Community Torah Corner - February 2, 2024

Rabbi Randy Mark
Shomrei Torah/Wayne Conservative Congregation
Wayne, NJ
Parashat Yitro

We have arrived at Parashat Yitro and the Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Commandments. Everyone knows that we have Ten Commandments; you may have even seen the movie! Can you list them? Most people can’t! Since there are only ten of them, why is it so difficult? First of all, when we read Exodus 20 in shul on Shabbat, we will see that it isn’t a list; it is a narrative passage and there is discussion and debate as to what exactly are the ten as there are different ways to split up the text. One would think that something so basic would be obvious, but we are blessed with a religious tradition that is deep and complex and allows for disagreement. 
You may be surprised to know that at one time the Ten Commandments were a part of our liturgy, just like we recite the Shema, we recited the Aseret HaDibrot. Things we recite, we learn, ask any day school student to recite the Shema and v’Ahavta and they can rattle it off for you years after graduating even if they stopped going to shul, but we hope they did not. Ask that same student/graduate to recite the next paragraph of the Shema, the one we do silently, very few can do so.  So why did the rabbis remove the Ten Commandments from our daily prayer routine? 
When we read Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5 (we find the Ten Commandments twice in the Torah) it tells how Moshe went up on Mt. Sinai, received the two tablets with the Ten Commandments written upon them and brought them down to the people. Rabbinic tradition is that God gave him the entire Torah.  There were some heretics who disagreed with the rabbis and said, no, Moshe only received the Ten Commandments. You may have heard that in Judaism we find 613 Mitzvot in the Torah, not just 10. There is a passage in the Talmud that says, “They [the Ten Commandments] were abolished [from the liturgy] because of the murmuring of the heretics.” (BT Brachot 12a)
The rabbis were concerned that people might think that they only have to observe ten commandments, not 613, so they removed the Ten Commandments from the liturgy as a way of saying that those ten are no more important than the others. The bad news is that we don’t know them as well as we know the Shema.  
As I mentioned, the narrative text can be divvied up in different ways and the rabbis would argue about it. Verse 1: “I am the Lord your God” some say that is the first commandment and others say that is a preamble. 
Verse 3: “You shall have no other gods.” Depending upon your thoughts on verse 1, this could be one or two. 
2: Do not make or worship idols – either alone with the above
3: Do not swear falsely 
4: Remember/Observe Shabbat (different in Exodus and Deuteronomy)
5: Honor your father and mother 
6: Do not murder
7: Do not commit adultery 
8: Do not steal (some say kidnap) 
9: Do not bear false witness
10: Do not covet
Even if you don’t go to shul every week, this is a week to go and listen to the Torah reading! 
Shabbat Shalom