For several weeks now, we've been looking at the Ten Commandments — specifically, the correlation between the first five, inscribed on one tablet, and the second five, inscribed on the second tablet. We have seen how the Sixth Commandment, "Do not kill" is in fact just another way of saying "I am the L-rd your G‑d"; how the 7th mirrors the 2nd, that the 8th is rooted in the 3rd, and so on.

Which brings us to commandments 5 and 10. What is the connection between them? This is what the Midrash says:

It is written, "Honor your father and your mother", and corresponding to that it is written, "You shall not covet." This is to teach us that a person who covets will end up fathering a son who curses his father and mother, and who honors one who is not his [true] father.

In the first four sets of commandments, we have seen that the connection runs deep — to the extent that the two commandments in each "set" may be regarded as two expressions of the very same principle. I am therefore convinced that a similar connection is implicit in the above-quoted words from the Midrash, though I have yet to uncover it. (If any of our readers has any thoughts on the matter, I'd appreciate hearing from you).

In the meanwhile, let us discuss some parallels that can be discerned from the sayings of the sages and Chassidic masters on these two commandments.

As a rule, the five commandments on the first tablet speak of matters 'between man and G‑d", while the second tablets governs the relationship "between man and man." The 5th and 10th commandments, however, seem exceptions to this rule.

"Honor your father and your mother" seems a purely social law. As for the 10th commandment, "You shall not covet your fellow's house... You shall not covet your fellow's wife", this does not speak of the case in which action is taken as a result of the coveter's desire — that would be a transgression of the 8th commandment ("You shall not steal") or the 7th ("You shall not commit adultery"). So it is not at all apparent that anything adverse has been done to the "fellow" in question. In fact, I know some homeowners for whom a primary objective in building their home was that it should be coveted by their neighbors. Desiring what does not belong to you seems more a sin against G‑d (showing dissatisfaction with what He has allotted to you) or against yourself (souring the blessings of life with misguided strivings) than against a fellow human being.

Perhaps, then, "Honor your father" really belongs on the second tablet, and "You shall not covet" ought to have been inscribed on the first?

There are two Chassidic teachings which, I believe, shed some light on these two "misplaced" commandments.

The ancient philosophers formulated a rule that "a finite thing cannot possess an infinite quality." But the Chassidic masters point out that the human being (on the face of it, a finite thing) violates this rule by possessing the infinite power of procreation — the power to give birth to children, who in turn will give birth to children, ad infinitum. (The finiteness of the physical universe in time and space may impose external limits, but the potential itself is infinite). It is for this reason that a marriage is referred to as an "eternal edifice" and the matrimonial union is considered the most divine of human endeavors.

The second Chassidic teaching concerns the power of thought. The physical plane on which we interact with each other — say the Chassidic masters — is but the most external layer of reality, behind which lies a succession of deeper, spiritual selves, on which we also affect and are affected by the doings of our fellow souls. What we say and even think about each other has a profound effect — even if it never leads to action, and even if the one who is spoken or thought about remains unaware of what his fellow has thought or spoken about him. (A famous story illustrating this truth is told of Chassidism's founder, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov.)

In other words, honoring your father and mother means honoring the divine in man (which is what makes them your father and mother), and refraining from coveting, if only in unexpressed thought, what is rightfully your fellow's means acknowledging that your relationship with him or her extends beyond the visible, physical plain, to envelop your spiritual self and soul.

So while the two tablets delineate the respective realms of the human and the divine, the concluding commandment on each tablet demonstrates that the line between them is far less sharp and rigid than we may believe.