Project Genesis

Jewish Texts

The Ten Commandments

Question: Please explain each one of the 10 commandments and the Mitzvot included in each one. Is G-d’s name mentioned in the commandments” where and why is it mentioned?

Answer: To make my job easier, I’m quoting the whole thing, from Exodus Chapter 20. In addition to the verse numbers (with no period), I’m breaking it out into its ten sections (numbers with periods):

  1. 2  I am Hashem thy G-d, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

  2. Thou shalt have no other G-ds before Me. 3 Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 4 thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I Hashem thy G-d am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; 5 and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.

  3. 6 Thou shalt not take the name of Hashem thy G-d in vain; for Hashem will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.

  4. 7 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 8 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; 9 but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto Hashem thy G-d, in it thou shalt not do any manner of work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; 10 for in six days Hashem made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day; wherefore Hashem blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.

  5. 11 Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which Hashem thy G-d giveth thee.

  6. 12 Thou shalt not murder.

  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

  8. Thou shalt not steal.

  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

  10. 13 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

There is a mostly similar version in Deuteronomy Chapter 5, verses 6-17, when Moses repeated and summarized the Torah to Israel.

The first thing to note is that there aren’t ten commandments. There seem to be quite a few more. Indeed, the Hebrew name is the “Aseres Hadibros“, the ten Sayings.

I’ll try to go briefly through each of the “sayings”.

  1. (1) “I am Hashem thy G-d…” Maimonides actually lists this as a positive commandment: that we must know that there is a creator and master of the universe. “who brought thee out of the land of Egypt” – our relationship with G-d is not based on science and philosophy (e.g., if it had said, “who created the heavens and the earth”). Rather, it is based on a personal relationship with him that we witnessed in the going out from Egypt [this idea brought from the classic Kuzari].

  2. (2) The prohibition of idol worship in all its manifestations. There are several prohibitions here, not only worship and bowing down to idols, but even making them.

  3. (3) Showing respect for G-d’s name. This is part of showing respect for G-d.

  4. (4) (Positive and negative commandment) Observing the Sabbath, which is a recognition of the master and creator of the world. Control of the world in our own lives should match the way that G-d controlled and mastered it during his creation.

  5. (5) (Positive commandment) Honor for parents. Learning to give them honor in return for what they have done for us – is the prototype for our learning to give honor to G-d who really gives us everything we have.

The last five have to do with how we should treat one another.

  1. (6) Don’t murder. Murder is a totally different word in Hebrew from “kill”; there are times when we are supposed to kill. Murder is taking an innocent person’s life.

  2. (7) The prohibition of adultery, based on the central importance of the Torah concept of marriage

  3. (8) Don’t steal. The prohibition actually is referring to a particularly evil type of stealing, kidnapping. This is actually a capital crime.

  4. (9) (Negative commandment) The central importance of trustworthy testimony, critical to any system of justice

  5. (10) (Negative commandment) Satisfaction with one’s lot – not approaching the world with the attitude that everything is mine and everyone else is in my way.

G-d’s name is mentioned in each of the first five commandments, and not at all in the last five. This fits with their natures; the first five are more involved with “between man and G-d”, and the last five are focused on “between man and man”.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

9 Follow-ups »

No published follow-up questions.

We respond to every follow-up question submitted, but only publish selected ones. In order to be considered for publication, questions must be on-topic, polite, and address ideas rather than personalities.


Powered by WordPress