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The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments


What Are the Ten Commandments?

The 10 Commandments (or Aseret Hadibrot, “The Ten Statements,” in Hebrew) were communicated by G‑d to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, 40 days after the Exodus from Egypt. The event is known as the Giving of the Torah. G‑d then carved the Ten Commandments onto two tablets of stone, which he gave to Moses. Moses smashed the tablets, and G‑d carved the Ten Commandments onto a second set of tablets, which were subsequently placed in the Ark of the Covenant.

The 10 Commandments contain within them the kernel from which the others emerge.The Ten Commandments are not the entirety of G‑d’s instructions for His people (there are 613 commandments). However, they contain within them the kernel from which the others emerge.

English Translation of the Ten Commandments

  1. I am the L‑rd your G‑d, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
  2. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, nor any manner of likeness of anything that is in heaven above, that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them, nor serve them. For I the L‑rd your G‑d am a jealous G‑d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.
  3. You shall not take the name of the L‑rd your G‑d in vain; for the L‑rd will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the L‑rd your G‑d. On it you shall not do any manner of work—you, your son, your daughter, your man-servant, your maid-servant, your cattle, and your stranger that is within your gates. For in six days the L‑rd made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day; wherefore the L‑rd blessed the Sabbath Day, and hallowed it.
  5. Honor your father and mother, so that your days may be long upon the land which the L‑rd your G‑d gives you.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, his manservant, his maid-servant, his ox, his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.

(Learn the Ten Commandments with Rashi’s commentary, here.)

Reading the Ten Commandments in Synagogue

The Ten Commandments are read publicly three times a year, twice when it comes up in the weekly Torah reading (in the portions of Yitro and Va’etchanan), and once again on the first day of the holiday of Shavuot. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, encouraged every single Jewish person, from babies to senior citizens, to be present at the reading on Shavuot, reliving the original giving of the Torah at Sinai.

When the Ten Commandments are read in the synagogue, they are sung in a special tune known as taam elyon (“upper inflection”), thus named because the cantillation marks used to guide the reader are found above the words, as opposed to an ordinary taam, where marks are also found below the text.

Read a brief history on how the Torah is read here.

Two Versions of the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are recorded twice in the Torah, once in Exodus 20, and once again in Deuteronomy 10. The two versions are almost identical, but there are differences, with the version in Deuteronomy being somewhat longer. This is because Deuteronomy is Moses’ retelling of the events that transpired 40 years earlier with the addition of his insightful commentary.

One very significant difference is in the fourth commandment. The Exodus version begins with “Remember the Sabbath,” and the Deuteronomy version starts with “Keep the Sabbath.” The rabbis say that both are accurate. G‑d actually spoke the command to keep Shabbat (by desisting from forbidden work) and remember Shabbat (through declaring its sanctity) simultaneously, something incomprehensible to the human mind.1

The Giving of the Ten Commandments

On the morning of 6 Sivan, 50 days after having left Egypt and six days after they camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, the people of Israel awoke to thunder and lightning and a deep, powerful horn blast. As they approached Mount Sinai, they saw it ablaze, a thick cloud at its peak. Trembling in awe and fear, they gathered at the foot of the mountain as Moses ascended alone to the top.

Against this incredible backdrop, G‑d spoke the Ten Commandments all together in one moment. He then went on to repeat them to the people one at a time. After the first two commandments, He enabled Moses to transmit the remaining eight commandments to them in a G‑dly, powerful voice. After each commandment, the entire Jewish people died from the intensity of the Divine voice, and G‑d subsequently brought them back to life. After that, the people asked that Moses act as an intermediary for them, communicating with G‑d on the mountain and then conveying G‑d’s will to them.2

The reverberations of this communication went much further than Sinai. The earth itself trembled as G‑d communicated His presence to mankind.

(Read more about the momentous revelation at Sinai, here.)

Why Ten Commandments?

G‑d created the world with ten utterances. There were then 10 generations from Adam to Noah, and another 10 generations from Noah’s son Shem to Abraham, whose progeny would be saved from Egypt by 10 plagues and go on to accept the Ten Commandments at Sinai. See the pattern there? The entire purpose of creation was to set the stage for the performance of mitzvahs, as represented by the Ten Commandments.

The Symmetry of the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments were carved on two tablets, so let us visualize them as being laid out as follows:

Tablet One Tablet Two
1. I am the L-rd your G‑d … 6. You shall not murder.
2. You shall have no gods … 7. You shall not commit adultery.
3. You shall not take the name of the L-rd your G‑d in vain … 8. You shall not steal.
4. Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy … 9. You shall not bear false witness …
5. Honor your father and mother … 10. You shall not covet your neighbor's house …

Note that we can read the commandments down each tablet, or we can read them from side to side. This Midrash3 provides the connection:

Commandments 1 and 6: Every human is created in the image of G‑d, so murder is an affront to the Creator.

