The Aseros HaDibros, Ten Commandments heard at Sinai (Shemos 20:2-17,
Devarim 5:6-21) were inscribed on Two Tablets of Stone and brought down by
Moshe from G-d to the people. They are equally divided into mitzvos bein
adam l'mokom, laws between man and G-d and mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro,
interpersonal laws. The Ten Commandments are the most famously recognized
of all the mitzvos.
What distinguishes the Ten Commandments from all the other 613 laws in the
Torah, which were also accepted at Sinai, is that the Ten Commandments act
as the "categories" under which all the other commandments are included
(Rashi, Shemos 24:12).
Several rabbinic works group the mitzvos according to their association
with the Ten Commandments highlighting them as t he ideological basis for
the 613 mitzvos in the Torah. This is beautifully alluded in how the text
of the Ten Commandments contains 620 letters (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:16) that
correspond to the 613 mitzvos plus the 7 rabbinic precepts (or the 7
Noachide laws). Of parenthetic note, is how the number 613 itself reduces
to (6+1+3=) 10.
The Ten Commandments is the national, communal bond forever linking the
destiny of Israel to the Torah. In-other-words, it is a deep symbol of the
eternal covenant struck between G-d and His chosen nation. This is
understood because the Ten Commandments was the text engraved upon the
Shtei Luchos HaAvonim, Two Tablets of Stone. It would be these Luchos,
that would forever reside at the center of Jewish life and within their
The phrase "koseiv al luach libecha", meaning "You should inscribe these
words upon the Tablets of your heart" can be applied to the inscription of
the Ten Commandments upon the Tablets. Just as the letters of the Tablets
were engraved into the stone, so too, should the laws of Torah be engraved
upon our hearts. Always.
The Ten Commandments powerfully evokes the significance of the number "10".
Perhaps the two, most prominent other usages of the number "10" are the
Asarah Maamaros, Ten Utterances through which G-d created the universe and
the Aseros HaDibros, Ten Plagues of the Exodus declaring Him the
Supervisor of His creation.
Symbolically, 10 is the number where individual units are united in a
collective whole. The human hands and feet were created with a total of 10
digits. 10 is also where individual personalities enter the categorization
of a community, or a congregation into which the Shechinah, Divine
Presence rests and the symbol of holiness. It is the presence of 10 men
that makes a Minyan, "quorum". The symbol of kedusha, "sanctity" is
repeatedly associated with the number 10: the recitation of Kaddish in
prayer and that of Kedusha, in repetition of the Amidah warrants a minimum
of 10 people. And the dimensions of the Holy of Holies, where the Ten
Commandments were held, were 10 cubits long, 10 cubits wide and 10 cubits
deep (Rashi, Shemos 26:31)
So "10" represents the completed "holy" vision of existence.
The unifying picture began in the creation of the world, via the plagues
with which Israel would emerge from Egypt, to their arrival at Sinai.
Together, the "creation" (Ten Utterances) and "Exodus" (Ten Plagues) were
the prelude to Sinai and the acceptance of Torah and mitzvos (Ten
Commandments). The reason is that Torah, itself the blueprint of creation,
was the affirmation of a world created by G-d in which the Children of
Israel, once redeemed from Pharaoh, exist to become the holy people to
observe and learn His laws.
Thus, the Ten Commandments go to the heart and soul of the 613 mitzvos.
Their stature - as indicative of all the commandments - emphasize the
elevated stature of the Jewish people gained at Sinai with their coveted
title of goy kodosh, "holy nation". It would be from henceforth onwards
that the completed version of creation would be played out - so long as
the Children of Israel hang on to their eternal bond and always sanctify
themselves in the performance of the will of G-d.
The course material is presented by Osher Chaim Levene, author of "Set in Stone: The Meaning of Mitzvah Observance" (Targum/Feldheim), a writer and educator in London whose website www.mitzva.org explores the wisdom of the commandments.