(18 Sh’vat 5775 -7 Feb. 2015)
This week we have been studying Par’sha Yitro, which includes the verses between Sh’mot 18.1 through 20.26. This par’sha is only seventy-two verses long, but it contains what is commonly referred to as the Ten Commandments. Over the years the fact that the par’sha that contains the Ten Commandments is named after Midyanite priest has not gone unnoticed by many scholars.
When Yitro, Mosheh’s father-in-law, arrived at the Hebrew camp with Tsipporah and Mosheh’s two sons (though they are referred to as her two sons), Mosheh told him all that had happened since he had left Midyan to return to Mitsrayim. Yitro was so impressed by what Y-H-V-H had done for His people, he confessed that now he knew that Y-H-V-H was greater than all the mighty ones.18.11 Yitro brought an ascending offering and other sacrifices to Elohim, which many believe was a sign that he had joined himself to the Elohim of the Hebrews, even though he later returned to his own people.18.27
Before returning to Midyan, however, Yitro watched as Mosheh spent his day hearing and ruling on matters between the people. He saw how this was wearing on both Mosheh and the people and told Mosheh what he was doing was not a good thing. He suggested that Mosheh seek out men from among the people:
• Who feared Elohim
• Were men of truth and
• Who hated unfair gain
and appoint them as rulers (שָׂרֵי) thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. These men would hear the less serious matters but refer the more difficult issues to Mosheh. All of this was contingent upon Elohim’s approval. In the closing verses of chapter eighteen we find that these men rightly ruled the people at all times - the hard matters they brought to Mosheh, but they ruled every small matter themselves.18.26
This incident poses an interesting question for a student of Torah. Mosheh relates how he rightly ruled between one and another, making known the laws of Elohim and His Torot to the people and yet this was before Y-H-V-H gave them His laws, commandments and ordinances at Mount Sinai. There are some scholars who believe this is one of the few times when the events in Torah are not in chronological order: how could Mosheh have made the laws of Elohim and His Torot to the people if they had not been given yet?
At the same time, we know that Y-H-V-H Elohim had declared Avraham to be a a tzaddiq, a righteous man, because Avraham had obeyed His Voice and guarded His Charge: His commands, His laws and His TorotB’reshith 26.5 Avraham had aslo commanded his children and his household after him to guard the way of Y-H-V-H, to do righteousness and right-ruling.B’reshith 18.19 Torah makes it clear: the Torah known and taught by Avraham and his descendants long before the Hebrews and the mixed multitude stood before Y-H-V-H at Mount Sinai.
This raises an obvious question: if Mosheh and the Hebrews were already aware of Yah’s commandments, why was it necessary to bring them to Mount Sinai and inscribe them on tablets of stone?
There are several possibilities.
In the generations following the deaths of Yoseph and his brothers, the Hebrews had started to forget Yah’s commandments, which led to their assimilation into the culture of Mitsrayim.
After some time, the Hebrews had so assimilated into the culture of the land that they could not longer distinguish between Yah’s commandments and the laws of the gods of Mitsrayim.
Or it could have been that Yah was making a statement to His people.
In pagan cultures, covenants were made between kings and leaders. The people had no say-so into what their kings or leaders was obligating them to. Y-H-V-H’s covenant was different. At Mount Sinai, He made His covenant with all the people, not just their leaders.
When the Hebrews and the mixed multitude had first arrived in the Wilderness of Sinai, Mosheh had gone up to speak with Elohim. Y-H-V-H told him, This is what you are to say to the house of Ya’akov, and declare to the children of Isra’el…and now, if you diligently obey My voice, and shall guard My covenant, then you shall be My treasured people above all the peoples - for all the earth is Mine - and you shall be to Me a reign of priests and a set-apart nation.Sh’mot 19.4-7 And all the people answered together and said, All that Y-H-V-H has spoken we shall do. All the people - not just the leaders and princes and not just the Hebrews. The mixed multitude was sill standing with the Hebrews.
Three days later Isra’el, as a nation, approached Mount Sinai. When they did, something happened that had never happened before: the people, as a nation, heard the Voice of their Elohim. They stood in awestruck fear watching the smoke and the fire on the mountain as the mountain was trembling exceedingly19.18. As they stood there, Y-H-V-H Elohim spoke the first ten of His commandments to His people. Interestingly enough, Torah doesn’t refer to them as commandments. In Sh’mot 34.28 they are referred to as the Ten Declarations, or Ten Words עֲשֵׂרֶת הַדְּבָרִים.
