|The Voice of Torah-Yitro-The Chess Match|
|Written by Rabbi Chaim Goldberger|
Two important questions need to be asked about the ten statements presented in Parshat Yitro, known colloquially as the Ten Commandments.
One – We know there are more than ten commandments in the Torah. According to our tradition, there are as many as 613 divine commandments to be observed and obeyed. Why were ten specific ones singled out to be transmitted orally by the mouth of God and chiseled onto stone tablets. What distinguishes these ten from all other commandments?
Two – The first commandment is the one requiring belief in God. Regardless of whether the commandment is understood like Ramban, that we are actually being commanded to believe, or like Rambam, that we are being asked to take our knowledge of God and make it real, why is the statement written, “I am the Lord Your God”, more like a statement of fact than as a mandate or imperative of any kind. In other words, if this is supposed to be the First Commandment, why is it not written as a commandment?
What is unique about the Ten Commandments is the fact that, strung together in their order, they represent a progression. What kind of progression is it? It is the progression that one needs to take when embarking upon a fresh, new relationship still dogged by uncertainties and insecurities. The Ten Commandments are to be read as if they were describing a grand chess match:
“So you’ve accepted My challenge to engage Me in a match. You believe you already know everything there is to know and taking Me on will not change you or your ability to live in any reality you choose. Okay. I’ll move first.
“I am God – I exist. Your move.”
-- “Fine. I accept that You exist. But I can still choose my reality by adopting any other number of gods (read: values) available for worship.”
“You cannot have any other gods before Me. None others exist. Your move.”
-- “Well, maybe I cannot flee Your reality by escaping to other gods, but I can curse You and thereby disassociate myself from Your reality.”
“You cannot use My Name in vain. No cursing. Your move.
-- “ Fine. I will accept Your exclusive existence and do so without resentment, but I do not have to let that acceptance impose on my lifestyle.”
“Remember the Sabbath Day (Sabbath being key to all other mitzvot). My existence must of necessity impose upon your lifestyle. Your move.
-- “Alright, I will acknowledge You and keep your mitzvot, because I see that as a necessary effect arising from Your existence. But I will degrade the ones who brought me into this mess, for I never asked to be put in this predicament.”
“Honor your father and your mother. They are to be given credit for your situation, not blame. Your move.”
-- “Okay, I’m in. You exist; You are exclusive; and I have no wish to disassociate, not from you, not from your commandments, nor from those who brought me into this. But let me appropriate this notion of existence for my own ends and use it to render my sense of existence supreme and deny the existence of others.”
“You are not allowed to murder. Your move.”
-- “Right – that would be usurping Your role as Master of Life and Death. So I will simply undermine the integrity of others’ relationships, thereby enhancing my own reality.
“You are not allowed to commit adultery. Your move.”
-- “I understand. Your Presence depends on the integrity of their relationships. Instead, I will negate their sense of proprietorship, enhancing my own reality without denying Yours.”
“You are not allowed to steal. Your move.”
-- “I get it. Direct harming of others contravenes the truth of Your existence. No problem, I will simply manipulate reality to cause it to serve my ends.”
“You may not testify falsely in court. You may not manipulate reality. Your move.”
-- “Okay, I like this - this is beautiful! You exist and exist exclusively, so I have no reason to resent You, remain aloof from You, reject my origins, or diminish the reality of others. I am going to internalize this idea and feel like it is all for me and about me!
“You are not allowed to covet. Do not put yourself at the center. This is not about you. It is about your God and His existence. When you accept that, it will truly be beautiful.”
These ten steps are the pathway to a full acceptance of the new relationship. Imagine applying the same steps to the arrival of a new baby, greeted in the household with some ambiguity:
- I exist! Your move.
- I still have my own life
- You cannot have your own life and still be there to support all my needs. Your move.
- You’re right. Your existence demands my undivided attention. But I resent you.
- You cannot resent me; I’m a cute little baby! Your move.
- Fine – You’re here and I love and adore you. But don’t expect me to adjust my lifestyle for you.
- You have many adjustments you must make to accommodate my needs. Your move.
- I agree. But I can remain disdainful of the fact that I’m in this position at all.
- You cannot. Your decisions that brought me into the world were good ones. Your move.
- You’re right. I am happy to have you here. I will make merciless fun of people who don’t have babies.
- You cannot do that. The grief will kill them. Your move.
- I will hint that their families are of lesser status without babies.
- You cannot interfere with others’ relationships on my account. Your move.
- I will usurp their time and their freedom to serve my child care needs.
- You cannot steal. Your move.
- Everyone loves new babies. I will use my position as parent of a newborn to get sympathy, manipulating the system and people around me to get what I want.
- You cannot use my existence to help you manipulate reality. Your move.
- Wow, I get it! Having a new baby is a beautiful thing. And it’s all about me!
- It’s not – it’s all about your baby. Once you internalize that, you are on the way to a beautiful new relationship.
It is these ten commandments in particular that lay out a pathway to the embracing of any fantastically new and different relationship entering into our lives. Moshe relayed it to the Children of Israel to use in their fledgling relationship, and it remains ours to use ever since.