Hadrash Ve-Haiyun
Dor Revi'i

Torah Insights on the Weekly Parsha
by Efraim Levine

The Reisha Rav
HaGoan R' Aaron Levine zt"l
Author of
Hadrash Ve-Haiyan


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The Ten Commandments (Shemos 20:1-14)

We are all aware that the Ten Commandments were inscribed on two tablets. The first five Commandments appeared on the first tablet and the second five appeared on the second tablet. The commentators explain that the significance of dividing the tablets into two parts is that the first five represent Commandments that are between man and Hashem whereas the second five represent Commandments that are between man and man. Perhaps we may suggest another approach to categorize the Ten Commandments.

The Midrash (Va’eira) records that it is the opinion of Rebbi Yehudah that the staff used by Moshe to perform the plagues weighed exactly forty seah and was made from the sanpirin stone. It is interesting that the same Rebbi Yehudah in another Midrash relates that the Tablets also weighed exactly forty seah and were made from the same sanpirin stone. From these two Midrashim it appears that there is a strong connection between the staff of Moshe and the Luchos, but what is the connection?

Further, in the Haggadah we again encounter Rebbi Yehudah: Rebbi Yehudah haya nossen bo simanim…. The Radal explains that Rebbi Yehudah’s true intent is that the staff of Moshe had the three words desach adash ba-achav, containing ten letters inscribed on it. A loose translation of his words are: Rebbi Yehudah says that Moshe put this acronym in his staff.  

Taking all of the above together let us suggest that just as the staff of Moshe contained ten letters that were categorized into three separate parts likewise the ten commandments can also be categorized into three parts.

If we take a close look at the Ten Commandments we will discover they too fit into three sections. These categories correspond to the three words of Rebbi Yehudah’s acronym of desach adash and b’achav. These groupings will consist of categories containing three, three and four elements just as they are grouped in Rebbi Yehudah’s acronym.  Let’s locate these groupings. The first grouping is the first three Commandments: 1) I am Hashem your G-d, 2) you shall have no other gods 3) and do not swear falsely by my Name. These three commandments clearly fit into the category of those between man and Hashem.

A second grouping of four, corresponding to the four letters of b’ahav, and relating between man and man are the last four commandments: 1) Do not commit adultery, 2) do not steal, 3) do not testify falsely, 4) Do not desire the wife and possessions of your neighbor.

Finally, the third category of three consists of the middle three Commandments 1) Shabbos, 2) honoring one’s parents and 3) the prohibition against murder. These Commandments serve as a bridge between the Commandments that are between man and man and the Commandments that are between man and Hashem.

Let’s begin with Shabbos. On the one hand Shabbos is a day of rest. We are commanded to abstain from the physical labor. This aspect of the Commandment relates to man. However, Shabbos is also a day that serves as a sign and remembrance that Hashem created the world. This aspect of Shabbos relates to Hashem. We see here both elements, an aspect that applies to man as well as one relating to Hashem.

The Commandment to honor parents is also a bridge. On one hand a parent is special human being whom we are obligated to respect, honor and fear. Thus, it fits into the category of man and man. However, a parent is also a Hashem’s partner in our creation. Indeed, the honor of a parent is compared to the honor of Hashem. Again we see this dual aspect of man and man as well as man and Hashem.

Finally, the prohibition against murder also serves as a bridge. The sin of murder by definition certainly involves a transgression that relates to man. However, a person is also an image of Hashem, a tzelem elokim and thus the sin of murder is an attempt to diminish the image of Hashem.

In summary, we suggest that just as the staff was divided into three parts likewise the Ten Commandments are divided into three parts. These are the Commandments that are between man and Hashem; man and man; and the Commandments that bridge the two.