Shavuot – Giving of the Ten CommandmentsApril 25, 2018
During this month we celebrate the giving of the ‘Ten Commandments’ by the Creator (G-d) to the Jewish People. We celebrate by reading the Commandments, and talking about them. Why should we spend 10 minutes of our time reading the Ten Commandments? The reason is that the Ten Commandments are important. If we do not read them again and rededicate ourselves to carrying out the Ten Commandments, then in a moment without thought we might forget about them and break one of them. Many people, including the politicians of our country, claim to read the Bible regularly. They also claim to go to worship services regularly, and they tend to ignore the Ten Commandments regularly. Maybe writing a note to our leaders would remind them as well as us of our need for the Commandments.
If you are planning to go to synagogue when the Ten Commandments are read and discussed, then by reading this article you might be ready to think about the Commandments before hearing them read at synagogue services. The following is a quick summary that you could use for discussion purposes with friends or relatives.
The Ten Commandments are a contract. In the first three commandments we are reminded who the contract is with – G-d and the Jewish People (the Jewish people represent all the people of the world that make this contract with G-d). When talking to friends and relatives, you might discuss how you relate to G-d. It would be helpful for you to create a path for you to connect to G-d. We Jews do not make statues or images of G-d because that would limit G-d to a place and time, and we believe G-d is ever existent. A way to connect to G-d would be to love and respect our environment. I actually cried when I heard that the last male northern white rhino died. Part of the contract is to protect all of nature. You renew the contract by reading the first three Commandments and thinking how you will fulfill all ten.
If you have difficulty in believing that there is a G-d, my suggestion is that you replace the word G-d with the word inspiration. You might say to yourself that it was inspiration that brought the People of Israel out of the land of Egypt. It is inspiration that causes you not to need carved images or likenesses. It is inspiration that connects you to the remaining commandments.
The next seven commandments are a shortcut to good communal living. We often forget that we are here on earth as the result of other people in our communities. We can only create a good environment if we work hard, produce goods and services that will aid us all to live well and establish a world where we feel good about ourselves and the people around us. If one of the basic needs of our contract is to work hard, then another should be that we find time to rest physically and mentally. So the fourth commandment is work hard – labor at your job six days of the week, but on the seventh day everyone, as well as work animals should have a day of rest from physical and mental tasks. Remember the Sabbath Day during every week and make it holy.
The next communal commandment is to honor your father and your mother. I believe that the concept of honoring is a two-way street. If parents treat their children in such a way that the children will want to raise children, then the children will honor the parents by strengthening the family with the children they raise. If children in a family cannot give birth to children, then they will honor the parents by raising children who do not have parents.
The next five commandments are ‘do nots,’ which our society treats as ‘should nots.’ ‘Should nots’ are activities people will do if they think they can get away with the forbidden behavior. These actions are harmful to the individuals involved and harmful to society.
The last five commandments are: “Do not Murder, Do not Commit Adultery, Do not Steal, Do not be a False Witness against fellow human beings, and Do not Covet.’ You may notice I made a small change to one of the ‘Do nots.’ I changed the False Witness to include lying. I believe that lying and especially in public is being a False Witness to our society, and is therefore harmful to us all.
I hope you enjoy the holiday of Shavuot in the synagogue or temple of your choice. May you find joy in your connection with Judaism through the Ten Commandments.