The 10 Commandments are not only the foundation of all of Jewish living and the fabric of the 613 commandments, they taught mankind the principles necessary for a Godly, moral and ethical way of living. They contain in them universal messages to live happier, more productive and extraordinary lives!
Let’s try to understand some of the lessons that are contained in these statements and how they relate to all people at all times.
1. I am Hashem, your God, who took you out of Egypt- Learn to see beyond your limits!
God could have introduced himself as the Creator of the World or the Omnipresent who controls everything, but instead he highlights his role in freeing the Jewish people from slavery. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is the same word for ‘entrapments’ or ‘limits’. Life is a journey of overcoming obstacles and challenges that entrap us. The struggle is for us to break free and reach our potential and accomplish our purpose. The first commandment is to believe that God is there to help you rise above your challenges and break free from the things in life that you feel are limiting you.
2. No Other Gods- Don’t view yourself as a casualty of life!
So much of the stress in our life comes from us viewing ourselves a victim of the world around us. We give power to influential people in our life, to our employers, to the stock market, even to celebrities. The 2nd commandment tells us that there is nothing in life that can throw us off. If it is there, it must be there because somehow or another this will help us achieve our true purpose in this world.
3. Do Not Carry the Name of God in Vain- Remember that you represent something BIG!
All spiritual seekers and religious people carry with them the name of God. Therefore every action is either going to bring honor or disgrace to God’s name. Our job is to teach the world that God’s ways are sweet and His paths are peaceful, and that our relationship with Him is one of love and connection. The 3rd commandment teaches us to realize that we are part of something big. Even the simplest person can become a representative of God! Be careful never to bring about anything other than positive associations to the Name of God.
4. Remember the Shabbat- Don’t become a slave to the mundane!
Shabbat has taught the world that we are not here to be workaholics. Once every seven days, completely log out, power down, switch off and unplug and just take the time to be in the moment, to spend quality time with our loved ones, to study and pray, to sit around a table of culinary delicacies and fine wine, and to discuss the meaningful moments of the week. And most importantly, take the time to just think. Think about life. About God. About everything.
5. Honor Your Parents- Don’t forget your roots!
Part of living life to the fullest is realizing that God puts every one of us in the exact home and environment that we need to grow and to blossom into the person that can fulfill our unique mission. Every message we receive as a child somehow plays a role in our development. God chose your parents to partner with to create you and therefore you are obligated to give your parents the awe and respect a partner of God deserves.
6. Do Not Murder- Enhance, never ruin, the lives of the people around you!
Aside from the obvious ethical problems with committing murder, the statement “Do not murder” takes on a whole new meaning when we see how many interpersonal wrongdoings our Sages include as extensions of not killing. For example, the language of killing someone is used in relation to causing them public embarrassment or causing someone to become impoverished. It seems that this commandment includes not only taking a person’s life, but anything that we do that ruins a person's life. The 6th commandment requires us to constantly think about how we treat others, what we say to them and how we are affecting their lives. Do we enhance the lives of the people around us or, God forbid, the opposite?
7. Do Not Commit Adultery- Harness the energy that can build or destroy worlds!
Just as our Sages expanded the scope of the prohibition of murder, the same applies with the commandment of not committing adultery. The sexual drive used correctly is a powerful tool that can bring together loving couples physically, emotionally and spiritually. But used for pure indulgence, or to interfere with the relationship of someone else, is tiptoeing on committing adultery. Human lust can be the cause of so much pain and the driving force behind many bad decisions and can ultimately ruin your life. Use it to build, not to destroy.
8. Do Not Steal- Live with honesty and integrity!
Once again our Sages extend this commandment beyond actual stealing. We are required to act with complete integrity in money matters, making sure to go above and beyond to stick to our word and never cut corners, but also to respect people’s privacy, their intellectual property and to have complete respect of their possessions and boundaries. Even stealing someone’s sleep is an extension of this commandment.
9. Do Not to Bear False Witness- Advocate for others and stand up for the truth!
Sometimes the truth can be hard to say. Sometimes it is just easier to stay out of things and keep your mouth shut. But living life to the fullest requires us to say what needs to be said, to stand up for what we believe in and to make sure that the truth is being heard.
10. Do Not Covet- Realize that everything you need to fulfill your mission, you already have!
Everything that you have, from your unique personality, to your specific body, to how financially successful you are, is determined with great precision by the Almighty based on your mission in this world. Someone who looks at someone else’s lot in life with jealousy is essentially saying that they don’t believe in God and that they don’t believe that they have a unique role. The last commandment is a reminder that if you maximize every tool that is in your toolbox , you will certainly be successful at finding joy, happiness, vitality and fulfilment and live a truly extraordinary life.
