This week Torah reading is one of the most important of the year while at the same time being the most basic.
It is this week that we review two foundational issues of relationship with God: He is One God and has given us His Ten Commandments, the basis for spiritual and societal living.
The Ten Commandments are the core directives for individual and community living in harmony with the God of the Universe and our fellowman. By denying them or ignoring them, societies head inexorably toward spiritual and moral chaos. Let’s review them in simple terms.
1. Do not get no other God but me. This is the first step towards the ideal of human living. It is not about carving a wooden idol and putting it on hour mantle but challenging us to face the real idols of our everyday life – wealth, career, well-being, family, power, money, and other things which take priority above our relationship with God. These get easily out of control and completely enslave us. Obedience to the first commandment delivers from the kind of mental and emotional slavery that has destroyed empires and kingdoms.
2. Do not take the name of God in vain. He who forgets where He came from, cannot understand where he’s going. When the name of God is used as a curse or a callously repeated phrase, without any respect and love we have lost the most important thing: our sense of awe and respect for the Creator of all. By downgrading the name we downgrade the Possessor of this Name!
3. Take care to keep the Sabbath blessed. The third commandment is a weekly reminder of God’s creative power. When we cease to regularly focus on spiritual values at least one day per week, we lose our way. If the body dies without food, what is then the soul’s end without receiving spiritual nourishment on its path on Earth?
4. Honor thy father and thy mother. This commandment urges people to honor the status of motherhood and fatherhood. To be sure, this commandment enjoins us to respect our earthly parents, but it’s goes further than that. It includes honoring our spiritual heritage as well. Abraham is called the ‘Father of many nations’. For people of faith in the Word of God, Abraham and Sarah are spiritual parents and their lives and testimony live on to inspire every generation. We owe honor to both spiritual parents and natural parents, including to those who may not be ‘blood’ relatives but have nurtured and ‘raised us’ in the ways of God.
5. Do not kill anyone. The clear meaning in Hebrew is ‘Do not murder’ and extends not just to physical murder but spiritual murder as well. For example, slander and gossip that ‘murder’ another person’s reputation is a violation of this commandment. Causing any kind of spiritual, mental and emotional damage that ‘kills’ the ability of another person to live a productive and effective life is forbidden by the intent of this commandment.
6. Do not lie with thy neighbor’s wife. A genuine love between husband and wife should be deemed sacred by everyone. Woe to anybody who causes the destruction of such a marriage because of unbridled selfishness or undisciplined passion.
7. Do not steal. In addition to material things, our neighbors’ possessions also include their reputation, their thoughts and their achievements. Stealing intellectual property is every bit as serious, in some ways even more serious, than causing them material loss.
8. Do not bear false witness against thy neighbor. This commandment addresses man’s ego in a profoundly direct way. Willfully blind to our own failings, we assault the character of others. However, a material attack is more easily repairable than assaults on the soul. The violation of this commandment causes extreme pain to the offended and even more damage to the offender, as it cripples his own spiritual growth.
9. Do not covet thy neighbor’s wife. This commandment is aimed at unhealthy desires of our body. The Psalmist asked: ‘How does a young man keep his thoughts pure?’ and answered the question by saying, ‘…by meditating on God’s Word.’ The scriptures teach us to avoid that which feeds the lower nature and cling to God’s instructions for right living. This is an eminently practical commandment: if certain television programs ‘feed’ your lustful nature, stop watching them! In other words, that which demeans godly living has no place in our daily life.
10. Do not covet thy neighbor’s house, nor anything that is his. Envy is the source of great evil, dishonor and selfishness. It fosters the worthless and ruthless collection of material things at the expense of other people, at the expense of nature and health, but mostly at the expense of man’s inner well-bring, depriving him of focusing on the primary purpose of life: to know God and love Him with all our heart and soul.
Wherever we are in our spiritual journey, a review of these ten basic commandments is a worthy exercise on a regular basis.
In Tune with Torah this week = how about a check up from the neck up? Take time to ponder each of these in your own meditation and prayer time.