regarded as a form of murder. As we’ve all certainly heard before, death and life are in the tongue.

VII “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Jewish law is very clear here: Your wife may be a witch, your husband a muttonhead; your marriage may be dead, you may be sleeping in different rooms, nonetheless if you drop your pants in the wrong place, it is still adultery.

VIII “Thou shalt not steal.” As a young girl I remember hearing a story about two people who walked out of a Canadian department store with a canoe. They stole it in plain sight. Sometimes what is very obvious goes unnoticed. But theft does not need to come in such big sizes for it to be theft. The Talmud teaches that G-d destroyed the world by a flood because people stole inconsequential amounts from each other. Rabbi Elie Munk points out that what makes stealing small amounts uniquely deleterious is that it leaves the victim with no legal recourse. For instance, someone goes to a market and tears off a grape and eats it — not much damage done. However, then the next person comes along and does the same thing, and so on. It is not long before that bunch of grapes is diminished both in appearance and quantity — and the owner really has no one to blame for the theft. Nonetheless, the damage is done.

IX “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Perhaps you would not lie under oath, but any form of lying against another person’s good name, even to aggrandize yourself or your business, is wrong. You never know where those words will land and they may ultimately even lead someone to commit suicide.

X “Thou shalt not covet.” Maybe we are NOT coveting daily after our neighbor’s donkeys, but we have all bought things we cannot afford and over-extended ourselves. More often than not, we do such things because we covet what others have. We have big eyes on the world and we want the same things as everyone else. In the end, however, coveting may often hurt us more than those we covet. The Torah cautions us not to run after our hearts and eyes so that we literally should not whore ourselves because of them. We end up selling ourselves literally and figuratively to buy or get what we covet. And the rabbis teach that coveting ultimately leads to the transgression of all the other commandments.

Just something to think about as we count to TEN in synagogue this week. Click to subscribe


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