As the people listened to the awesome Voice of Y-H-V-H, they were also watching the thunders and the lightning flashes. They were hearing the sound of the shofar sounding and witnessing the mountain itself smoking. They became so terrified that they stood at a distance and told Mosheh, You speak with us and we hear, but let not Elohim speak with us, lest we die.20.19 So as the people stood at a distance, Mosheh drew near the thick darkness - where Elohim was.vs.21 From that point on, for the next forty days (and the next eleven chapters), Y-H-V-H taught His commandments, His ordinances and His statutes to Mosheh.
For generations the Ten Declarations were read before the three paragraphs of the Shema in both the daily prayers and Shabbat services. It was a widely accepted tradition to stand whenever the Ten Declarations were read. It was seen as an attempt to remember how our forefather’s stood before Mount Sinai that day and heard Y-H-V-H as He spoke these words to us.
As time went by, some leaders began realize that this practice of standing for the Ten Declarations was giving some people the impression that the Ten Declarations were more important than the rest of the commandments. This was causing some to neglect many of the other commandments. At the urging of the leadership, this practice began to change, although some congregations still continue to stand when they are read.
It is very possible that the Ten Declarations have been studied more than any other part of the Torah. While all sects of Judaism and most Christian religions list them as the Ten Commandments, some Christian denominations tend to divide them differently; combining some commandments and separating others.
Some divide them into two categories; the first five outlining our relationship with Y-H-V-H and the second five outlining our relationships with each other. This division is probably the most well known, but there are other ways of dividing them. One teaching is that the Ten Commandments are similar to the Seven Days of Creation.
It is not unusual to find sets of three in Torah. For instance, some scholars divide the six days of Creation into two sets of three days followed by the Sabbath. During the first three, Yah divided the light from the darkness, the waters above from the waters below and brought for dry land. During the next three days He filled the heaves with lights, the earth with trees, plants, animals and fish and then man. On the seventh day He rested and gave us the Sabbath as a day of rest.
The ten plagues Yah brought against Pharaoh consisted of three sets of three plagues followed by a tenth that broke Pharaoh and secured the release of the Hebrews. The Ten Declarations can also be divided into three sets of three commandments followed by a tenth commandment with a very important message.
One through three establish that He is Elohim and we are His people - one nation that, if we diligently obey Him, He will place above all the other nations on the earth. Sh’mot 19.5 He is Sovereign over His creation, meaning He has all-authority.
Four through six focus on His creation. The Sabbath was created for us, we are to honor our parents and we are forbidden to murder. These commandments teach us to respect what Y-H-V-H has created; the Sabbath, our parents and reminds us that we are all created in His image.
Seven through nine establish an outline for us to live by with each other: marriage is sacred (and is to be between a man and a woman), we are not to steal and we are not to bear false witness. Guarding these and other commandments that are given later in Torah enable us to live at peace with each other.
The tenth carries a very special message. We are not to covet what others have; his house, wife, maid, ox, donkey, bass boat, jeep, or anything else he has.
The desire to have something that belongs to someone else - to covet - has created a long list of troubles for Elohim’s people.
Qayin was envious, he coveted, Hevel’s relationship with Y-H-V-H and this led to his murdering his brother
Avraham and Yitz’chaq had beautiful wives. They were afraid other men would see them, covent them and possibly kill them so they could take their wives. It was this fear that lead to tell others they were their sisters, not their wives.
It was the reason Yoseph’s brothers hated him and eventually sold him as a slave.
Time and again coveting led the Israelites into assimilation with gentile cultures that resulted in great suffering - and still does.
In reality, coveting is what makes advertising in our world today so successful.
One scholar from the early part of the second century (CE) taught that the cure for envy was to rejoice in what one has1 and not to worry about what you don’t have.
This Shabbat we are called to remember the only time in history that Y-H-V-H Elohim spoke directly to all of His people at one time. From Mount Sinai on He spoke to us through His nevi’im and His Son. These Ten Declarations should have a very special place in our hearts and our lives. In fact, they should be the foundation that guides our lives once we accept His Son as Redeemer and graft into His people. That being the case, we are going to take a few minutes to review the Words Yah spoke from Mount Sinai.
