Tag Archives: ten commandments

The First Commandment

by Madeline Black (Sarasota, FL)

“I am the Eternal God.”

This sentence is the well known first of the Ten Commandments. However, according to basic rules of grammar, this sentence can not be a command. And yet, it is not only one of the Ten Commandments; it is the First Commandment.

While the following nine–such as, “You shall keep the Sabbath,” “Honor your father and mother,” and “Thou shall not kill”–are unarguably commands, this first commandment reads as more of an opening line. It sets the stage for the commandments that follow.

I believe that the purpose of the first commandment is for the Israelites to accept God as the Eternal One, who brought us out of the land of Egypt to be our God.

One Midrash interprets the first commandment to mean: “I am the Eternal, if I am your God.” In other words, God is able to bring about divine redemption only if Israel acknowledges God as being our God.

Upon learning this, I was reminded of a piece of information that I learned in a social studies class this year. I learned that a state can only be considered a state if it is universally acknowledged by other states. Well, does this same principle not apply to religion?

So, let us consider our religion to be a state of mind. By accepting the First Commandment to be true, we enter into that state of mind. Only in this state of mind are we able to fully adhere to the following nine commandments.

In a way, the First Commandment is God’s way of making sure that everybody clearly understands the responsibilities set by the commandments, as well as the consequences that come from not following them. The First Commandment is a reminder so that we do not forget that the commandments are something more than guidelines.

Let us not forget that the covenant between us and God has two sides to it. We are God’s chosen people as long as God is our only God. If we do not choose God, we are not his people. But what would happen if we had not accepted God as the Eternal?

The Quantum Theory explores the idea that matter and reality only exist when observed. For instance, does a spider in your bathroom exist if you do not see it? (Personally, I would prefer to think not.) But the bigger question is, if we did not believe in God, would God still exist? And without the belief in God, what are the Ten Commandments, if not only a set of meaningless, obsolete guidelines?

Although accepting God as our God was something we did as a people, I have come to learn that it is also something one must do on one’s own. In Hebrew school, as children, we are taught the Ten Commandments. We are taught the fundamentals of being Jewish. What is accepted, and what is not. However, it is not until later that one begins to question: Why must we celebrate Passover? Why must we keep the Sabbath?

I have learned this year from Rabbi Glickman that although we are given texts to read and passages to study, it is up to us to interpret them in a way that fits with our idea of being Jewish. This year, I have begun to understand that each person must also accept God as his or her God, and embrace the state of mind in order to be able to fully appreciate the mitzvah that is the Ten Commandments.

So, in reality, though the First Commandment is not a direct command, it is the most important commandment. The words “I am your God” are the words that direct these commandments to us, God’s chosen people. This commandment includes us all in a category of people who will follow the rest of the Ten Commandments.

God is our God, so we follow God’s commandments.

Madeline Black shared these thoughts about God and the Ten Commandments as part of her Confirmation this past Shabbat at Temple Emanu-el in Sarasota, FL. 


Filed under American Jewry, Jewish identity


by Janet Ruth Falon (Elkins Park, PA)

(The Ten Commandments are read during the Shavuot morning service.)

Rules are not meant to inhibit you,
to trap you behind bars where you are,
straddling evil and good,
one foot stretching toward each side,
but to reveal the extremes
that most of us, even if we extended our arms
as wide as the equator, wouldn’t reach.

The rules that say “you shall not”
strip off humanity’s holiday suit
to expose intent gone awry,
the bleakest, blackest wrongs
that can’t be made right
even by the fanciest footwork of lawyers
and medicine that proves exception,
(which may explain away why you do it,
and lighten your punishment).
It may make sense, but it is always wrong to murder.

The rules that say “you shall”
are the bunch of perfect carrots — and you love carrots — waiting for you on the farmer’s porch just down the road,
which you’ll never quite reach
but on the way there
you fling pocketsful of corn to the chickens
and pat the head of a brown-eyed cow
and pour water for the day-laborers.
You may never eat those carrots, but you’ll have taken the right road.

Janet Ruth Falon, the author of The Jewish Journaling Book (Jewish Lights, 2004), teaches a variety of writing classes at many places, including the University of Pennsylvania.  At the moment she is teaching journaling and creative-writing classes to people with cancer, and she’s working on a project that she hopes will be published as The Breast Cancer Journaling Workbook.

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Filed under American Jewry, Jewish writing