If the children of Israel received the Torah at Mount Sinai, why did Moses come down bearing only “two tablets of testimony” luchot ha’aidoot (Exodus 32:15), on which the Ten Commandments were written, rather than a complete scroll of law?

The Biblical narrative states that God brought the Israelites to Mount Sinai and spoke the Ten Commandments, beginning with “I am the Lord your God!” Some commentators argue that the people were so intimidated by God’s voice, that they could only tolerate hearing the first two commandments as they rang out from the heavens. The people then beseeched Moses to intercede and deliver the remaining eight commandments himself. After completing all the commandments, Moses then ascended Mount Sinai and did not return to the Israelites for 40 days.

Ten Commandments…forty days? Obviously, something more than Moses reviewing Ten Commandments was happening on that mountaintop. Tradition maintains that during the time that Moses remained on Mount Sinai he received all of the written and oral Torah.

Moses was uniquely endowed and capable of learning all of halacha (Jewish law), as well as the methods of deriving halacha, in just over a month. However, it was not possible for him to teach what he learned to the entire nation in less than 40 years

God therefore began with the Ten Commandments, which could be understood and followed on both a simple as well as a more complex level. For example, honoring one’s mother and father (#5), on the simple level, means giving respect to one’s parents. When studied further, however, one discovers that this commandment is also about expressing gratitude to God, the ultimate Creator.

Thus, the Ten Commandments are seen as the cornerstone of the Torah, containing both the religious (“I am the Lord your God”) and legal elements (“Do not steal”) of the Torah.

This Treat was originally posted on May 18, 2010.

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