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Hidden Structure of Ten Commandments
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If you just look at the Ten Commandments, the first side these are basically relationships between people and God and the second side is really relationships between people and other people - it just seems to be true. But the question is “is the first side really about relationship between people and God?” Let’s just kind of go through them,you know. The first side - “I am the Lord your God” - that’s commandment number one; and that's clearly relationship between us and God. And we go to commandment number 2 - “Do not have any other God’ before me” “ Do not take my name in vain”. These two are also about relationships between man and God. “ Honour the Sabbath and keep it holy” - the Sabbath is going to be something which God wants us to honour. So, you know, fo far, we’ve got four commands and all of these are about relationships between people and God and finally get to the fifth and last command and that’s “Honour your father and mother” and that seems to be the fly in the ointment right? Because last time I checked, you know, your parents were people. And so what are they doing on this side, if this side is relationships between people and God?
So, what we really need to find is some sort of common denominator between God on the one hand, which is four, and parents on the other hand. I think the answer really is that we often think of God as our Creator, but God is actually just one creator because we have human creators also. So, if you think about it, the first tablet is about what we might call ‘vertical relationships’. If you imagine a kind of modern art painting and if you put the person down at the bottom, you draw the parents on top, or you draw God on top and that's because we intuited that both parents and God are authority figures. We owe everything to them and therefore we’re just simply not their equals. So we have relationships between authority figures on the one hand, we might call vertical relationships on tablet #1, and that suggests what tablet #2 is really about is horizontal relationships - our relationships with peers. So this is kind of the first layer of structure. We’ve just emerge with some of the facts that there is two tablets.
The next layer of structure I think comes from the fact that each of the two tablet just happens to have five commands on it. What does that imply? Maybe there is some kind of correspondence between the two sides. Maybe all of these kind of link to each other. Maybe they correspond. What I want you to think about is “why does it matter if there is a correspondence between these two sides?”
I want to come back to the Joe in the plane question which is basically “in two sentences, what do you say Judaism is all about?” And that question was really asked many, many years ago in the famous story of the Talmud. A man by the name of Hillel, a great Sage of talmudic times, and a perspective convert, someone who is seeking conversion to Judaism, comes up to Hillel and said “if I stand on one foot, could you teach me the entire Torah? I am willing to learn everything but you got to give it to me while I stand on one foot.” And most of the time when we think of the story, we think of it kind of as a practical joke but the one question which a prospective convert has a right to ask is “ help me understand what it is all about.” Hillel gave him the answer “That which you hate, don’t do your fellow. That’s the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.”
One of the things we often confuse it with is something that the Akiva said “ Love your neighbour as yourself.” Hillel didn’t actually say that. And one of the interesting question is why? Love your neighbour as yourself is actually a verse in the Torah. What Hillel says “That which you hate, don’t do your fellow. That’s the whole Torah. The rest is commentary”, it doesn’t say anywhere in the Torah. And one of the questions you might ask is “what's the source? Where did he even come up with that?” If you even compare these two things, there is something appealing about what Akiva says - it’s about love . Love is compelling, love is appealing. Love seems stronger. It seems to be demanding more of people. It’s actually a positive thing. If you think about what Hillel says, it’s actually kind of negative. It doesn't really require you don’t require anything. You don’t have to love at all. “If I do all this, have I really loved you?” I don’t think so. Where did Hillel come up with this?
Hillel didn’t make this up. There was a source in the Torah for what Hillel was talking about. The source, I want to argue, was actually the Ten Commandments. And if we understand the Ten Commandment from a structural angle, we will see the power in what it was that Hillel was trying to say.
So let’s come back and try to do that. We talk about one element of structure - horizontal relationships, vertical relationships . I want to talk about a second element of structure now. The notion that perhaps the two side of the tablets mirror each other right? Almost like you could fold your hand together and then see them as mirrors of each other. What it actually really means is that in a certain kind of profound way, there is really only five commands not ten. In other words, these things are the same idea, it’s just that this expresses itself in the world of man's’ relationship with his creators and this over here is that idea expressed in a different world - in man’s relationship with his peers.
So, the reason why there is ten commands is because there is ten expressions of five fundamental principles. Those express themselves in the two basic kind of worlds that we live in. We live in our world with our creator, we live in our world with our peers and I can find the common denominator in each of these commands and be able to extrapolate it to the basic principle. What’s the line that links this idea on one side of the commandment to this idea on the other side? So when we come back, we’re going to try to decipher those principles by trying to isolate the common denominators in the pairs that forms this fascinating mirror.
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