Commandments 2 and 7: When one worships a deity other than G‑d, it is as akin to adultery. G‑d is our loving spouse (and much more).

Commandments 3 and 8: A person may feel that stealing is only between him and the victim, but it is also a crime against G‑d, whose name will ultimately be taken falsely.

Commandments 4 and 9: Through keeping Shabbat, we testify that G‑d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. When one disregards Shabbat, he testifies falsely about the Divine origin of the universe.

Commandments 5 and 10: The juxtaposition of jealousy and honoring parents tell us that one who lusts after that which is not his, will ultimately give birth to a child who curses his parents and honors others instead.

G‑d Is In the Details

Looking at the two tablets, you’ll notice that in addition to the commandments on the second tablet being much shorter, the subject is different than the commandments on the first tablet. The commandments on the first tablet are about spiritual matters, between man and the Creator. The commandments on the second tablet, however, seem to be about material matters, with no apparent connection to G‑d or spiritual pursuits. In fact, while every one of the first five commandments includes G‑d’s name, His name is not mentioned once in the second set of five.

Yet all the commandments are given equal weight, because embedded in these simple acts of decency is the formula for G‑d’s plan for the world. Indeed, if you add up all the (Hebrew) words on the second tablet, you’ll arrive at the number 26, the numerical value of G‑d’s ineffable name. Below the surface, G‑d is as present in this set of commandments as He is in the ones where He is overtly mentioned.

(Explore the Ten Commandments Anthology, here.)

Mechilta to Exodus 20:7.
Talmud Shabbat 88b, our narrative follows the understanding of Rashi to Exodus 20:1.
Mechilta to Exodus 20:13.
Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Simcha Bart for August 12, 2016

I am happy to hear about your recent spiritual awakening and your observance of Shabbat. Torah has many layers to it, and can inspire us at many different levels. If one aspect of a Mitzvah doesn't resonate with us, another layer may. Perhaps that is the why the very Torah that gives the reason for Shabbat because He rested on the seventh day also says (Deut. 5:15) "...remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God took you out from there... therefore, the Lord, your God, commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." In other words, we celebrate Shabbat to commemorate that G-d released us from servitude to others. Therefore, even if you cannot relate to the reason for Shabbat that "G-d rested" from creation, there are other reasons for Shabbat which can inspire you. That being said, even science does not necessarily conflict with creation as stated in the Torah - you can see here about this. Reply

David H August 9, 2016

The Sabbath I have trouble understanding as to the reasoning we should observe the sabbath. The fourth commandment states that it took G-d six days to create the earth and rested on the seventh. However, I grew up a man of science and science has proven that it took millions of years to create the earth. Recent spritual awakenings have brought me more in touch with my religion, and I observed the sabbath religiously for 10 months. I observe it now in my own way but still am curious as for the commandment's reasoning as to why it should be observed. I am not one to ignore the accomplishments of modern science, yet I want to be a good Jew at the same time. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein For June 22, 2016

Re: 10 Commandments It is true that "Ten Commandments" is only a loose translation of "Aseret Hadibrot," albeit one that people are familiar with.
The Ten Commandments were not meant to be exhaustive, as there are 613 commandments in the Torah. Immoral acts are indeed abhorred by the Torah. However, we should not expect the Torah to express itself in terms that have only lately come into popular use. There is no reason to assume that those are the best ways to categorize what is morally bad. Also see Torah Slavery and the Jews and Does the Torah promote genocide
The Torah was not given all in a single sitting, but was completed over forty years. See also How did the Torah exist before it happened
On the Oral Torah see What is the Oral Torah?
Indeed, those laws that have a rabbi's name attached to them are not considered to be directly from Moses. Reply

Adiv Abramson June 8, 2016

The 10 Commandments The concept of "10 commandments" since there is no equivalent expression in Judaism, as far as I know. עשרת הדיברות means "the 10 utterances", not "the 10 commandments."

Why is there no commandment not to enslave, rape or commit genocide? All of those actions, in one way or another, are sanctioned by God, yet as 21st century human beings, we all know that they are immoral, reprehensible and subject to severe punishment.

