The Ten Commandments, also known as the Aseret haDibrot in Hebrew, are a set of moral and religious laws that hold great significance in Judaism. They are considered foundational principles for ethical behavior and worship within the Jewish faith, and represent the overarching categories other mitzvot fall into. The commandments were given by God to the prophet Moses on Mount Sinai, as mentioned specifically in the book of Exodus (Exodus 20:1-17) and then reiterated in the book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 5:4-21).
Here are the Ten Commandments along with a brief explanation of their historical and religious significance for Jews:
- I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. This commandment establishes the belief in monotheism, the worship of one God. It reminds the Jewish people of their liberation from slavery in Egypt and their covenantal relationship with God.
- You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath. This commandment prohibits the creation and worship of idols or graven images. It emphasizes the intangible nature of God and the rejection of idolatry.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. This commandment instructs against using the name of God in a disrespectful or frivolous manner. It encourages reverence and respect for the divine name.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. This commandment establishes the observance of the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week (from Friday evening to Saturday evening), as a day of rest and spiritual reflection. In the first telling of the 10 commandments, this is given as a mitzvah to observe (i.e. keep the restrictions), while in the reiteration it is told as a mitzvah to remember (i.e. make it noteworthy and special).
- Honor your father and your mother. This commandment emphasizes the importance of respecting and honoring parents, recognizing their role in raising and nurturing children.
- You shall not murder. This commandment prohibits the act of unlawfully taking another person’s life, highlighting the sanctity of human life.
- You shall not commit adultery. This commandment prohibits adultery, emphasizing the significance of faithfulness within marriage and the preservation of the family unit.
- You shall not steal. This commandment forbids theft, promoting the principles of honesty, integrity, and respect for others’ property.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. This commandment prohibits bearing false witness or lying about others. It promotes truthfulness, justice, and the preservation of one’s reputation.
- You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. This commandment warns against covetousness and envy, encouraging contentment and gratitude for one’s blessings instead of desiring what belongs to others.
The Ten Commandments serve as a moral and ethical framework for Jews, guiding their relationship with God and with fellow human beings. They are considered divine instructions that shape Jewish religious and communal life, influencing personal conduct, social interactions, and the pursuit of justice and righteousness. The commandments have been deeply ingrained in Jewish tradition, serving as a source of inspiration, reflection, and guidance throughout history.