In this week's parsha, Parshas Yisro, Klal Yisrael hear the Aseres Hadibros, the Ten Commandments, as they embraced their lofty mission in this world. We are commanded to treat every parsha, pasuk, and word in the Torah with equal awe and respect, and yet there is a prevailing custom to stand in shul as the Aseres Hadibros are read, seemingly attributing unique significance to them. The Aseres Hadibros are carved above the Aron in almost every shul, and we view them as the foundation of the Torah. What is it about these words that merit special treatment? In order to understand the apparent centrality and importance of these Ten Commandments, we must delve into their deeper meaning.
First and Second Luchos
One unique feature of the luchos is the fact that there were two sets given. The original was created by Hashem while the second was hewn by the hands of Moshe. However, the difference between the two sets is not simply a practical one, the two sets of luchos are fundamentally different. As the Beis HaLevi explains, the first luchos were a transcendent, angelic, and other-worldly form of Torah. All of Torah Shebiksav and Torah Shaba’al Peh were contained within these tablets, and all of this Torah was clear and accessible. After the Cheit Ha'Egel, Klal Yisrael lost access to this Torah, and the second set of luchos provided a relatively limited and human form of Torah [with the mission to rebuild our way back to that original ideal form]. However, the reality introduced through the giving of the first, transcendent set of luchos remains, and it is worth understanding the impact of this set.
Hashem created the physical world by expressing the infinite oneness of the spiritual world into a physical world of multiplicity. This world of multiplicity masks the inherent oneness of creation, and it takes great effort to reveal the oneness behind it. Avraham Avinu underwent a lonely spiritual journey towards recognizing this spiritual truth, but it wasn't until Matan Torah that the entire world recognized it. When Hashem gave us the Torah, He reconnected the physical world of multiplicity back to its transcendent source of oneness. As such, all of Klal Yisrael received nevuah and experienced the infinite truth of reality.
This idea explains a strange pasuk regarding Matan Torah. The pasuk says that when Hashem gave us the Torah, "ro'im es ha'kolos", we "saw the sounds" (Shemos 20:15). We don’t see sounds, we hear them. What, then, does this mean?
The spiritual concept of seeing is the idea of observing something as it is, in a completely static state. When you see a picture, you grasp the entire image instantaneously. There's no process of constructing or building the picture in your mind, everything is just there, at once, without any effort. The spiritual concept of hearing, however, reflects movement and a progression of understanding. Hearing requires effort, it necessitates the reconstruction of bits of sound into words and meaning.
This world, Olam Ha'zeh, is a place of movement, a place of hearing. The transcendent spiritual realm is a place lacking movement. It is a place of static perfection, a place of seeing. Matan Torah was an Olam Habah experience taking place in this world, whereby we transcended the physical world of time and space; we all became prophets and experienced the infinite spiritual nature of reality. In such a dimension, there is no hearing or movement, only sight. Therefore, sounds weren't heard, they were seen.
The nature of Matan Torah is indicated through the very words used to describe it. The original creation of the physical world is introduced with the word Bereishis, which begins with the letter Beis. The Aseres Hadibros, and by extension Matan Torah, begin with the letter Aleph. The Maharal explains that Beis, the second letter of the aleph beis, represents the concept of multiplicity and twoness. Its numerical value is two, and it refers to the multiplicity of our physical world. Aleph, on the other hand, is the letter of oneness- transcendence and spirituality, reflecting Hashem and the spiritual dimension. Aleph is the very first letter in the alphabet and has the numerical value of one. It is a silent letter, reflecting its spiritual and transcendent nature. It also reflects spiritual elevation, as expressed in many words that use the word aleph (Aleph, Lamed, Pei) as its root. “L'aleph” means to reach, elevate, or lift to a higher spiritual dimension. “Aluph” refers to the highest ranking military position and “eleph” is the highest number in the Hebrew decimal system, as the Torah only counts by the thousands.
The Torah begins with the letter Beis, because Parshas Bereishis begins by describing Hashem's creation of the physical world, the process of Hashem's oneness becoming expressed into multiplicity. This process is most appropriately encapsulated by the letter Beis- the letter of twoness that stems from oneness.
While the episode of creation reflects the finite expression of oneness into multiplicity, Matan Torah was exactly the opposite. The experience of Torah being brought down into this world was the ascension from twoness to oneness, an unparalleled experience of truth, oneness, and the transcendent spiritual dimension of reality. This was an experience of Hashem Himself, and the Aseres Hadibros therefore begin with an Aleph, the letter of oneness and transcendence.
