Parshat Yitro: Are the Ten Commandments Special?

In parshat Yitro we receive the Ten Commandments, which are thought of as the basis of Torah. Some commentaries teach that all ten were spoken directly by God to the people of Israel. Moreover, they were written on luchot (tablets). Given their foundational status, why don’t the aseret ha-dibrot feature more prominently in tefilla and how do they continue to resonate in our world today? 

In fact, the Ten Commandments were originally said in daily prayer. According to Mishna Tamid, the kohanim recited certain prayers in the mikdash, including Shema and aseret ha-dibrot. However, explains the Talmud Yerushalmi, they were removed due to the “arguments of the heretics,” who claimed that “only these were given to Moshe at Sinai,” not the rest of Torah. Even though various rabbis tried to re-insert them into daily tefilla, the Talmudic Sages rejected these attempts to refute the claims of the heretics. 

Over time, Jews found ways to promote the Ten Commandments in tefilla, while adhering to the decree of the Sages. Yerushalmi Berakhot teaches that the aseret ha-dibrot – originally said alongside Shema – are actually contained within the words of Shema. The Rema states that they may be said by an individual but not as part of communal tefilla. Many communities developed the (once debated) custom to stand during the Torah reading when the Ten Commandments are read publicly. 

This process highlights that the Ten Commandments were treasured by the Jewish people throughout history, representative of our relationship with God and Torah’s contribution to the world. They encapsulate and express the deep continuum between interpersonal mitzvot and mitzvot between man and God. This week in particular, after the devastating earthquake, the dibrot are a reminder that each life lost was created in the image of God and that the praiseworthy efforts to aid the suffering is a mitzvah in the eyes of God and humanity. Shabbat Shalom -Karen Miller Jackson

** photo by IDF spokesperson’s unit משלחת צה״ל “ענפי זית” בטורקיה 🇹🇷🇮🇱

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s