We hear of “The 10 Commandments” and we think Charlton Heston, fire and brimstone, an awe-inspiring and perhaps frightening and coercive encounter. And perhaps at some level we are intended to quake in our boots when we consider how the Israelite experience at Mount Sinai (no matter how you understand it)–and the resulting written words–have shaped the course of humanity.
That being said, I believe we get a bit too hung up on the “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not” language, and in so doing we often miss the gift of the beautiful and simple wisdom inherent in these utterances. (Note: the Torah never refers to the big 10 as mitzvot, or commandments. They are called dibrot, from the root meaning “speak”). So I offer you below my personal restatement of the 10 expressions:
And as such you need rely on no other.
Don’t overstate or minimize my presence.
One day each week, appreciate the ability to just BE, and treat it as a gift from me.
Don’t forget who brought you into this world.
No one life is more precious than another.
Control your physical appetites.
Control your material appetites.
Be honest in pursuit of your personal sense of justice.
Work for what you want, and live with the reality that you won’t always get it.
Live these statements, and perhaps we too will experience the Divine.
Rabbi Craig Scheff