Just exactly what is alleged to have transpired at Mt. Sinai? What is meant by "receiving the Torah"? Did the Jewish people receive a hand written, complete sefer torah? If the Oral Tradition was given there also, why, throughout the Mishneh and Gemara, are all statements made in the name of rabbi so and so? If God gave us the Oral Tradition, should not all statements of halacha be prefaced with "God said at Sinai"? If God didn't provide the rules, then who did? Reply

ckin May 25, 2016

'take' and 'vain' Came here looking for deeper meanings of 'take' and 'vain' in #3, which has puzzled me for about half a century. Then I saw the parallel 'five things' version. Then I saw 'take' as in marriage, and then I saw not ten, and not five, but one. Reply

Anonymous Poland January 4, 2016

To covet? In Hebrew, the word is "chamad" which means "take" rather than "covet." Commonly accepted translations are often suspect, as with "murder" rather than "kill." Reply

anonymous gentile April 16, 2015

re : are all commandments equal ? Thank you Ben, for the clarification. Reply

Ben Finger April 16, 2015

Re: are all 10 commandments equal? 'anonymous gentile' - your comments are correct.

(p.s. it is not only the Sabbath that can be violated to save a life (including your own) - any of the 613 commandments can be violated to save a life, except for the 3 cardinal sins.) Reply

anonymous gentile April 12, 2015

are all 10 commandments equal P.S.,
one exception I know of is that a Jewish person may discontinue the Sabbath temporarily in order to help save a life. eg. If I was hanging off a 200m cliff by one hand and an orthodox rabbi happened to walk by, it's most likely that he would help me even if it is Sabbath. Reply

anonymous gentile April 12, 2015

Re: are all 10 commandments equal? One of the expressions I 've read about the Mitzvot is that each one is like a fiber from a single rope which connects the Jewish soul and G-d.
You keep the commandments so as not to sever this bond, and one must cleave to G-d.
Although a gentile I've been visiting for about 3 years and have never heard or read a comment by a rabbi or a rebettzin(a wife of a rabbi) that says one mitzvah has more value than the other . I think it also says in either the Oral tradition or the Pirkei Avot (sorry memorizing is not one of my gifts) that one should not compare the value of each mitzvah. But as Ben commented Gentiles can follow the 7 Noachide laws, unlike christianity which says if one does not accept their beliefs "salvation" cannot be attained. In Judaism individual salvation is not the point, Tikun Olam (a kind of collective salvation , betterment of the world and the coming of the moshiach) is. Reply

Ben Finger London, UK March 23, 2015

re. are all 10 commandments equal? What do you mean by equal?

They are equal in the sense that Jewish people need to follow all 10 of them (plus the other 603 commandments and their related rules).
According to most opinions, all the commandments are equally important and in any case we have to keep them all, regardless of what seems more important. There are three cardinal sins which we must die rather than commit, all the others we do not need to die for, so in some sense those three are more important.
You could generally say that the first commandment is the most important because you need the belief in G-d, and the belief that He gave the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai and to Israel, to be the underlying reason you perform all the commandments.

The Rabbis have drawn added significance to different commandments to illustrate a philosophical point but ultimately, we have to follow all commandments and we do not know which are more important than others, and most likely, they are all equally important. One example: Rabbi Hillel said “love thy neighbour as thyself – this is the greatest commandment” – but that is just to illustrate the point that the commandments fall into 2 general categories (a) between man and G-d; and (b) between man and man, and whilst both are essential, the second category is more important on one level, because G-d will forgive you if you repent sincerely, but there is no guarantee with man. Also, man can be hurt by your not being nice to him, but G-d of course can never be hurt by your not following His commandments because He is in no way deficient.

Ultimately, the reward two people get for following the same commandment will almost certainly differ. We are judged subjectively based on our individual circumstances, not against some objective standard. So for example: if I steal a sweet from a shop I might get minus 10 points, but if a starving person who’s parents are robbers steals a sweet, he might get minus 1 point only for not stealing 2 sweets! So we can’t tell the reward. We all have to follow all the commandments we can. Reply

Anonymous November 9, 2017
in response to Ben Finger:

i think many gentiles do not understand hillel's teaching of loving your neighbor is written as a negative verse not positive. do onto thy neighbor as you would have them do on to you is a positive, many don.t understand the true writing and importance of a neg. verse " hillel,( Do not do onto your neighbor as what you would not want others to do onto you.or what you would find not tasteful to be done to you. sounds the same but it is not. the ten commandments are split into 5 do's and 5 do not's. this is what is meant by positive and negative commandments. The subject is hard for me to explain . but maybe someone who can would respond. Reply

Anonymous London March 22, 2015

are all 10 commandments equal? Reply

Anonymous June 5, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Just as all 10 emanations are within each other, all 10 utterances are as 1. Reply

Ben Finger London, UK February 2, 2015

re. Richard DiNaso Richard,

The 10 Commandments are mentioned twice in the Torah (aka the Bible, aka the Five Books of Moses), once in Exodus 20:1-17 and once in Deuteronomy 5:4-21.

