One night, four students stayed out late, completely disregarding the test they had the next day. Before school the next the morning, they hatched a brilliant plan to avoid taking the test. They covered themselves with grease and dirt and went to the principal’s office. They told him all about how their car had gotten a flat tire the previous night on their way home from a wedding, and how they had to spend the whole night pushing it home.
The principal listened attentively to their tale of woe, and kindly offered them a retest on the following day. The students gratefully accepted the offer and spent the whole night studying in anticipation of the test.
When they arrived at the principal’s office the next morning, he separated them into four different rooms before handing them their test papers. The test had only two questions:
What is your name? __________ (1 Point)
Which tire popped? __________ (99 Points)
The Power of Truth
Truth is powerful, crucial, and one of the core values in Judaism. Without truth, we lack a higher purpose, a foundation to our existence. When klal Yisrael hear the ultimate truth at Matan Torah – the Aseres HaDibros (the Ten Commandments) – they embrace their lofty mission in this world.
We are commanded to treat every pasuk and word in the Torah with equal awe and respect, and yet there is a prevailing custom to stand in shul as the Aseres HaDibros are read, seemingly attributing unique significance to them. The Aseres HaDibros are carved above the aron (ark) in almost every shul, and we view them as the foundation of the Torah. What is it about these words that merit special treatment? In order to understand the centrality and importance of these Ten Commandments, we must delve into their deeper meaning.
First and Second Luchos
One unique feature of the Luchos is that there were two sets given to us. The original was created by Hashem and given to Moshe, whereas the second set was hewn by the hands of Moshe. However, the difference between these two sets is not simply practical; the two sets of Luchos are fundamentally different. As the Beis HaLevi explains, the first Luchos were a transcendent, angelic, other-worldly form of Torah. The entirety of Torah SheBichsav and Torah SheB’al Peh was contained within these tablets, and all of it was clear and accessible. After the Cheit HaEigel (Sin of the Golden Calf), klal Yisrael lost access to this Torah, and the second set of Luchos provided a relatively limited and human form of Torah (Beis HaLevi, d’rush 18). However, the transcendent reality introduced through the giving of the first set of Luchos remains, and it is worth understanding the impact of this set.
Matan Torah vs. Creation of the World
Hashem created the physical world by expressing the infinite oneness of the spiritual world into a physical world of multiplicity. This world of multiplicity masks the underlying oneness of creation, and it takes great effort to discover and reveal this oneness. Avraham Avinu undertook a lonely spiritual journey toward recognizing and living this truth, but it wasn’t until Matan Torah that the entire world recognized it. When Hashem gave us the Torah, He reconnected the physical world of multiplicity back to its transcendent source of oneness. As such, all of klal Yisrael received n’vuah and experienced the infinite truth of reality.
This idea explains a strange pasuk regarding Matan Torah. The pasuk says that when Hashem gave us the Torah, “ro’im es ha’kolos,” we “saw the sounds” (Sh’mos 20:15). We don’t see sounds, we hear them. What, then, does this mean?
As we have previously discussed, the spiritual concept of seeing is the idea of observing something as it is in a completely static state. When you see a picture, you grasp the entire image instantaneously. There’s no process of constructing or building the picture in your mind; everything is just there, at once, with no effort. The spiritual concept of hearing, however, reflects movement and a progression of understanding. Hearing requires effort; it necessitates the reconstruction of bits of sound into words and meaning.
This world – Olam HaZeh – is a place of movement, a place of hearing. The transcendent spiritual realm, Olam HaBa, is a place lacking movement. It is a place of static perfection, a place of seeing. Matan Torah was an Olam HaBa experience that occurred in this world. We all became prophets, transcending the physical world of time and space, experiencing the infinite spiritual nature of reality. In such a dimension, there is no hearing or movement, only sight. Therefore, sounds weren’t heard, they were seen.
