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The ten Commandments symbol meaning

The Ten Commandments, inscribed in  fire on two stone tablets and given to Moses on Mount Sinai during the Jews 40 years of wandering from Slavery in Egypt to Freedom in the Land of Israel.  The Ten Commandments constitute the foundation of Jewish law, the foundation upon which rest a collection of 613 mitzvot (laws or commandments) that provide us the guidelines to leading a better life.

Did you know?  The Ten Commandments, in the original Hebrew, contain 620 letters.  This is interesting as in Judaism there are 613 written commandments and 7 oral commandments – 620.

The Origin

The 10 Commandments are first mentioned in the Old Testament: “And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tablets of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them. And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God” Exodus 24:12-13.

But in fact, there is another reference to a second set of commandments:

“Hew thee two tablets of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tablets the words that were in the first tablets, which thou brakest" Exodus 34:1. 

According to the Biblical story, During the 40 days that Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments, the People of Israel reverted to idolatry  (The Golden Calf Exodus 32: 1 – 5).  Upon his return, Moses was so enraged that he broke the original two tablets.

In Deuteronomy 5:4–20, the story of the 10 Commandments is retold, apparently to educate the younger generation that was about to enter into the Promised Land.

Did you know?  The actual 10 Commandments are given orally to Moses in Exodus 20: 1 – 13.  In Exodus 24, they are committed to “writing”

Seven variations for Ten Commandments

  1. I am the Lord thy god, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
  2. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
  6. Thou shalt not murder.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  10. Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor. Exodus 20: 1 – 13

golden pendant with moses holding the ten commandments

Over the centuries, the 10 Commandments have become a central theme, not only for the Jews, but also for Christianity.  In fact, many scholars and theologians believe that the Commandments are the foundation of all Western law.

But the original order, has been altered and adapted over the centuries by different interpretations and translations of the original Biblical ten.  The Talmudic version above is the one followed by Jews whilst other, slightly different versions have been adopted by various section of the Christian world.

For example, a translation made by Philo of Alexandria a Jewish/Greek philosopher (25 BCE – c. 50 CE) reverses the order of the commandments relating to murder and adultery.

The Kabbalah and the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments, indeed all 613 commandments, set out the terms of our relationship with God and with our fellow man.  As such, the Commandments are seen as a moral code that must be followed to achieve enlightenment and understanding.

The Commandments act as a form of moral compass helping us focus our thought s and deeds towards a specific goal and destination.  If we act according to the dictates of this compass and thereby strengthen our own morality, so we are able to gain a deeper awareness of the spiritual world.

By using the Commandments to “monitor” our actions, we are able to understand our errors, repent and correct them.  As we go through life, the light and strength of this internal moral directive will become stronger and lead us closer to becoming a better person and a closer, deeper understanding of God and Creation.

For this reason, the symbol of the Ten Commandments, two stone tablets, is often worn to remind us of this challenge and commitment and to help us focus on achieving a better life, greater wisdom and a deeper understanding of the Divine will.


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