The 10th commandment in the first instance is:

“You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or whatever belongs to your neighbor.”

(coincidentally, Jews all around the world will read this chapter this Sabbath in synagogue!)

and in the second instance is:

"And you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor shall you desire your neighbor's house, his field, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor".

These are just translations though, because the original is in Biblical Hebrew.

In Judaism, we believe that these 10 commandments are directed at the Jewish people and non-Jewish people instead only have to worry about the 7 Noahide Laws, which are similar.

I hope that helps! Reply

Richard DiNaso Myrtle Beach, SC January 30, 2015

10 commandments I have read different ten commandments. From the Torah, to Catholic , to Protestant and they are different.

an example is... Thou shall not covet, vs thou shall not covet thy neighbors wife, nor goods.

Covetousness is covetousness, so which is correct. I can see why we are in bondage and the L-d wants us out of bondage to this world of thinking so which is correct / Reply

Eliane Fossil, OR August 12, 2014

The sin of the fathers upon children. Quoting The Stone Edition of The Chaumash:
"...the Sages explain that children are punished only if they carry on the sinful legacy of their parents as their own, or if it was in their power to protest, but they acquiesced to the life-style that was shown them. If so, they show that they ratify the deeds of their parents and adopt them as their own (Sanhedrin 27b). History shows that when sins are repeated over the course of generations, they become legitimated as a “culture” or an independent “life-style,” so that they become regarded as a way of life and a new set of values. Thus, children who consciously accept and continue the ways of their iniquitous parents are forging a pattern of behavior that has much more force than the deeds of only one errant generation. Thus, children who adopt the ways of their parents are, in a sense, committing more virulent sins than they would be if they acted only on their own..."
I encourage you obtain a copy of the Chaumash, an invaluable tool. Reply

Shaul Wolf August 12, 2014

Re: Jealousy and fear Firstly, the very continuation of the verse itself shows that fulfillment of commandments is not out of fear. The verse does not say "showing mercy... of them that fear me", rather "of them that love me". Fulfillment of the commandments in this verse itself is described to be out of a love of God! The Christian understanding of a vengeful and jealous God is a shallow one, if not outright disrespectful and demeaning. To apply these emotions to God as they exist by a human being is a gross misinterpretation. God is not jealous because He is needy or has low self worth. Rather, God's connection with the Jewish people runs so deep, that He cannot bear the idea that a Jew would be connected to anything else other than Himself. God's "jealousy" is a testament to the intense love and union that He experiences with the Jewish people. Just as a spouses feeling of violation when their partner may be disloyal stems from their intense bond and connection, so too is God's "anger" a result of his lov Reply

Anonymous August 10, 2014

The paragraph in the 2nd commandment ; "For I the Lord your G-d am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments" was (and still is) misused by some christians to persuade people that their belief is based on love while Judaism only seeks to make people keep the law based on fear. I never believed this argument but it would be helpful if I can find a counter argument from the Jewish point somewhere. Reply

Melody Masha Pierson Montreal June 23, 2013

The Ten Commandments and "Love" It dawns on me that the word "love" does not appear in any of the Ten Commandments. Is this not congruent to the fact that no one person or persons can describe what "love" is or give an absolute definition?
It would appear that the concept of love involves many levels of humanity and Hashem perhaps wanted the world to understand what is and what isn't by virtue of the fact that it could be explained in words. Torah does not have one extra word than it needs. Again, is it any wonder that the word, "love", is not included in the holiest instructions given to Moses on Mount Sinai? Reply


my take G-d is a Supreme Being and does not suffer the same foibles as humans.

so therefore it is obvious G-d had reasons we are not aware of to say the things that make it seem G-d has similar needs to us-

when it is said that G-d is jealous, and would bring harm upon the innocent children of "bad" adults who hated G-d-#2.

G-d must have wanted us to have a day of rest and thought this was how to get us to do it-#4.

I am sure G-d is loving and the original equal oportunity Being, but knew what kind of people would need to be told not to covet a neighbor's wife and not mention coveting a neighbor's husband-#10.

the veiled threat that G-d would make you loose your land if you did not honor your mother and father is only slightly ok because there is no degree mentioned.-#5. sure that this would not be required if they were those nasty people mentioned previously in-#2.

Bless G-d for giving us free will to make decisions on our own at every turn! Reply

Maxine California May 14, 2013

You shall not work" That means all of us. :) I thank God for giving us this wonderful day- the Sabbath Reply

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