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The Ten Commandments

This week we read of the revelation on Mount Sinai and the giving of the Two Tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments.

According to Jewish tradition, the tablets were enormous in both size and weight. They were likely made of lapis lazuli rock, and were one cubit tall, one cubit wide, and half a cubit thick (or 48 × 48 × 24 cm; 19 × 19 × 9.5 in), such that when placed back to back they formed a perfect cube. According to this, they would have weighed approximately 150 kg (330 lbs) each! (That’s one mighty hagbah!)

Each tablet contained five of the Ten Commandments. The first tablet: Believing in one God, not having other gods, not taking God’s name in vain, observing Shabbat, honouring parents. The second tablet: Not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to kidnap, not to testify falsely, not to envy.

Usually we observe these two sets and say that the first tablet contained laws for which God is the beneficiary, and the second contained laws for which other human beings were the beneficiary. According to this breakdown, though, honouring one’s parents seems to be misplaced, on the side of laws directed at God.

Jewish teachers have often taught us that all of our relationships influence and inform each other. The love we naturally feel towards our parents is supposed to teach us how to love our God. The way we respect our parents teaches us how to respect God. And the way, intellectually or philosophically perhaps, we come to revere God should help us learn to revere our parents as well. “There are three partners in [the creation of] a human: God, the mother, and the father. When someone honours their mother and their father, God says ‘I consider it as if I have been living among you, and you honoured Me.’” (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 30b).

If we take this teaching further, we may realize that observing any of the human-directed laws brings honour to God as we are all God’s creatures. God made us intending for us to live together and take care of one-another.