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    10 Commandments or 613? – Yitro

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

    The Ten Commandments come twice in the Torah, the first time in Parashat Yitro (this Shabbat) and the second time (with changes) in Parashat Va’et’channan.

    There are actually 613 commandments, of which the Decalogue is a part. Most people say they keep the Ten Commandments but they don’t mention (or often don’t know of) the 613. Our question is why the Decalogue is so famous and the other 603 are generally accorded less priority.

    The answer could be that the Ten are basic principles which are spelled out in detail in the 613 mitzvot. This seems to be supported by Professor Eliezer Berkovits, who spoke of our age needing “a theology or a philosophy that does justice to the essential nature of Jewish teaching about God, man and the universe”. But in the end the 613 do not lack theology or ethics.

    The Ten Commandments speak of knowing God, placing Him above all other deities and committing ourselves to Him; the Shema – coming in the 613 but not the Ten – speaks of loving Him and expressing that love in acts such as Torah study, tefillin and mezuzah.

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