1. The 10 Commandments Were Communicated By G‑d at Sinai

Seven weeks after G‑d had Moses lead His people out of Egyptian slavery, they stood at the foot of Mount Sinai. The entire nation—men, women, and children—numbering in the millions, heard G‑d’s voice as He communicated this 10-part communique. This moment in time, when heaven kissed earth, is known as Matan Torah, “the Giving of the Torah.”

Read: What Happened at Matan Torah?

2. They Are Not “Commandments”

Scripture1 refers to them as “the 10 sayings” or “things.” This is significant because in the first “saying,” G‑d simply identifies Himself as G‑d who took the people out of Egypt. Is this a commandment? Not necessarily.

Read: Is It a Mitzvah to Believe in G‑d?

3. G‑d Etched Them on Stone—Twice

After that momentous meeting, Moses ascended Mount Sinai for 40 days, at the end of which G‑d carved the 10 Commandments onto two tablets of stone. Moses smashed those tablets when he saw the people worshiping the Golden Calf. After two more 40-day stints atop the Mountain, Moses hewed another set of tablets upon which G‑d once again etched the 10 Commandments. These tablets, as well as the broken first set, were stored in the Ark of the Covenant, first in the Tabernacle and later the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Read: What Did the Tablets Look Like?

4. They Cover the Gamut of Human Experience

The 10 Commandments were placed on two stones, five on each. The first five are primarily concerned with our obligation toward G‑d:

  1. I am the L‑rd Your G‑d…
  2. You shall have no other gods…
  3. Do not use G‑d’s name in vain…
  4. Remember the Shabbat day…
  5. Honor your father and mother…

Those on the second stone focus on interpersonal issues:

  1. Do not murder
  2. Do not commit adultery
  3. Do not steal
  4. Do not testify falsely against your fellow
  5. Do not covet…

Read: The Symmetry of the 10 Commandments

5. The Priests Recited Them Daily in the Holy Temple

In the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, before saying Shema in their morning prayers, the priests would recite the 10 Commandments.2 It appears that others outside of the Temple may have wished to do so as well, and the sages discouraged it lest people begin to think that the commandments contained therein are more significant than any of the other mitzvahs of the Torah.

Read: The Custom That Refused to Die

6. There Are 613 Mitzvahs

While the 10 Commandments were given with the most fanfare, they are really just a sampling of the 613 commandments G‑d communicated to Moses at Sinai. These 10 things are certainly singled out for being fundamental, and perhaps even sweeping guidelines in which many other commandments are included, but the others are no less binding.

Read: Why Just 10 Commandments at Sinai?

7. They Have 620 Letters

The 10 Commandments are made up of a total of 620 letters. They are said to represent the 613 mitzvot in the Torah and the 7 rabbinic mitzvot. This alludes to the notion that the 10 Commandments are the bedrock upon which the entire Torah is based.

Read: The 613 Mitzvot

8. They Are Repeated in Deuteronomy

The Ten Commandments are recorded twice in the Torah: first in Exodus 20, and once again in Deuteronomy 5. 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.

Read: Why Two Versions of the 10 Commandments?

9. They Are Read on Shavuot

The 10 Commandments are read on two Shabbats each year: Yitro—when Exodus 20 is part of the weekly Torah portion, and Va’etchanan—when Deuteronomy 5 is part of the week’s reading. It is also read on Shavuot, the anniversary of when the 10 Commandments were communicated at Sinai.

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, encouraged every single Jewish person, from babies to seniors, to be present at the reading on Shavuot, reliving the original giving of the Torah at Sinai.

Read: 11 Facts About Shavuot

10. A Special Tune Is Used

When the Ten Commandments are read in the synagogue, they are sung in a 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.
Now: Take the 10 Commandments Quiz