One night, four students stayed out late, completely disregarding the test they had the next day. Before school the next the morning, they hatched a brilliant plan to avoid taking the test. They covered themselves with grease and dirt and went to the principal’s office. They told him all about how their car had gotten a flat tire the previous night on their way home from a wedding, and how they had to spend the whole night pushing it home.
The principal listened attentively to their tale of woe, and kindly offered them a retest on the following day. The students gratefully accepted the offer and spent the whole night studying in anticipation of the test.
When they arrived at the principal’s office the next morning, he separated them into four different rooms before handing them their test papers. The test had only two questions:
1) What is your name? __________ (1 Points)
2) Which tire popped? __________ (99 Points).
Truth is powerful, crucial, and one of the core values in Judaism. Without truth, we lack a higher purpose, a foundation to our existence. In Parshas Yisro, Klal Yisrael hear the ultimate truth, the Aseres Hadibros (Ten Commandments), as they embrace their lofty mission in this world.
We are commanded to treat every parsha, pasuk, and word in the Torah with equal awe and respect, and yet there is a prevailing custom to stand in shul as the Aseres Hadibros are read, seemingly attributing unique significance to them. The Aseres Hadibros are carved above the Aron in almost every shul, and we view them as the foundation of the Torah. What is it about these words that merit special treatment? In order to understand the centrality and importance of these Ten Commandments, we must delve into their deeper meaning.
Two Sets of Luchos
Why are the dibros split into two separate groups, the right side and the left side? Why fragment the ultimate expression of oneness into two separate pieces?
The commentators explain that while the mitzvos on the right side of the luchos are bein adam la’Makom (commandments between man and God), the mitzvos on the left side are bein adam le’chaveiro (between man and his fellow man). There are layers of meaning behind this division. The simplest lesson is that it is fundamentally important to both treat our fellow man properly and to serve Hashem; both hold extreme value. One should not view mitzvos bein adam le’chaveiro as purely a means to connect with Hashem; when engaged in a mitzvah bein adam le’chaveiro, one should see the infinite value of every human being and treat them with the dignity they deserve. When one visits the sick, gives charity, or helps one in need, this is not merely the fulfillment of Hashem’s mitzvah, this is also an opportunity to help and connect with another person.
The deeper meaning of this parallel is that each and every human being is created b’tzelem Elokim, as an extension and expression of Hashem in this world. While mitzvos bein adam la’Makom guide us along our individual journey back to Hashem, the mitzvos bein adam le’chavero inspire within us the understanding that we are part of a collective, higher, interconnected self – Klal Yisrael – and that we, as a united nation and whole, are a reflection of Hashem in this world.
The Parallel Between the Two Luchos
While the general juxtaposition of the mitzvos on the right and left sides of the luchos carries fundamental significance, there is a powerful connection between the specific commandments on each side as well. Each individual dibrah on the right parallels the corresponding dibrah on the left. Together, they make up a unified whole of connection to both Hashem and one’s fellow man. Let us explore these connections in detail.
Anochi Hashem and Lo Tirtzach
The first dibrah is “Anochi Hashem Elokecha”- I am Hashem your God, the statement that establishes Hashem as the life-force of the world, the Source of reality. This statement requires us to recognize this fundamental truth and commit to living a life faithful to it. The first dibrah on the left side of the luchos – parallel to the dibrah of Anochi Hashem Elokecha – is “lo tirtzach”, the prohibition against murder. Hashem created each and every human being with a chelek Elokah mi’ma’al, (a spark of Godliness from above), and killing another human being eliminates that spark from the world. Anochi Hashem expresses the ultimate source of life and existence, while murder is the ultimate shattering of existence.
Furthermore, the ability to take away life belongs only to the one who gives life. Murdering another person claims the power and authority to eliminate a person’s life, essentially claiming: “I am Hashem, the controller of life.” Accordingly, murder directly contradicts the truth of Anochi Hashem Elokecha, that Hashem alone is the Source of this world and everything in it.
Avodah Zarah and Adultery
Once the primary principle of Anochi Hashem is established, the logical next step is ensuring that we are faithful to that truth.
Many think of idolatry as the worship of statues and inanimate objects. However, any intelligent person can see that a piece of wood or stone carved out by a human being could not possibly hold any power. The deeper understanding behind the worship of idolatry, as the Rambam, Ramchal, and many others explain, is the worshiping of intermediaries, instead of sourcing yourself back to Hashem Himself. Hashem created the world in such a way that there are levels of reality. Hashem is the ultimate source, and the intermediaries receive energy from Him, and then manifest it into the world. Avodah zarah is when you don’t recognize Hashem as the source, but rather trace things back only as far as the intermediaries. The statues that people “worship” are merely tangible representations of the higher forces they are serving. Worshiping avodah zarah is betraying our true source for the intermediaries, the ultimate unfaithfulness to Hashem. Matan Torah established our marriage to Hashem, and idolatry is the betrayal of the commitment and connection of that marriage.
The prohibition against adultery is the corresponding dibrah on the left. Adultery is unfaithfulness in marriage, betraying the trust and loyalty integral to a relationship. Any illicit relationship is a breakdown of what a proper relationship represents; therefore avodah zarah and adultery are inherently connected.
This pattern continues with the remaining six dibros. However, there is an apparent problem with the last dibrah on the right side.