Building on the concepts we have just developed, we can now understand the unique identity and significance of the Aseres Hadibros in relation to the rest of the Torah. Many assume that the Aseres Hadibros are simply the ten most important mitzvos in the Torah, which is why they receive special attention. However, there is much deeper theme contained within these specific ten mitzvos. Rashi (Shemos 24:12) explains that the Aseres Hadibros actually include the rest of the mitzvos within them. These Ten Commandments are the root mitzvos, and the other 603 mitzvos emanate from these ten root categories. (Rav Sa’adyah Gaon describes at great length the breakdown of the mitzvos into their fitting categories. [It's also fascinating to note that there are 620 letters in the Aseres Hadibros, reflecting the idea that the 613 mitzvos and the shevah mitzvos bnei Noach are all contained within these ten root categories.])
Rav Tzadok explains that just as the 613 mitzvos emanate from the ten dibros, the Aseres Hadibros, and by extension, all the mitzvos in the Torah, emanate from the first of the Aseres Hadibros, Anochi Hashem.
This first diber declares Hashem's existence and establishes the necessity of our faithfulness to Hashem and his will. Whenever a person performs a mitzvah, they are expressing their adherence to the first of the Aseres Hadibros by acknowledging Hashem's existence and their commitment to fulfilling His will.
Rav Tzaddok continues by explaining that the second diber, the prohibition of avodah zarah, is the root of all mitzvos loh sa'aseh (negative commandments). When one denies the will of Hashem, transgressing a negative commandment, he distances himself from Hashem, serving himself instead. This is an abstracted form of avodah zarah, as idolatry is the concept of betraying our loyalty and relationship with Hashem. On a deeper level, when one violates a loh sa’aseh it is also a violation of the first diber, Anochi Hashem, as this root mitzvah contains within it all of avodas Hashem. When one fails to acknowledge Hashem, they lose the chance to fulfill the first diber of building a loving connection with our creator.
As developed above, the luchos are an expression of oneness and the root of our connection to Hashem in this world. An obvious question, then, arises. Why are the luchos split into two separate groups, the right side and the left side? Why fragment the ultimate expression of oneness into two separate groups?
The commentaries explain that while the right side of the luchos contain mitzvos bein adam l'Makom (commandments between man and God)the mitzvos on the left side are bein adam l'chaveiro (between man and his fellow man). There are layers of meaning behind this specific breakup. The simplest lesson is that it is equally important to treat our fellow man properly and to serve Hashem. The deeper meaning of this parallel is that each and every human being is a tzelem Elokim, an extension and expression of Hashem in this world. While mitzvos bein adam l'Makom keep us on track on our individual journey back to Hashem, the mitzvos bein adam l'chavero inspire within us the understanding that we are part of a higher interconnected self, Klal Yisrael, and we as a whole are a reflection of Hashem in this world.
While the general juxtaposition of the mitzvos on the right and left sides of the luchos carry fundamental significance, there is a powerful connection between the commandments on each side as well. Each individual diber on the right parallels the corresponding diber on the left. Together, they make up a unified whole of connection both to Hashem and fellow man. Let us explore these connections in detail.
The first diber is Anochi Hashem, the statement that establishes Hashem as the source of reality and life-force of the world. Accordingly, we must recognize this truth and commit to living a life faithful to this fundamental truth. The first diber on the left side of the luchos, and therefore parallel to the diber of Anochi Hashem, is lo tirtzach, the prohibition against murder. Hashem created each and every human being with a chelek Elokah mi'ma'al, (a spark of Godliness from above), and killing another human being means eliminating that spark from the world. Anochi Hashem expresses the ultimate source of life and existence, while murder is the ultimate shattering of existence.
From another perspective, the ability to take away life belongs only to the one who gives life. Murdering another person is claiming the power and authority to eliminate a person's life, essentially claiming that I am Hashem, the controller of life. Accordingly, murder directly contradicts the truth of Anochi Hashem Elokecha, that Hashem alone is the source of this world and everything in it.
Once the primary principle of Anochi Hashem is established, the logical next step is ensuring that we are faithful to that truth.
Many think of idolatry as the worship of statues and inanimate objects. However, any intelligent person can see that a piece of wood or stone carved out by man himself could not possibly hold any power. The deeper understanding behind the worship of idolatry, as the Rambam (Mishnah Torah- Avodah Zarah- 1stchapter), Ramchal (Derech Hashem), and many others explain, is the worshiping of intermediaries, instead of sourcing yourself back to Hashem Himself. Hashem created the world in such a way that there are levels of reality. Hashem is the ultimate source, and the intermediaries receive energy from Him, and then manifest it into the world. Avodah zarah is when you don't recognize Hashem as the source, but rather trace things back only as far as the intermediaries. The statues that people "worship" are merely tangible representations of the higher forces they are serving. Worshiping avodah zarahis betraying our true source for the intermediaries, the ultimate unfaithfulness to Hashem. Matan Torah established our marriage to Hashem, and idol worship is a betrayal to the commitment and connection of that marriage.
