Jewish and Christian versions of the Ten Commandments differ slightly, with the former consisting of 13 sentences and the latter containing four more. However, both are statements of the most basic Western moral laws. Many scholars categorize the first five commandments as those that deal with the relationship of human beings to God. In contrast, the last five commandments are often described as focusing on the relationships between people.
The Sixth Commandment
Exodus 20:13 commands human beings to avoid committing murder. Chassidic scholars often interpret the Sixth Commandment in context of its relationship to the First, which requires us to revere the one true God who delivered the ancient Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. This pairing of commandments directly opposite one another on the original tablets reminds us that the willful destruction of another human life is akin to violence against God Himself.
When one person murders another, he demonstrates that he believes that other person to be without significance. Jewish law takes the diametrically opposite view, holding that each individual, created by God in His own image, is irreplaceable, holy, and worthy of absolute respect. If God believes that every person has merit and is deserving of life, then human beings must do the same.
The Seventh Commandment
Presented to us in Exodus 20:13, this commandment admonishes us to avoid committing adultery. Jewish tradition places an exceptionally high value on the stability and sacredness of family life, thus those who break this commandment also break with the bedrock of Jewish culture.
Another reason for this commandment’s significance is its connection to the Second Commandment, which states “Do not have other gods before me.” One’s relationship to one’s spouse can therefore be viewed as parallel to one’s connection to God, and a person who breaks the bonds of the special intimacy between married partners may be more likely to break the bonds of his or her relationship with God.
The Eighth Commandment
In this commandment (Exodus 20:13), God forbids theft. This notion extends far beyond the simple prohibition to refrain from unlawfully taking the property of another. Rabbinic authorities state that it also includes an admonition to give our full attention to any work for which we accept payment, as well as a command to live up to all of our obligations.
Misusing one’s time on the job, arriving late to work, and engaging in too much pointless chatting with co-workers are all examples of ways in which people deprive their employers of their best efforts—in effect, “stealing” from them. According to some Chassidic commentators, the Eighth Commandment parallels the Third, which commands us to avoid taking God’s name in vain. Therefore, financial fraud against another person can be seen as defrauding God, whom rabbis consider a third party to any contract or agreement between individuals.
The Ninth Commandment
This commandment prohibits the bearing of false witness against another person. Found in Exodus 20:13, it highlights the importance carefully considering the impact of our judgments about the people. The Ninth Commandment enjoins us to consider carefully the words we use to describe the actions and dealings of others, so that we do not contribute to destroying their reputations unjustly. In fact, a number of rabbinic commentators specifically encourage us to always give others the benefit of the doubt, because we may not be aware of any contexts or mitigating circumstances regarding their behavior.
The Tenth Commandment
Exodus 20:14 forbids the coveting of one’s neighbor’s goods, home, and personal relationships. Far from being obsolete because it deals with oxen and servants, the Tenth Commandment translates easily to the modern age. How many contemporary people envy the new cars, luxurious homes, and expensive consumer goods owned by others instead of concentrating on the eternal values that make life worth living?
Rabbis often point out that this commandment involves the positive value of rejoicing in another person’s success. As such, this Tenth Commandment can be seen as the sum total of all the others combined. By respecting our fellow men and women and sharing in their joys and sorrows, we train ourselves to show love to others and to assist God in elevating the condition of the world.