Kibud Av V’Eim and Lo Sachmod (Jealousy)
Kibud av v’em, the commandment to honor one’s parents, is the fifth commandment, the last of those on the right side of the luchos. However, the right side of the luchos is reserved for mitzvos bein adam la’Makom (between man and God) and while it may not always seem so, parents are human too. Why, then, is the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents included on the right side of the luchos?
The right side of the luchos contains the mitzvos bein adam la’Makom, but the deeper theme of the right side is mitzvos between man and his source (bein adam l’Mekor). The first four are bein Adam la’Makom, between man and his ultimate source, while the fifth, kibud av v’eim, is between man and his more immediate source, his parents. This juxtaposition reveals a deep connection between these mitzvos: The first step towards tracing oneself back to Hashem is recognizing that I am not my own creator, that I have a source. Kibud av v’eim is the first step towards doing so. Recognizing our parents as our source is the first step in tracing ourselves back to our ancestors, then to Avraham, then to Noach, eventually all the way back to Adam Ha’Rishon, until finally, we get back to Hashem Himself. In doing so, we trace our individual existence back to Hashem’s creation of the world itself. Kibud Av v’Eim is therefore the perfect transition between bein adam la’makom and bein adam le’chaveiro, as this mitzvah serves as the springboard for the connection between you and Hashem. Recognizing that someone created us helps train us to source everything in our lives back to Hashem.
After clarifying why Kibud Av v’Eim is on the right side of the luchos, we must now explain its connection to the prohibition against jealousy- lo sachmod. While some consider the prohibition of lo sachmod to only be transgressed when one acts upon their thoughts of jealousy, many consider even the thoughts and feelings of jealousy themselves as a violation of this prohibition. How is it possible for us to avoid these thoughts?
Each one of us is entrusted with a unique mission in this world, and Hashem gives each of us the unique talents, skills, and drives that we need in order to fulfill that mission. Hashem is our Source, and therefore the Source of everything we have – every aspect of our life was designed specifically for us. When we understand that every single aspect of our life is given to us in order to help us fulfill our unique purpose, what another person has becomes irrelevant, and jealousy become nonsensical. Nothing that somebody else has is necessary for your mission, and you are the only person who is able to fulfil your unique purpose. Hashem not only gave you your mission, but also gave you all the tools you need to achieve your purpose in this world. Instilling this understanding in ourselves allows us to live without any feelings of jealousy, as our full focus becomes directed towards maximizing our time in this world to fulfill our unique potential.
Aside from being jealous of other people’s possessions or circumstances, there is a tendency to be jealous of other people’s successes and achievements. However, the same principle applies here: nobody else’s successes affects ours, nor should it diminish our self-worth. We are all part of one nation, one people, one team. There is no room for jealousy when we are all working towards a shared mission; on the contrary, we should celebrate each other’s victories as our own! For example, one’s ear would never be jealous of their nose, as they are both parts of the same body. At root, they want what is best for the body, for the collective self. If we viewed ourselves as limbs of the body of Klal Yisrael, we would never be jealous of our fellow Jew.
This is what kibud av v’eim teaches us: the importance of tracing everything in our life back to its source, to Hashem. When we realize that our entire existence in this world, and all of the circumstances and challenges that we face, comes from Hashem, there is no place for jealousy, as Hashem has given each of us the exact tools we need to succeed in our mission.
Engrave Them on Your Heart
When we picture the luchos, we instinctively conjure up an image of two rounded tablets. However, the Gemara explicitly states that the luchos were cubic or rectangular. If so, why does almost every shul depict the luchos with two rounded tops, as an almost heart shaped figure?
The depth behind this is that the luchos are intrinsically connected to the heart. The Aseres Hadibros are the heart of the Torah, and we are told to engrave them into our hearts, “kasvem al luach libecha”.
This idea touches upon the unique nature of the luchos and how they were written. There are four possible ways to record an idea in writing:
- The first is to use an adhesive, such as glue, paste, or tape, to attach the message to the medium. This is the weakest form of writing, as the message remains separate from the medium and can easily be erased or removed.
- The second is to use ink on paper. In. this case, the message is not as easily removed, as the message is more connected to the medium itself. However, the ink still remains on the surface of the paper, separate from the medium (the paper). It is the very contrast between the ink and the blank paper that allows you to understand the message.
- The third is to engrave the message into the medium itself. As such, the message becomes part of the medium and cannot be erased.
- However, there is a deeper form of writing, which is to bore the message completely through the medium, whereby the message becomes one with the medium itself.
This fourth level is how the luchos were written. The pasuk says that the letters of the luchos were engraved through the stone and could miraculously be read both on the front and the back of the tablets. Chazal discuss the miraculous way in which letters such as the samech and mem sofit both had inner pieces that floated in the air, disconnected from any other part of the stone.
This is the deep message of the luchos. We must engrave their words onto our hearts, we must become one with the medium, we must become one with these mitzvos. We cannot simply perform the mitzvos, we must become the mitzvos. May we be inspired to fully embrace Matan Torah this year and merit to fulfil the directive of “Kasvem al luach libecha.”
*Editor’s Note: We are very excited to share with you the news that Jewish Press Online columnist Rabbi Shmuel Reichman has recently published his first book, The Journey to your Ultimate Self. This engaging book is a great addition to your weekly reading of the parsha, providing tools for insight into the parsha and to yourself. The book is available at quality booksellers. A full book review to follow shortly…