In this week’s Parsha we learn about the “Ten Commandments[1]”. Certainly a detailed discussion about them will require many volumes of books, but can we at least know the general significance of these particular commands of the Torah and their overall structure?




Obviously every letter of the Torah is holy and infinitely deep[2]. There are lessons to be learned on various levels of interpretation from any sentence in our Torah. Even on the simplest level of understanding (Pshat) we can learn lessons in life from seemingly unimportant passages[3]. We can thus find tens of thousands of commandments in our Torah most of which have applications to every day life[4]. Our sages had a tradition that all the mitzvos of our Torah are grouped into 613 general commandments[5], and that the Ten Commandments have a central significance[6]. As far as any practical law is concerned there is no real difference which of the thousands of Torah’s commands are considered part of the 613[7], and so too there is no real practical difference between the Ten Commandments and the remaining 603[8].


The structure of Torah’s commands can be compared to a tree with trunk, big branches and smaller branches. All commandments of the Torah are of crucial importance, but some are in a way inclusive compared to others. Some commandments of the Torah are like the trunk itself, others are like the main branches, yet others are the thinner branches that spread out. In this analogy, the most fundamental commandment is the belief in Hashem - the trunk of the whole tree. The main branches are the rest of the Ten Commandments. The remaining 603 of the commandments spread out from these branches. In truth there is even further spreading since each of the 613 commandments can be divided into the various details and applications. Thus the Torah actually contains thousands of various directives as we mentioned. Which 613 of them are the main ones is actually subject to dispute, and there is no practical application to this dispute.


In general the Ten Commandments are divided into two groups of five. When Moshe later came down from Mount Sinai he was holding two Tablets of stone. The one in his right hand contained the first five commandments pertaining to our relationship with Hashem[9]. The one in his left hand had the remaining five that deal with our obligations to other people[10]. The five commandments on the right Tablet correspond to the five on the left Tablet[11].


Now, the first two commandments on the right Tablet are the mitzvah to believe in Hashem and the prohibition of idol worship. The first two commandments on the left Tablet are the prohibitions of murder and adultery. Thus the first two commandments on each Tablet are in a way the most fundamental[12]. They include the mitzvah to believe in Hashem and the prohibitions of three cardinal sins for which one is supposed to give up his life in order not to transgress.


Now we will mention briefly the overall structure of these Ten Commandments. According to the Zohar (2:276b; 3:12a; Zohar Chadash, Ki Sisa), the Ten Commandments correspond to the ten statements made during the creation of the world and to the ten[13] Sefiros[14]:


I am Hashem you G-d

Creation of light


You shell not worship idols

Creation of the sky


Don’t swear falsely

Gathering of the waters


Remember Shabbos

Creation of trees and plants


Respect your parents

Creation of luminaries


Don’t kill

Creation of fish


Do not commit adultery

Creation of animals


Don’t steal

Giving food to the people


Don’t witness falsely

Creation of Adam


Don’t covet

Creation of Chava



It is certainly beyond the scope of this article to discuss the reasons for this correspondence. We will mention however one interesting point. The commandment not to covet corresponds to Keser which is the highest Sefirah that includes the ones below it. The commandment not to commit adultery corresponds to Malchus – the lowest Sefirah which also in a way includes and combines the Sefiras above it. The interesting point here is the fact that indeed our sages teach that these two commandments include all others[15].


The one who covets can end up breaking the other commandments and similarly the one who commits adultery can end up breaking the remaining nine commandments[16]. Indeed, the desire for opposite gender is far greater than other types of Yetzer Hara[17]. Once we can work on our qualities, so that we don’t have desires for what does not belong to us, we will learn to be satisfied with what we have. By subduing our desires and carefully observing these two commandments it will be easier to keep all the mitzvos of the Torah. We will then serve our Creator in righteousness, and deserve the long awaited redemption.



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[1] Note, that our sages use an expression: “Ten wordings” with regards to these verses. In fact according to some opinions there are actually more than ten mitzvos described in them.


[2] See our words to Parshas Vayeitze.


[3] See Talmud, Sanhedrin 99b; “Guide to the perplexed” 3:50.


[4] For example the commandments of waging war don’t apply to us in Exile, yet the details that describe the Jewish army camp have applications to every day life. More than a dozen paragraphs in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 74-87) are based on two verses speaking of the Jewish army camp: the laws of a clean place and proper clothing needed for prayer are learned from there.


[5] See Talmud, Makos  23b.


[6] See Rashi 24:12 in the name of Rav Saadia Gaon. Note that there are altogether 620 letters in the Ten Commandments, like the numerical value of “Keser” – crown. This hints to 613 mitzvos plus the seven special “Mitzvos Derabonan” (the ones that were not made as a “fence” but are rather new commands like Chanukah candles, reading the Megillah on Purim etc).


[7] See beginning of “Maalos Hatorah”, by the brother of Vilna Gaon.


[8] Indeed it is forbidden to read the Ten Commandments every day in a congregation, so as not to create an impression that these are the only commandments that Hashem Himself gave us (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 1:5). Similarly it is not recommended to stand up when the Ten Commandments are read from the Torah in Parshas Yisro and in Parshas Vaeschanan. If one wants to get up, he should do so some verses before the chazan gets to the Ten Commandments.

[9] The commandment to respect parents is considered to be between us and Hashem, since their fear and respect is compared to respecting the Creator.


[10] Note that the commandments on the first Tablet have two Divine Names in each of them, while the ones on the second Tablet do not have Divine Names (see Avodas Hagershuni).


[11] See Pesikta Rabti, 21.


[12] See the GR”A in his commentary to Agados in Brochos, 61a. These four sins are punished by four types of death. Idol worship – by stoning; murder – by sword; adultery – by strangulation; heresy by “burning” in gehinom (see further GR”A in Aderes Eliyahu, Devarim 32:17).


[13] There are also two slightly different arrangements given there in the Zohar; there is yet another arrangement in Rabeinu Bachye’s commentary on 20:14.


[14] See our article 10centuriesenglish.htm in the appendix.

[15] See Bemidbar Raba; 12:9, Tanchuma, Naso 2; Pesikta Rabti, 21.


[16] How can one cause breaking Shabbos through committing adultery? An adulterer may have a child with the woman who is married to a Cohen, and the child will be assumed to be her husband’s. Thus the son will work in the Holy Temple on Shabbos, but since in truth he is not a Cohen, he will be breaking Shabbos for nothing (Tanchuma, Naso 2). Obviously this is just one example. As a more common case it’s possible for an adulterer to break Shabbos in order not to get caught, etc.


[17] see Talmud Makos 23b, Shulchan Aruch, Even Haezer 21.