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Aseret HaDibrot - The First Three Commandments

This week’s Parsha, Yitro, includes the Aseret HaDibrot - the Ten Commandments - given to Am Yisrael at Mt. Sinai, just 7 weeks after leaving Egypt. Here is a very brief discussion of the first 3 commandments

אָֽנֹכִ֨י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֽוֹצֵאתִ֩יךָ֩ מֵאֶ֨רֶץ מִצְרַ֜יִם מִבֵּ֣ית עֲבָדִ֗ים: The first commandment reads as follows: “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” At first glance, this commandment may seem straightforward; however, upon further investigation, one can understand the significant and far-reaching implications of this commandment

The Midrash sheds light on this passage by highlighting two major points: the presence of God and the importance of our divinely endowed freedom. Regarding God's presence, Midrash teaches that once a person has recited this passage, they are acknowledging the presence of God. In the exodus, God manifests himself to the people in an astounding way and shows his willingness to redeem the Israelites from captivity. Thus, when we recite these words we are declaring that we too recognize God’s presence and commitment to our emancipation.

The second important point that is highlighted in the Midrash is the value of freedom. As it is written in Sefer Yehoshua, “I have given you a land for which you did not toil and cities you did not build, and you live in them; you eat from vineyards and olive orchards you did not plant.” In continuing with this tradition of liberation from slavery, God has provided us with a deep sense of freedom — free to express ourselves, free to pursue our passions, free to choose our paths.

The greatest implication of this first commandment is that it serves as the spiritual cornerstone for Judaism. It is not only a reminder of our divine emancipation from slavery in Egypt, but of our continued reliance on God for spiritual guidance and protection.

לֹ֣א יִֽהְיֶ֣ה־לְךָ֩ אֱלֹהִ֨ים אֲחֵרִ֜ים עַל־פָּנַ֗י: לֹ֣א תַֽעֲשֶׂה־לְּךָ֣ פֶ֣סֶל | וְכָל־תְּמוּנָ֡ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּשָּׁמַ֣יִם | מִמַּ֡עַל וַֽאֲשֶׁר֩ בָּאָ֨רֶץ מִתַּ֜חַת וַֽאֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּמַּ֣יִם | מִתַּ֣חַת לָאָ֗רֶץ: לֹֽא־תִשְׁתַּֽחֲוֶ֣ה לָהֶם֘ וְלֹ֣א תָֽעָבְדֵם֒ כִּ֣י אָֽנֹכִ֞י יְהֹוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֨יךָ֙ אֵ֣ל קַנָּ֔א פֹּ֠קֵ֠ד עֲוֹ֨ן אָבֹ֧ת עַל־בָּנִ֛ים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁ֥ים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִ֖ים לְשֽׂנְאָ֑י: וְעֹ֤שֶׂה חֶ֨סֶד֙ לַֽאֲלָפִ֔ים לְאֹֽהֲבַ֖י וּלְשֹֽׁמְרֵ֥י מִצְוֹתָֽי:

The second commandment, "You shall not have other gods besides Me" (Shmot 20:3), is a crucial aspect of Jewish belief and practice.

This commandment prohibits the worship of any other gods. The midrash explains that this commandment is necessary because idol worship was a common practice in the ancient world and the Jewish people were in danger of adopting the same practices. By commanding the Jews to worship only the One True God, this midrash emphasizes the importance of keeping the Jewish people distinct from the surrounding nations and maintaining their unique covenant with God.

Rashi explains that this commandment prohibits not only the worship of false gods but also the creation of graven images or likenesses that could lead to idol worship. The Rambam explains that this commandment requires a person to believe in the unity of God and to reject any notion of duality or polytheism. The Rambam continues that the creation of images implies that God has a physical form, which is contrary to the belief in God as an intangible and indivisible deity.

The next pasuk, "לֹֽא־תִשְׁתַּֽחֲוֶ֣ה לָהֶם֘ וְלֹ֣א תָֽעָבְדֵם֒" warns against worshiping other gods and serving them. The reason given is that God is a jealous God who takes note of the sins of the fathers on the children, up to the third and fourth generation.

The idea of God being jealous is a recurring theme in the Torah and is seen as a reminder that God is the only true deity and that worshiping other gods is an affront to God's authority. The idea of God remembering the sins of the fathers and punishing the children is also a common theme, emphasizing the importance of passing on a legacy of faith and obedience to the next generation.

לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לַשָּׁ֑וְא כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יְנַקֶּה֙ יְהֹוָ֔ה אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ לַשָּֽׁוְא:

The third commandment, "לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לַשָּׁ֑וְא" ("Do not carry the name of the Lord your God in vain"), is a warning against misusing the name of God. This commandment has been interpreted in different ways by midrashim and meforshim.

One midrash states that using God's name in a false or deceitful manner is what is meant by "carrying God's name in vain." The meforshim expand upon this idea by explaining that it is forbidden to swear falsely by God's name, to make promises in God's name without the intention of fulfilling them, or to use God's name in any way that is not respectful or meaningful.

Another midrash explains that the word "vain" (שָׁוְא) in the verse refers to emptiness or futility. Misusing God's name is considered a futile and empty act, as it lacks any real meaning or substance. According to Rashi, the commandment is a warning against making light of God's name, as it is a serious matter to call upon the name of the Lord.

More on the Aseret HaDibrot (10 Commandments) later this week!



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