Two Tablets

Friday, 11 August, 2017 - 12:51 pm

L.gifTwo Tablets

The Ten commandments are the foundation of the Torah. They encompass the most important principles of the Torah and therefore, unlike the rest of the Torah that was transmitted through Moses, the entire Jewish people heard the Ten Commandments spoken directly from G-d himself.

The Ten Commandments were inscribed on two tablets, each tablet containing five of the commandments. In this week’s portion, while retelling the story of Sinai Moses emphasizes that there were two tablets: “And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the Lord gave me two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant.” The question arises: why the need for two tablets? Couldn't Moses have inscribed all ten commandments on one tablet?

The Torah contains two general forms of Commandments: 1) the Commandments that relate to the relationship between man and G-d, such as loving G-d, fearing G-d, not mentioning His name in vain, etc. 2) and Commandments that relate to the relationship between man and his fellow, such as the Commandment to love a fellow as one’s self, and various forms of charity. Examining the ten commandments we find that they contain both categories of commandments. In fact, the first five are between man and G-d, and the second five are between man and fellow man.

Had all the Ten Commandments been written on one tablet, the only way to read them would be vertically from top to bottom, which would lead to the mistaken impression that somehow there is a hierarchy between the categories, that somehow G-d is more concerned about how we treat Him than about how we treat our fellow person.

The Torah therefore emphasizes that the commandments were inscribed on two tablets, which allows the commandments to be read not just vertically but also horizontally, thus the first commandment, “I am the L-rd your G-d”, which was inscribed on top of one tablet, and the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder”, which was inscribed on top of the other tablet, are both on the same level.  

In fact, when we read the Commandments horizontally, we see that the column of man’s responsibility to G-d and the column of man’s responsibility to fellow man share the same theme:

1. I am the L-rd your G‑d. 6. You shall not murder:

Murder is a terrible sin specifically because “I am the L-rd your G-d” and every Human being was created in the Image of G-d. Thus taking a human life is denying the sanctity of G-d.

2. You shall have no other gods before Me. 7. You shall not commit adultery:

The binding theme between these two commandments is the theme of loyalty. We must be loyal to are relationship with G-d and to our sacred relationship with our spouse.

3. You shall not take the name of the L-rd your G‑d in vain. 8. You shall not steal:

Stealing from someone else compromises our honesty and will inevitably lead to swearing falsely in G-d’s name in order to deny the theft.

4. Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. 9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

By resting on Shabbat we testify that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, thus celebrating Shabbat is an act of testimony.

5. Honor your father and mother. 10. You shall not covet.

Coveting something that belongs to another person implies that one believes that he does not have what he needs, and he feels that in order to achieve happiness and meaning he must possess that which belongs to someone else. The truth however is that meaning in life and happiness comes from celebrating the talents, personality, possessions and circumstances we are blessed with. Honoring the parents who brought us into the world implies that we accept that the person we are, the G-d given talents we possess, our unique life story, being born into a specific family at a specific time, is exactly the person we need to be in order to fulfill our purpose on this earth.


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