2I am Y-H-V-H your Elohim, who brought you out of the land of Mitsrayim, out of the house of slavery.
Some see this as a commandment; others as a preamble to the ones that follow. Either way, if one doesn’t accept He is Sovereign and the only true Elohim, then the commandments that follow can never have the place in your life that He demands they have. They will never be the eternal, unchangeable Word of Elohim. By the same token, if you accept that He is the One True Elohim, you must accept and live by every word that proceeds from His mouth as both our Father and the Messiah taught.D’varim 8.3;Matt. 4.4 You must also accept the fact, the truth, that to add to or take away even one Word He has spoken is a sin.D’varim 4.2
2. 3You have no other mighty ones against My face, 4 you do not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of that which is in the heavens above, or which is in the earth beneath, or which is in the waters under the earth, 5you do not bow down to them nor serve them, for I, Y-H-V-H your Elohim am a jealous El, visiting the crookedness of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me. 6But showing kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and guard My commands.
Verses three through six, according to the Hebrew text, comprise one long commandment. We are not to have any other gods (elohim, mighty ones) before His face. We are not to make graven images and then bow down before them and serve them. That is idolatry. Bow to them is from a Hebrew shoresh that means to protect or hide [tish’tach’veh תִשְׁתַּחְוֶה from חוה]. Serve is from aved עבד and means to direct your energies toward another goal. This commandment also contains a grave warning: if we teach our children to bow down to worship a carved image, then we pass this curse on to them to the third and fourth generations.
This commandment is directly tied to Yah’s command in D’varim 12.30-31; do not ask how the nations serve their mighty ones (gods) and let me do so too. Do not do so to Y-H-V-H your Elohim, for every abomination which Y-H-V-H hates they have done to their mighty ones…. Very frankly Yah commands that we are not to learn how other nations celebrate their feasts or rites to their gods and then use them to worship and serve Him.
3. 7You do not bring the Name of Y-H-V-H your Elohim to naught, for Y-H-V-H does not leave the one unpunished who brings His Name to naught.
4. 8Remember the Sabbath day, to set it apart, 9six days you labour, and shall do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath of Y-H-V-H your Elohim, you do not do any work – you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger גֵר who is within your gates, 11for in six days Y-H-V-H made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day, therefore Y-H-V-H blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart.
5. 12Respect your father and your mother, so that your days are prolonged upon the soil which Y-H-V-H your Elohim is giving you.
In next week’s par’sha we learn that a person who strikes or who curses his father or mother is to be put to death.
6. 13You do not murder.
This is premeditated murder, from the Hebrew tir’tsach תִּרְצָח; not killing as in war or self-defence.
7. 14You do not commit adultery.
Adultery is from tin’aph תִנְאָף [from נאף] and means to turn from one to another. You can commit adultery against your spouse as well as against Y-H-V-H.
8. 15You do not steal. Steal, from theHebrew word tig’nov תִּגְנֹב, which shares the same shoresh as the word for kidnap - ga’nav גנב. You don’t take something that belongs to someone else.
9. 16You do not bear false witness [ed sheqer עֵד שָׁקֶר] against your neighbor.
This verse is often mistranslated as you do not lie, but that is not accurate. This refers to giving false testimony, either in court or before others, that would harm someone else. It also prohibits gossip and slander.
10. 17You do not covet your neighbor’s house, you do not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, or whatever belongs to your neighbor.
Covet is from the Hebrew tach’mod תַחְמֹד, from חמד, that means to value and desire something or a longing that leads to action. Coveting can lead to envy, jealousy, even violence - as we discussed previously.
These are the Ten Declarations that have been the foundation of our walk with Messiah and our Father for generations. These ten are the foundation of all of His commandments. If your life is based on anything other than this foundation, then your foundation is faulty; it is not that of your Father and the Father of our Messiah. Study these commandments, these declarations. Know them, live them, and teach them to others. As you do you come to realize that all the other commandments fit somewhere within these ten. And also, keep the words our Messiah in mind as you study the commandments: Do not think I came to destroy the Torah or the Prophets…Whoever, then, breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called the least in the reign of the heavens; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the reign of the heavens. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall by no means enter into the reign of the heavens.Matt.5.17a;9-20
18 Sh’vat 5775/7 Feb. 2015
1 Simon ben Zoma