10 commandments or statements

This week we read about the 10 Commandments.They were written on two tablets of stone. The most common explanation is there were 5 on each which obviously made them unbalanced as there are more words on the first set of 5 than the last set. The Midrash records an opinion that all 10 were on both tablets and were visible and readable from both sides.   However the word “10 commandments” is a bit of a misnomer. As there are really 613 commandments. As a former teacher of secular kids, I can tell you that everybody knew about the  10 Commandments but not that there were 613 commandments.   They were even shocked and aghast that there were more than 10 commandments. In fact the Talmud  had exactly the same problem 2000 years ago. The Talmud tells us that the passage of the 10 Commandments was originally inserted into the morning prayers just before the recital of the Shema. However, people began to think that there were only 10 Commandments and didn’t bother learning   the rest of them. Therefore they were removed. Some people still have a custom of reciting the 10 Commandments after the conclusion of the daily prayers. The truth is that if one looks ahead a couple of weeks to Parshas Ki Sisa  ( ch 34:28) when the Torah  describes the moment Moshe descends the mountain with the 2 tablets of stone, it calls them ” עשרת הדברים׳ “ literally 10 words or  statements. In the book of Devarim where Moshe is reminiscing about the giving of the Torah, he also only uses the word   דברים literally words or statements. The word for commandment in Hebrew is mitzvah and we never find these 10 “commandments” referred to as mitzvot. I therefore believe these are meant to be 10 major statements. These are the most important ideals by which to live.  These are the ones deemed so important and special that Hashem gave them directly to us. These are the rules that encompass the entire Torah. Our Rabbis tell us all 613 mizvot/commandments are encompassed in the 10 ‘commandments’.   An explanation of how the whole Torah is encompassed in the 10 statements is beyond the scope of this article. 


1 Reply to “10 commandments or statements”

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