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    Long & short commandments

    The first five of the Ten Commandments are much lengthier than the second five.

    Moses & Aaron with the Ten Commandments, by Aron de Chavez c.1675

    Rabbi Solomon Goldman says, “What has made these commandments unique is… the terseness and conciseness of language. They whiz, as it were, through the air and strike the conscience of man like an arrow its target”.

    The staccato phraseology is highly effective – no ifs and buts, no qualifications or conditions.

    Yes, each commandment can be analysed and debated, for example the law against killing. Does it mean killing or murdering? Is there any exception in time of war? Does it apply to the unborn child? Are some types of killing more insidious? Does it apply to animals, even to insects?

    Take the law against stealing. Does it mean stealing a thing or stealing a person, does it include stealing from yourself, or stealing when the owner of the item knows nothing about it? Does it include stealing someone’s dignity or pride?

    Each of these five laws has problems of application, so what the Decalogue gives us is a headline. But the headline says enough.

    “God Almighty hath said in a voice that goeth thundering through the centuries, ‘Thou shalt not. Never!'”

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