Fundamentals of Faith

The Ten Commandments continue to speak across the centuries. The voice from Sinai echoes even today in the lives of millions of people.

Ten Commandments tablets above the entrance to Congregation Eumanath Israel on West 23rd Street in Chelsea, Manhattan, NY. (Image © Bigstock)


Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Yitro (יתרו | Jethro)
  • Torah: Exodus 18:1-20:23
  • Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1-7:6, 9:5-6
  • Gospel: Matthew 19:16-26

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Exodus 18:1 | Jethro's Advice
    • Exodus 19:1 | The Israelites Reach Mount Sinai
    • Exodus 19:9 | The People Consecrated
    • Exodus 20:1 | The Ten Commandments
    • Exodus 20:22 | The Law concerning the Altar
  • Prophets
    • Isaiah 6:1 | A Vision of God in the Temple
    • Isaiah 9:1 | The Righteous Reign of the Coming King

Portion Summary

The seventeenth reading from the Torah is named Yitro (יתרו), which is the literal Hebrew behind the name Jethro. The title comes from the first words of the first verse of the reading, which says, "Now Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people" (Exodus 18:1). The portion tells the story of Jethro's visit to the camp of Israel, then relates the great theophany at Mount Sinai, where God gives Israel the Ten Commandments and invites the people to enter a special covenant relationship with Him.

When God revealed Himself to us, He did not give us a systematic theology, creeds, recipes, or diagrams. He gave us a legal code consisting of covenant terms and obligations. He gave us laws, and each law brings a fresh revelation of His person.

He did not give the laws of the Torah just to tidy up human society. Each commandment communicates a piece of divine revelation, a piece of godliness. More than just rules for governing human behavior, the laws of the Torah reflect the Lawgiver.

Our Master told us that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” When God broke the silence and spoke to His creation at Mount Sinai, He spoke from the fullness of His heart. Each law and commandment, no matter how small or seemingly irrelevant, communicates a piece of revelation from God, an overflowing of His heart.

The Ten Commandments are moral absolutes. They were spoken aloud by God, and everyone heard them. They require no further justification. They are non-negotiable.

The Ten Commandments are well known. Even non-believers and people from other religions are more-or-less familiar with the concept of the Ten Commandments. In the United States, political and social battles continue to be waged about whether or not it is appropriate to display the Ten Commandments on public property. The popular culture abounds with jokes about breaking the Ten Commandments, but most people reflexively accept their moral authority.

In Hebrew, they are called the Aseret haDebarim, which literally means the “ten words,” but could more loosely be translated as “the ten matters.”

The Ten Commandments were spoken aloud by God (Exodus 20), written in stone by His own finger (Exodus 31:18), and chiseled into a second set of stone tablets by Moses (Exodus 34:28). Moses repeats the ten words to the assembly of Israel in Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

The “ten matters” summarize the 613 commandments of the Torah, but they cannot be separated from the Torah or from each other. Some Christian teachers claim that the Ten Commandments are still valid but the rest of the laws of Torah is obsolete. Even Christian Sabbatarians have, for the most part, divorced the Ten Commandments from the rest of the Torah. The Bible itself makes no distinction between the commands of the Decalogue and the imperatives and prohibitions that follow in the rest of the Torah. The same God spoke both. He bound them upon His people with equal measure.

A person should not imagine that the Ten Commandments in the Decalogue are the only real commandments and the other six hundred and three are merely suggestions.

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