What makes the billionaires, top artists, greatest athletes and other high achievers stand out from the pack?
What are the secrets of the most successful people and high performers on the planet?
Modern research has shown that it isn’t some special talent, gift or brilliance. Rather, what they all have in common are “success habits”, the daily routines and rituals that they remain unwaveringly committed to.
These powerful habits can all be found in Judaism and every one of us can apply them to become the best version of ourselves. Here are the top five:
1. Morning Routine for Body and Soul
The slogan “Conquer the morning, conquer your day” is the modern-day version of the very first line in the Code of Jewish Law: “Strengthen yourself like a lion to rise in the morning.”
High performers carve out time before their workday begins for their own self-care of their body and soul. This usually involves an exercise routine and some sort of spiritual activity like prayer, meditation, mindfulness, a gratitude journal, or mapping out what the ideal day will look like.
The emphasis on such a morning routine parallels beautifully the emphasis in Jewish tradition of praying first thing in the morning. Additionally, long before working out was cool, Maimonides emphasized the importance of healthy eating and daily exercise.
2. Blocking Out Time to Expand Your Mind
Research has shown that no matter how busy successful people are, they take out large chunks of time every day to learn something new, either by reading, taking classes or listening to a podcast. It is not unheard of for CEOs of major companies to read 3-5 hours a day.
From a Jewish perspective, blocking out time every day to study Torah is part and parcel of life for even the busiest people. As Ethics of our Fathers says, “Make a daily set time for Torah”. While the areas of Torah study range widely from a daily page of Talmud to a section of the weekly Torah portion, to ideas on self-growth or mysticism, the common theme is that those who set aside a sacrosanct portion of their day to learn will sharpen and expand their mind.
Whether it is the pro-athlete who visualizes what victory will look like, or the entrepreneur visualizing closing the big deal, or the artist visualizing the completed creative project, the powerful effects of the mind on shaping reality have become a well-documented phenomenon. Taking even a couple of minutes to create vivid images as to what you want any scenario to look like can create a massive shift in how that scene will actually manifest.
This powerful effect of the mind impacts our spiritual state as well. The Talmud teaches us a powerful rule: “one’s thoughts are considered as actions”. The great commentaries understand this to mean that our thoughts can impact us just as powerfully as our actions can. It is for this reason that the great masters of self-growth would advise their student who was struggling with certain character flaws to spend time visualizing themselves in potentially dangerous situations and overcoming the challenge. Their visualizations would impact their thought patterns and help them succeed when the challenge actually arose.
4. Surround Yourself with Positive People
“You are only as happy/successful as the five people you spend the most time with.” The energy of those that we surround ourselves with makes an enormous impact. Their positivity becomes our positivity. Their tendency to dream bigger leads to the expansion of our dreams. Their positive outlook on the world and on others becomes our perspective as well. And their encouragement and belief in us becomes the impetus for us to view ourselves in a brighter light. And when we are surrounded by the wrong people, the opposite is true.
This was the intent of King David when he opened up the Book of Psalms praising the one who doesn’t “sit in the company of scorners”. Don’t hang out with negative, cynical people; they just get drain your energy and get you down.
High performers realize that they need to occasionally disconnect from the information onslaught. They make sure to schedule times where they can get away from it all and just “be”.
Shabbat is one of the great gifts of the Jewish people. We unplug for 25 hours, giving our minds the opportunity to recharge and refuel, so that we enter the coming week with our full energy, creativity, and genius. This practice can be done for short times daily as well. The great sage Rabbi Shimon said in Ethics of our Fathers (Chapter 1) “All my life I grew up among Torah scholars and have not found that there is anything healthier than being in complete silence.”
These five simple success habits are not only the key to high performance; they’re the secret behind vibrant Jewish living and spiritual connection. They have the power to increase our happiness, fulfillment and productivity.
Esther didn’t only save the Jewish people; she transformed the power of women.
Wonder Woman. Captain Marvel. Today we are celebrating stories of women who save the world from dark times and bad guys.
While many critical moments in Jewish history revolve around great women, perhaps none express this theme more than the Book of Esther. The Purim story doesn’t just have a strong female lead; it’s a story that reframes the entire Biblical perspective on the power of women.
We are all familiar with Haman’s genocidal decree against the Jewish people and the salvation brought about through the heroic acts of Mordechai and Esther. But if we take a closer look, the very first decree in the story is not against the Jewish people. It is a decree against all women.
