The Ten Commandments of this week’s parasha are sometimes called Aseret Hadibrot, literally the “ten words” or “ten utterances.” They are often depicted, as in the image above, and in the wood carving on top of the ark in our sanctuary as two words each. If we look at the text of the Ten Commandments in the Torah, however, we see not ten words but 18 full verses of Torah. (Ex 20:1-18) Three of the commandments are made up of two words, like “Lo tignov,” “You shall not steal.” But most are longer. The commandment to observe Shabbat is an entire paragraph. Although not as simple as 10 words, from these 18 verses or these 10 fundamental commandments came forth volumes and volumes of Jewish law (Halakhah), commentary, scholarly interpretation, and modifications.
Are these 10 to be held up as the most important commandments? Are they the outline for which the rest filled in the detail? As you can imagine, there are a myriad of answers, debate and discussion in those volumes and volumes that grew from Torah. As we read the Ten Commandments in synagogue this Shabbat, we add our own thoughts and interpretations to the generations that have pondered these questions before us.