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Hidden Structure of Ten Commandments
Video 3 of 5
The first command on each tablet which is “ I am the Lord your God” on Tablet number one, “Do not murder” on tablet number two; and it’s almost like you would express it algebraically you would say that “what failing to recognize God is within vertical relationships, murder would be in horizontal relationships”. So how does that equation play out? A clue I think comes from the idea that killing a human being is a big deal in the first place. How is killing a human being different than say killing a fly? When we look into it, there is something special about human beings. The language that the Torah uses to describe that is the idea that human beings are created in the image of God. That indeed is the rationale that the Torah gives for the great consequences that attaches to killing someone. You know who are you murdering? You are murdering someone created in the image of God. And who is it on the other side that we are commanded to recognize? We are commended to recognize God himself. And of course the common denominator here is God. So does that begin to give us a clue? I think it does. So let's continue and try to flesh out this equivalency a little bit more.
So let’s ask “why do people murder other people in the first place?” And of course there is many reasons why murder exists. But the one common denominator in all of these reasons is basically this - if I lie awake at night and I say to myself “my life is better off without Joe in the world” at that point I have a challenge in front of me which is “maybe I’ll just kill Joe.” Now, if you think about that for a moment, that leads to some very interesting questions with respect to our creators. In other words, if we transpose this into vertical relationships instead of horizontal relationships , it’s not “my life would be better off without Joe in the world” maybe someone might say “my life would be better off without my creator in the world.” Could we imagine someone saying that? And yes we could. You could imagine that it might be more convenient to live without my creator in the world. Well, if that were the case, if I felt that way, what would my challenge be? I couldn't murder God. Next best thing I could do is I could ignore him.
If you think about murder and ignoring, there’s actually something very similar about the two. They’re two different ways of getting rid of someone, right? There is an objective way and that is, when you kill them. And of course there is a subjective way which is, when you ignore them. Either way, I am getting rid of the somebody. There is a very interesting equivalence that the Torah seems to be setting up between murder on the one hand and ignoring on the other. They're really the same kinds of things.
So if we come back to the first principle, the first principle that seems to emerge that we could replace this question mark with, the idea that when it is inconvenient to have somebody else around, whether that someone is my creator or whether that someone else is a peer, do not give into the urge to get rid of them. Rather, recognize the existence of the other.
Okay. And that brings us up to commandment number two on each side which is going to be “Do not any other gods before me” and “ Do not commit adultery”. And when we think about the equivalency between them, if you think about adultery, it’s somebody invading a committed relationship between a married man and a woman. Think about the worship of idolatry; there really is something common about them. Again, we can express it on that algebraic kind of way “what adultery is in horizontal relationships,idolatry is in vertical relationships”. To adulterate means “ to mix in something, to bring something in where it doesn’t belong”. There is two kinds of sacred relationships. In the horizontal realm, we would call that marriage. In the vertical realm we would call that worship. These are very, very exclusive relationships and when I bring something in that doesn’t belong, I can betray that relationship and destroy it.
And that brings us to commandment number three “ Do not take my name in vain” and “ Do not steal”. How would you see a common denominator there? The hint for that I give you is the rabbinic interpretation of “do not steal” is very interesting. It’s specifically a command against kidnapping - to take the human body. And what that seems to do is create an interesting kind of equivalence between the human’s body and God’s name. I think that mystery will give us an insight into what principle three is. And an interesting clue I think comes from the Hebrew word for “don’t take God’s name in vain”. Interestingly, in Hebrew the word is lo tisa, which doesn’t really translate as don’t take. The word tisa actually means “to lift up or to carry off”. It’s almost as if God’s name is being visualized as some sort of tangible thing that you could pick up and carry off. What does it feel like when you come home and you see the policeman outside your home? Your house broken into? The shattered glass. And almost universally, people will say that “it feels like you're being violated”.
Being violated is normally something we talk about in terms of ourselves; rape as a violation - our body is attacked. But what the Ten Commandment is suggesting really is that you can be violated in another way too - by taking somebody’s precious things. And this really gets to the commonality between the rabbinic interpretation of stealing - kidnapping and taking God’s name in vain. Kidnapping of course is taking a person’s body. If you think about your body, your body really is your most precious possession. Normally when you think about possessions, you think about the money you have ,the car you have,we don’t really think about your body as a possession; you think your body is actually the thing that owns the money and the car. But in fact that’s not really true. And one of the greatest proof it’s not really true is the expression that we have for our body, which is we call it ‘my body’. “My body” means there is a ‘me’ that has the body. ‘My body” is the way my sense of self gets expressed in this world and therefore it’s the most important thing that I have.
Well, if you think about it, what a person’s body is, in horizontal relationships ; God's name is in vertical relationships. God doesn’t have a body. How does God’s selfhood express itself in the world? Through his name. So in other words, there is a sort of two expression of self in the world. There is an abstract expression of self which is ‘name’;there is a concrete expression of self which is ‘body’ and the third principle really is,when it comes to these very precious possessions that we have, don’t violate another by misappropriating those.
And that brings us to the fourth principle over here and that is “ Honour the Sabbath to keep it holy” on the one hand and “ Don’t bear false witness against your fellow”. So let’s talk about why it is that we honour the Sabbath. According to Jewish tradition, honouring the Sabbath actually is an act of testimony. We’re resting in recognition of the fact that God rested after having created the world. We’re telling the truth about God about the most important thing we know about God, which is that he is the Creator of our world. And again, if you d the analogy, what testimony in court is with peers with horizontal relationships; keeping the Sabbath is with vertical relationships - it’s telling the truth about somebody’s action. And if you don’t tell the truth about someone’s action, you violate them. Why? Because actions are sort of also a possession. Actions are something that we own. It’s parts of what makes us who we are. When you lie about that, it’s like identity theft. You are taking some of me away from me. It’s not like you're actually killing me,right? It’s much more abstract than that. It’s not even like you’re stealing from me and attacking my possessions. But you are sort of attacking my reputation. And what this fourth principle gets to is this idea of safeguarding reputation.
Okay. And with that we get to the fifth principle and that would be expressed in “ Do not covet” and “ Honour your father and mother”. What the Torah seems to be saying to us is that “ what coveting is in peer relationships,dishonoring your parents would be in creator relationships”. But the question we need to ask is “ how exactly is that so?” In other words “what’s the nature of that commonality?” It’s almost as if there is a certain personality flaw that a human being can develop and if you had it, it would express itself in vertical relationships as dishonoring your parents and horizontal relationships as coveting. But the question is, what is that flaw? If we can identify it, we might be able to discern this sort of fifth and last elusive principle. Think about that and we will catch up in the next video.
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