Broken Tablets by Lawrence Kushner, Arnold Jacob Wolf e Rabbi Eugene B. Borowitz - Read Online
Broken Tablets
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Let the Ten Commandments command your imagination … and enrich your life.

When the Holy One gave the Torah, no bird chirped, no fowl flew, no ox lowed, not one angel stirred its wing or sang its song. The sea did not roar, creatures did not speak—the whole world was hushed into breathless silence; it was then that the voice went forth: "I am the Lord your God…"
—Exodus Rabba 29:9

Even people who claim not to be “religious” will generally maintain that they do observe the Ten Commandments. Why is it that these ten statements, thousands of years old, continue to have such a special hold on us?

Here, twelve outstanding spiritual leaders from across the spectrum of Jewish thought bring us to the life and soul of the Ten Commandments' unusual power. In voices that are personal and diverse, they help us take a closer look at the ten utterances that not only touch every aspect of our lives, but also present each of us with a profound challenge.

Contributors include:

Eugene B. Borowitz • Leonard Fein • Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer • Laura Geller •
Lawrence A. Hoffman • Menachem Kellner • Peter S. Knobel • Richard N. Levy • Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi • Levi Weiman-Kelman

Published: Turner Publishing Company on
ISBN: 9781580237024
List price: $16.99
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Broken Tablets - Lawrence Kushner

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I, Adonai your God,

[am the one]

who brought you out of the land of Egypt,

from a slavehouse.

translation, Eugene Borowitz

The First Commandment


How can God command belief?

It is not clear whether "I, Adonai your God" is a commandment at all. A mitzvah (commandment) must be governed by free will and choice; faith is not. How can God insist that we accept the Divine reality and rule? What if we cannot believe? Some commentators suggest that it could simply be a preface (albeit an essential one) to the actual commands. Their authority depends on our faith in a Commander.

A parable: A new king came to rule, but refused to pass any laws. His advisors urged him to assert his rule more visibly. But he insisted, They must first come to accept me as their king. Then they will know that the laws I give them are for blessing.

Yet Moses Maimonides calls it the first among mitzvot, the pillar upon which all religion and science rest. We are called upon to believe in God and to know that there is a first (Divine) cause. Perhaps it is commanded the way any necessary thing is commanded.

Ma’aseh shehayah… It once happened

that a young man went to study with the Maggid of Mezritch. He stayed away a long time, until he found what he was looking for. Returning home, his angry father-in-law demanded to know what he could possibly have learned that would justify neglecting his family.

I learned that there is a God.

His father-in-law was not sure whether to laugh or yell at this foolish man. He summoned the maid and asked, Is there a God?

Of course, sir, she laughed nervously. Everyone believes in God.

You see! he bellowed at his son-in-law. You deserted your family for Mezritch to learn something that even an illiterate maid could have told you!

The young man remained calm. "She says there is a God, but in Mezritch I learned to know there is a God."

What did the people hear at Sinai?

Most commentators conclude that the people heard only the first two utterances.

Nachmanides points out that the first two are phrased in the first person, with God speaking directly. The others speak about God, as if Moses is reporting what God said. In the Talmud, the Rabbis play with gematria, a system of interpretation in which each Hebrew letter also stands for a number. Jewish tradition enumerates 613 commandments in the Torah; the word Torah ) itself has the numerical value of 611. Moses taught 611 mitzvot; the other two the people heard for themselves.

Still, there is not complete agreement. Rashi insists that the people heard the first two of these utterances word for word. Maimonides argues that they heard only the sound, unintelligible without Moses’ help.

Franz Rosenzweig, a modern philosopher, suggests that what the people received at Sinai was a revelation of God’s overwhelming presence and love. From that experience, they translated what they understood of God’s will into commandments, teachings to guide their lives. Perhaps this idea is not so different than a much older interpretation:

(Anochi, I). But it is a silent letter! Yes, what the people heard at Sinai was the sound of the Holy One of Blessing opening a gateway, as if opening a mouth to begin to speak. The beginning of a conversation —and it was