The prohibition against adultery is the corresponding diber on the left. Adultery is unfaithfulness in marriage, betraying the trust and loyalty integral to the relationship. Any illicit relationship is a breakdown of what a proper relationship represents; therefore avodah zarah and adultery are inherently connected.
The third diber is the prohibition against uttering Hashem's name in vain, while the sixth, corresponding diber is the prohibition against kidnapping (a form of stealing). The practical connection between the two is explained in the Mechiltah, which states that onewho kidnaps will also have to swear falsely in order to cover his tracks.
(There two other potential practical connections. The first is a misuse of something that one does not own. One has no right to use Hashem's name in vain, as it does not belong to them and they have no permission to use it. Similarly, kidnapping someone is a form of stealing, whereby one takes something that does not belong to them.
Additionally, both prohibitions reflect a disregard for hashgacha pratis (Divine providence) in this world. When one uses Hashem's name in vain or swears falsely, he is connecting Hashem's name to something that is not true. Only one who doesn't believe Hashem knows what occurs in this world would dare associate His name with falsehood, as the consequences would otherwise be devastating. The same is true for kidnapping- only one who doesn’t believe in hashgacha pratis would dare violate such a horrible sin.)
There is a deeper connection between the two as well. When one testifies in court, he must swear using Hashem's name. This is not merely a practical requirement but is also a reflection of the essence of Hashem's name. Hashem's name represents objective truth - the Gemara states that Hashem's "signature" is emes, as Hashem is truth. When one swears falsely or says Hashem's name in vain, he takes that which is transcendent and corrupts it, displacing it from its lofty, proper place. By using Hashem's name in the context of that which is false or meaningless, a person connects Hashem to those falsehoods.
When one kidnaps someone, he does the same. He takes someone who was created b’tzelem Elokim, and displaces him, removes him from his proper status and place in the world, and treats him as an object. Just as displacing Hashem's name from its proper lofty place shows a complete lack of respect for Hashem's greatness (Ibn Ezra, Vayikra 19:12), kidnapping shows a complete disregard for humanity's greatness.
The fourth diner on the right side of the luchos is remembering and guarding Shabbos, while the fourth diber on the left side is the prohibition against false testimony and lying in court.
The parallel between these two dibros is the use of testimony and speech. Shabbos is when we testify that Hashem created and runs the world, reconnecting ourselves to this truth and realigning any false perceptions we may have developed throughout the week. False testimony is a corruption of this principle, using testimony to bare false witness. It's interesting that lying can only occur in this world, where hiddenness and deceit exist. In this world, one has the ability to pretend like something that exists does not exist, and vise versa. In the World to Come, however, everything will be transparent and clear, lying will be impossible, and truth will permeate everything. This is why the Gemara (Brachos 57a) compares Shabbos to Olam Habah- The World to Come. Shabbos connects us to the ultimate truth, to our ultimate destination, to a state of absolute clarity. It connects us back to creation, and simultaneously, towards our ultimate destination. Even deeper, though, it also connects you to who you are right now, allowing you to fully experience who you've become, to fully experience your own internal truth.
Another parallel between Shabbos and false testimony is the concept of connection. Shabbos connects all aspects of life together. It is a time when the spiritual is closer to the physical, when the soul is more connected to the body (this is the idea of neshama yeseirah). Shabbos is also when Hashem and Klal Yisrael connect on a deeper level, and when Klal YIsrael connects most deeply with each other. Lying, however, achieves the opposite. It uses speech to create disconnection. While speech is the mechanism of expressing internal truth outwards, lying is a manipulation and misuse of the very purpose of speech. Speech gives a person the ability to express his inner world, to genuinely connect with another through sharing inner consciousness, expressed outwards through speech. When a person shares a lie, the other person thinks that he has connected with you, that he knows something from within your inner world, that you have bequeathed a piece of your very self to him. In truth, however, all he has is the lie you have fed him.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for connection is "kesher," and, not coincidentally, the Hebrew word for a lie is "sheker," the exact same letters in a mixed up order. Lies are a corruption of what could have been genuine connection. Sheker, falsehood, is taking the potential for connection and perverting it into disconnect and falsehood. While the listener think she is connecting to you, nothing could be further from the truth.
(For many years, I was bothered by the following question: If Shabbos represents the concept of seven, then should it not also be the seventh diber? But based on the ideas we have developed, the answer is beautiful: While horizontally, Shabbos is the fourth diber, when counting the dibros in the zig zag style that we have just done, with Anochi as the first diber and Lo Tirtzach as the second, Shabbos becomes the seventh diber.)