In chapter one, after the Queen Vashti’s refusal to appear before her husband, the villainous King Achashverosh, the king’s advisors are concerned:
For the queen’s behavior will make all wives despise their husbands, as they reflect that King Achashverosh himself ordered Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come. This very day the ladies of Persia and Media, who have heard of the queen’s behavior, will cite it to all Your Majesty’s officials, and there will be no end of scorn and provocation!
The Talmud explains that the advisor being quoted here is none other than the evil Haman, who then goes on to suggest that in addition to the execution of the queen:
“Then will the judgment executed by Your Majesty resound throughout your realm, vast though it is; and all wives will treat their husbands with respect, high and low alike.”
The significance of Esther bringing about the salvation at the end of the story by ordering her powerful husband Achashverosh to kill Haman isn’t just a turn of events for the Jewish people, it is a complete reversal of the original decree for women to be subservient to their husbands.
But there is so much more depth being revealed here.
The Roots of Haman and the Garden of Eden
The Talmud suggests a fascinating connection between the Purim story and the story of Adam and Eve. The Talmud says (Chulin 139b):
From where in the Torah can one find an allusion to (the hanging of) Haman? He replied (with a verse that occurs after Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge): “Is it from [hamin] the tree, about which I commanded you that you should not eat, that you have eaten?” (Genesis 3:11).
The Hebrew word for “is it from” is hamin and is spelled in the same manner as Haman: with the Hebrew letters heh, mem, nun.
The Talmud is weaving together two stories to show us that the impurity and evil residue from the sin of eating from Tree was somehow manifest in the personality of Haman. The connection between Haman and the Tree is further emphasized by the very fact the Tree brought spiritual concealment into the world, the very force that is represented by Haman’s ancestry, the nation of Amalek.
But the connection between these stories becomes even more apparent when we continue reading about the punishment that is decreed on both Eve and the snake. Let’s first take a look at the punishment given to Eve, and we will immediately see the connection to our Purim story:
And to the woman He [God] said, “I will make most severe Your pangs in childbearing; In pain shall you bear children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”
This final words which seem to subjugate women to men is chilling. If we contrast it to the words that the Torah uses when Eve is first created, we see what seems to be a complete reversal of what the original plan was supposed to be:
The Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting supporter (eizer) opposite him (kenegdo).”
The word used for a supporter, the word eizer, is a word used for an individual who is coming to the aid of another struggling person; it refers to someone who is in a place of power using their ability to assist someone who needs their help. And the word kenegdo means ”opposite him” – facing him, equal.
Eve’s curse that seems to lower the status of the woman creates a major problem for humanity. A heroic force is now being diminished to what seems to be secondary status. This was precisely the intent of the snake when he went after Eve. He understood Eve’s role in regards to her husband and knew that if he could get Eve to fall, Adam’s demise would inevitably follow. By getting Eve to eat from the Tree and causing her role to be diminished, the snake would have accomplished what he had set out to do.
Coming Full Circle
But the story is not over. Like any good book or movie, the conflict that is set up in the early scenes will come to a resolution in the grand finale.
What is the closing book of the Prophets? It’s the Book of Esther. And, indeed, the Book of Esther begins with a decree against women that parallels the decree against Eve, suggested by that snake Haman himself, the physical embodiment of the original downfall!
Esther contained sparks of the soul of Eve and was aiming to rectify her original sin.It is against that backdrop that the heroine of the story, Esther, steps in. The great mystics reveal that Esther contained sparks of the soul of Eve, and that her fasting and her bravery was all to bring about a rectification of the original sin of Eve. By doing so, she not only saves the Jewish people, she also reverses the original decree against women and is therefore able to rise above Haman and the evil that was introduced into the world in that original sin.
This idea is truly brought home when we look at the punishment that was meted out against the real perpetrator of the original sin, the snake:
Then the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you did this, More cursed shall you be Than all cattle And all the wild beasts: On your belly shall you crawl And dirt shall you eat All the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your offspring and hers; They shall strike at your head, And you shall strike at their heel.
What is being referenced when it speaks about the woman and her offspring striking at the snakes head?
This is a revelation of the climax of the Book of Esther, when Esther decrees that Haman, who is connected to the primordial snake and the original sin, should be hung up on a by his “head” from a “tree”! Esther is now the supporter and savior of the Jewish people and at this moment we see the power of the woman being restored to its original holy status, as it was before the sin.
Much has been written about the power of femininity both in the world at large and in Torah literature as well. We are living in an incredible time in history where the world is celebrating the great accomplishments of women. It is truly fascinating when we see that the struggle and emergence of strong, powerful women is woven into the fabric of the Torah, highlighting both the very first story of humanity and the very final book of the Prophets, where the emergence of a strong woman sets the story of humanity back on course and defeating the evil in the world.