A few years ago, I was walking next to a park in Aspen, Colorado and stumbled across a discreet, yet elegant monument. It was a large stone engraved with the words of the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. On one hand, I remember feeling pride that the universal words of our tradition resounded for every passer-by to see. And yet, on the other, I couldn’t help but think that it was a little bit strange and out-of-place to have a biblical list in a public place.
Many people and groups have taken up the Ten Commandments debate as a glaring infringement of the enshrined law separating church (synagogue) and state. Our innocuous list of 10 has functioned as a lightning rod, capturing the country’s attention, and provoking strong reactions. The latest example is an upcoming trial in Arkansas as a group is suing to remove the 10 Commandments monument from the grounds of the State Capitol. The current monument is a replacement of an earlier one desecrated and torn down. For one reason or another, we can’t seem to avoid this list of 10.
The 10 Commandments etched into our synagogue’s facade stand as a vibrant symbol to all those passing by on Jefferson Hwy. Each time that I see it, it reminds me lest I forget. It fills me anew with pride and purpose. Incidentally, this week’s 75th anniversary question deals with this same engraving, reminding us of the very same 10 Commandments that we read in shul this week.
Out of all the commandments and precepts in Judaism, why these 10? Perhaps, because they are the perfect encapsulation and synthesis of our ethical relationships on this Earth, both with God and our fellow man/woman. Or perhaps because of the commitment to learning and self-improvement they inspire and engender.
Their original name sheds some wisdom on this conundrum. After all, the way we say it in Hebrew is not a reverse translation of the English. Rather than using the word mitzvot, meaning commandments, they are called Aseret Ha’Dibrot, the 10 Utterances.
We must say them aloud lest our short human memories forget them and relegate them to study alone. They challenge us to prioritize certain behaviors in life and vocalize them for all to hear. And perhaps they inspire us to make a list of our own. If so, what would be your ten utterances? What is the playbook that helps govern your life? Do you ever have to tear down the priorities of your status quo to make space for new ones?
As we end this week and enter into the peace of Shabbat, may this list of 10 navigate us toward a life of goodness and meaning. May it lead us to articulate goals and visions for ourselves. May this Shabbat be one of counting our blessings from one to ten…to a hundred.