19. The Exodus – the Ten Commandments

The sound of the horn grew louder, crescendoed for a long time, scaled a particular high point and suddenly ceased…. A profound silence descended on the Jews, who then heard a sombre yet solemn voice, the voice of God. The first ten sentences uttered by God that fell on the ears of the Jews, received acclaim and recognition as the ‘Ten Commandments’ and form the very core of the religion of Judaism. Not mere commandments, these comprise in fact for the Jews, the blue print of the guiding principles of an ideal lifestyle.

The Ten Commandments are:

  1.  You shall have no other gods before Me, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
  2.  You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
    Those who love me and keep my commandments, I show love to their thousand generations but of those who hate me, I punish the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.
  3.  You shall not misuse the name of the Lord, your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.
  4.  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord, your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
  5.  Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord, your God is giving you.
  6.  You shall not murder.
  7.  You shall not commit adultery.
  8.  You shall not steal.
  9.  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
  10.  You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

The Ten Commandments thus manifested.

Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments

The ferocious form in which God had manifested Himself on the Mount Sinai had the Jews trembling with fear. They had only just heard the first ten commandments and were already a bundle of nerves. How then, they wondered, would they be able to listen to the rest of the instructions and teachings  (laws) of God i.e. the ‘Torah’. Telling Moses that they still did not have the capacity to directly listen to the word of God, they earnestly pleaded with him to be a messenger between God and them. Moses then explained, “It is not to instill dread in us that God assumed the ferocious form but to ensure that we abstain from sin out of reverence and awe for Him.”

With the Jews expressing their fear, God summoned Moses alone atop Mount Sinai, explained the entire ‘Torah’ [all the instructions and teachings (laws) of God] with all its nitty-gritty and instructed him to explain it to all the children of Israel.

It was for forty whole days, through day and through night, forgetting hunger, thirst and sleep; forgoing food and water that Moses stood before God listening to the Torah, taking it in and assimilating it.

At the end, God handed to Moses, two oblong stone tablets, on which He had inscribed the ‘Ten Commandments’ that He had pronounced to the Jews forty days earlier, so says the story.

Moses receiving the two tablets of the Law (the Ten Commandments)

Moreover, in order to assure the Jews of His constant presence in their lives as also to enable them to make offerings, etc., God commanded them to have a ‘Tabernacle’ erected at this very place. It was to be a portable tabernacle so that the Jews would be able to carry it with them, wherever they went. Besides, God also issued clear and precise instructions about the various aspects of the Tabernacle like its structure, the material that would go into the making of its various components, their sizes, the altar to be built for offerings, etc.

Model of the tabernacle

But an altogether different story unfolded at the foot of Mount Sinai. It was forty days since Moses had gone up Mount Sinai. He had not returned and the Jews began to feel restless. A few of the Egyptians, who had left Egypt along with the Jews made things worse for the latter by fuelling the unease that was already growing in them. Also, not all of these Egyptians were good and righteous. The prospect of a bright future and a consequent benefit were vested motives that had drawn them to the journey. These cunning Egyptians started to brainwash the Jews and to poison their minds. “You left Egypt reposing faith in the concept of monotheism. But then leave alone welfare, this faith that you hold, has only caused calamities to come your way. It is never too late to change your mind. Be wise and turn away from it.”

The poison slowly began to infect the minds of the Jews and they, who just forty days back had promised God through Moses that they would do all that God says, and accept and imbibe the word of God without any questions, started to lose sight of this commitment on their part. The group of devious Egyptians talked them into the belief that at least one symbolic representation of God for worship or other rituals was indeed a necessity.

Aaron, Moses’s elder brother was a prophet, a high priest of the Jews. Also revered greatly, next only to Moses, the Jews turned to him in the absence of Moses. They badgered him about establishing the divine representation. Sure of Moses’s return, Aaron tried to buy time by reasoning with them. However, in a fit of fury, the Jews took the life of Aaron’s nephew, who had been openly opposing their idea, as a result of which Aaron conceded to the demand of the Jews, though much against his wishes.

He then asked the Jews to bring the gold earrings of their womenfolk and when a sufficient amount of gold was collected, Aaron melted it and created an idol of one of the animals worshipped in Egypt at the time and the Jews began to worship it.

Thus, despite witnessing so many miracles and experiencing the love of God, the Jews mindlessly chose to turn away from the concept of monotheism, i.e. the concept of ‘one God’.

(To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

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