Before comparing the last two dibros, we must first address an apparent problem with one of them. Kibud av v'em, the commandment to honor one's parents, is the fifth commandment, the last of those on the right side of the luchos. However, the right side of the luchos is reserved for mitzvos bein adam l'Makom (between man and God) and while it may not always seem so, parents are human too. Why, then, is the mitzvah of honoring one's parents located on the right side of the luchos?
The right side of the luchos contains the mitzvos bein adam l'Makom, but the deeper theme of the right side is mitzvos between man and his source (bein adam l’Mekor). The first four are bein Adam l'Makom, between man and his ultimate source, while the fifth, kibud av v'eim, is a mitzvah between man and his more immediate source, his parents. This juxtaposition reveals a deep connection between these mitzvos: The first step towards tracing oneself back to Hashem is recognizing that I am not my own creator, that I have a source. Kibud av v'eim is the first step towards doing so. Recognizing our parents as our source is the first step in tracing ourselves back to our ancestors, then to Avraham, then to Noach, eventually all the way back to Adam Ha’Rishon, until finally, we get back to Hashem Himself. In doing so, we trace our individual existence back to Hashem's creation of the world itself. As such, Kibud Av v'Eim serves as the perfect transition between bein adam la'makom and bein and bein adam la'chaveiro, as this mitzvah that serves as the springboard for the connection between you and Hashem. Recognizing that someone created us will help train us to source everything in our lives back to Hashem. However, the problems continue once we get to lo sachmod (jealousy). What is the connection between kibud av v’eim and the commandment of lo sachmod?
The answer to this question requires us to understand the reasoning behind the prohibition against jealousy. This commandment does not simply mandate an action, it is a mandate to live a life without any trace of jealousy. How is this possible?
When we understand that every single aspect of our life is given to us in order to help us fulfill our unique purpose in life, jealousy becomes nonsensical and what other people have becomes almost irrelevant. We were each given our unique talents, drives, and mission, and we have exactly what we need to fulfil it. Nothing that someone else has is essential for your mission, and no other person can achieve your purpose for you. Hashem gave you your mission and also gave you all the tools necessary to accomplish it. Instead of being jealous, we must focus on maximizing our time in this world to fulfill our unique potential.
Additionally, we aren't competing with each other. If we realized that we are all part of the same team, the same self, the same people, we would never be jealous of one another. On the contrary, we would celebrate each other's victories as our own!
This is what kibud av v'eim teaches us: the importance of tracing everything in your life back to its source, to Hashem. When we realize that our entire existence in this world, and all of the circumstances and challenges that we face, come from Hashem, there is no place for jealousy, as Hashem has given each of us the exact tools we need to succeed in our mission.
When we picture the luchos, we automatically conjure up an image of two rounded tablets. However, the Gemara explicitly states that the luchos were cubic or rectangular. If so, why does every shul depict the luchos with two rounded tops, as an almost heart shaped figure?
The answer is that the luchos are intrinsically connected to the heart. The Aseres Hadibros are the heart of the Torah, and we are told to engrave them into our hearts, "kasvem al luach libecha" (Mishlei 7:3). This idea touches upon the unique nature of the luchos and how they were written.
There are four possible ways to write down an idea. The first is to use an adhesive, such as glue, paste, or tape, to attach the message to the medium. This is the weakest form of writing, as the message remains separate from the medium and can easily be erased or removed. The second is to use ink on paper. When doing so, the message is not as easily removed, as the message becomes more connected to the medium itself. However, the ink still remains on top, separate from the medium (the paper). It is the very contrast of the ink to the blank paper that allows you to understand the message. The third is to engrave the message into the medium itself. As such, the message becomes part of the medium itself and cannot be erased. However, there is a deeper form of writing, which is to bore the message completely through the medium, whereby the message becomes one with the medium itself.
This fourth level is how the luchos were written. The passuk says (Shemos 32:15) that the letters of the luchos were engraved through the stone and could miraculously be read both on the front and thee back of the tablets. Chazal discuss the miraculous way in which letters such as the samech and mem sofit both had middle pieces that floated in the air, disconnected from any other part of the stone.
This is the deep message of the luchos. We must engrave their words into our hearts, we must become one with the medium, we must become one with these mitzvos. We can't be people who perform the mitzvos, we must become the mitzvos. May we be inspired to fully embrace Matan Torah this year, and merit to fulfil the directive of "Kasvem al luach libecha."
The Revolutionary Online Course that Will Transform the Way You Engage in Self-Development