Parshat Yitro is the climax of the story of the Exodus. We read about the Almighty giving the Torah to the Jewish people as we stand at the foot of a blazing Mount Sinai amidst thunder, lightning and many other impressive pyrotechnic effects. Even the simplest Jew was elevated to the level of prophecy as they experienced the Almighty introducing Himself and his Torah with His declaration of the Aseret HaDibrot, universally referred to as the 10 Commandments.
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 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 Jews and religious non-Jews, as well, 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 the Torah’s ways are sweet and its paths are peaceful, and that our relationship with Hashem is one of love and connection. The 3rd commandment teaches us to realize that we are part of something big. Even the simplest Jew is 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. Hashem 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 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. One who pushes any limits in order to gratify their sex drive, or interferes with the relationship of someone else, is tiptoeing on committing adultery. The sex drive 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.