Anochi vs. B’reishis
The nature of Matan Torah is indicated in the very words used to describe it. The original creation of the physical world is introduced with the word B’reishis, which begins with the letter beis. The Aseres HaDibros, and by extension Matan Torah, begin with the letter alef. The Maharal explains that beis, the second letter of the alef-beis, represents the concept of multiplicity and twoness. Its numerical value is two, connected to the multiplicity of our physical world. Alef, on the other hand, is the letter of oneness – transcendence and spirituality, reflecting Hashem and the spiritual dimension. Alef is the very first letter in the alef-beis and has the numerical value of one. It is a silent letter, reflecting its spiritual, transcendent nature. It also reflects spiritual elevation, as expressed in many words that have the word “alef” (alef, lamed, pei) as their root (shoresh). “L’aleif” means to teach, elevate, or lift to a higher spiritual dimension; “aluf” refers to the highest-ranking military position; and “elef” is the highest number in the Hebrew decimal system.
The Torah begins with the letter beis, because Parshas B’reishis begins by describing Hashem’s creation of the physical world, the process of Hashem’s oneness becoming expressed into multiplicity. This process is most appropriately encapsulated by the letter beis – the letter of twoness that stems from oneness.
While the creation of the physical world reflects the finite expression of oneness into multiplicity, Matan Torah was exactly the opposite. The experience of Torah being brought into this world was an ascension from twoness to oneness. This was an experience of Hashem Himself – an unparalleled experience of truth, oneness, and the transcendent spiritual dimension of reality. The Aseres HaDibros therefore begins with an alef, the letter of oneness and transcendence. (The Aseres HaDibros begins with the words: “Anochi Hashem.”)
Building on the concepts we have just developed, we can now understand the uniqueness of the Aseres HaDibros in relation to the rest of the Torah. Many assume that the Aseres HaDibros are simply the ten most important mitzvos in the Torah, which is why they receive special attention. However, there is much deeper significance to these specific ten mitzvos. Rashi explains that the Aseres HaDibros include the rest of the mitzvos within them (Sh’mos 24:12). These Ten Commandments are the fundamental root mitzvos, and the other 603 mitzvos emanate from these ten root categories. [Rav Saadiah Gaon describes at great length the breakdown of the mitzvos into their respective categories. It’s also fascinating to note that there are 620 letters in the Aseres HaDibros, reflecting the idea that the 613 mitzvos and the sheva mitzvos B’nei Noach are all contained within these ten root categories.]
Rav Tzadok explains that just as the 613 mitzvos emanate from the Aseres HaDibros, all of the Aseres HaDibros, and by extension, all the mitzvos in the Torah, emanate from the first of the Aseres HaDibros, “Anochi Hashem.”
This first dibrah declares Hashem’s existence and establishes the necessity of our faithfulness to Hashem and his will. Whenever a person performs a mitzvah, he expresses his adherence to the first of the Aseres HaDibros by acknowledging Hashem’s existence and his commitment to fulfilling His will.
Rav Tzadok continues by explaining that the second dibrah, the prohibition of Avodah Zarah (Idolatry), is the root of all mitzvos lo saaseh (negative commandments). When one denies the will of Hashem, transgressing a negative commandment, he distances himself from Hashem, serving himself instead. This is an abstracted form of avodah zarah, as idolatry is the concept of betraying our loyalty and relationship with Hashem. On a deeper level, when one violates a lo saaseh, it is also a violation of the first dibrah, Anochi Hashem, as this root mitzvah contains within it all of avodas Hashem. When one fails to acknowledge Hashem, he squanders the opportunity to fulfill the first dibrah of building a loving connection with our Creator.
A Fundamental Problem
However, there is a major problem. If the Luchos are an expression of the oneness of Torah and the root of our connection to Hashem in this world, then why are the Dibros split into two separate groups, the right side and the left side? Why fragment the ultimate expression of oneness into two separate pieces? In our next article, we will delve more deeply into this topic in order to build a paradigm through which we can answer this question on a profoundly deep level.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, The Journey to Your Ultimate Self, which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an international speaker, educator, and the CEO of Self-Mastery Academy. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received s’micha from RIETS, a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in Jewish Thought, and then spent a year studying at Harvard. He is currently pursuing a PhD at UChicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.