The Command to Remember Who You Are

There has been an attempt over the last few years to put copies of the Ten Commandments in American public spaces, such as courtrooms. Aside from the challenge of Church and State separation issues, there is the matter of which version of the Ten Commandments to put up. The Catholic division of the Commandments is different from the Jewish and Protestant one. The Commandments were written in Hebrew, so there is the question of the appropriate translation. Perhaps most importantly, the Torah itself has two different versions. Though they are mostly alike, they do contain some fundamental differences.

The most significant variations are found in the Commandment about Shabbat, the sabbath. The version in the book of Exodus says, Remember the Shabbat…because God created the Heavens and the Earth. The version in our Torah portion, in the book of Deuteronomy, says, Guard the Shabbat…because you were a slave in Egypt and God brought you out of Egypt.

The first version, God the Creator, was given to the people right after they had left Egypt. Pharaoh thought he was a god and used that idea to terrorize the weak. This version reminds the people that no human being has supreme value over another. Even though the Israelites had been slaves, they needed to remember that they were created in the image of God and were entitled to full human rights.

The second version was given to them before entering into the Promised Land. The Jewish people were soon to be in power, and they needed to remember that they had once been powerless and that they needed to use their power to protect and care for the disenfranchised, not take advantage of them.

I believe this is why there are two different beginnings to the Commandments. Remember is more passive. Remember you are fully human. Guard is more active. Engage fully in helping those who need help to get the help that allows them to live in human dignity.

The Torah is not concerned with what we put on our walls, but what we put in our hearts. Remember that you are in God’s image. Guard that everyone else is treated that way, too.

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