Friday, February 09, 2007

Parallel Commandments (Yitro 5767)

It is well-known that the Ten Commandments can be divided into two groups. The first tablet contained five commandments regulating Man’s relationship with God, the second contained five commandments governing Man’s relationship with Man. As the Seforno says:

The matter of these five items - they are all said in honour of God, may He be blessed, through which the one who honours may inherit everlasting life ... That God is alone, one should not worship another, one should not rebel against Him in thought, speech or in action, one should honour Him, for He is ‘our father, our Creator.’ ... However, the five other items, are that one should not harm anyone, whether in body, honour, or money, action, speech or thought - they are warnings to guard against punishment in this world and the world to come. (Seforno Shemot 20)

Less familiar is the horizontal parallel between the sets of commandments. The Man-God and God-Man realms are linked in a profound way. This is the list.

I am the Lord your God

You shall have no other gods

Don’t take God’s name in vain

Remember the Shabbat

Honour parents

Don’t kill

Don’t commit adultery

Don’t steal

Don’t bear false witness

Don’t covet

There are a number of views explaining how this works. There is an entire Chazal devoted to this subject:

The second five statements are said to correspond to the first five statements. ‘Do not murder’ corresponds to ‘I am’. God says: if you murder, I will consider it as though you have reduced the form (of the Divine). ‘Do not commit adultery’ corresponds to ‘You shall have’. God says: if you are adulterous, I will consider it as though you had worshipped idolatry. ‘Do not steal / kidnap’ corresponds to ‘Do not take’. Rebbi Chiya learned - do not steal, let one man not deny against his fellow, do not swear falsely in My name. For if you steal, in the end, you will deny, then you will lie, then you will swear falsely in My name. ‘Do not bear’ corresponds to ‘Remember’. God says: if you bear false witness against your neighbour, I will consider it as though you have borne false witness against Me, that I did not create the world in six days and I did not rest on the seventh. ‘Do not covet’ corresponds to ‘Honour parents’ - they steal each other’s wives. After a while, dispute arises between them, and one kills his father without realising that he is his father. (Pesikta Rabbati 21:15)

The connection between 1 & 6 is clear – recognising God is linked to seeing the value in every human. 2 & 7 – infidelity may be idolatry or adultery. 3 & 8 is understood to be consequential – if one steals, one will end up swearing falsely. 4 & 9 – Shabbat is testimony that God created the universe, corresponding to not swearing falsely in a court. Again, 5 & 10 is understood to be consequential. Another explanation of this final connection could be that one who covets believes that God has given him a bad lot in life, so he desires someone else’s opportunities and resources. Failing to respect parent expresses just the same underlying distrust in God’s abilities.

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