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New Commandments We Sorely Need #614

02/14/2020 05:00:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

New Commandments We Sorely Need

This past week, one of our Hebrew school students — a brilliant but sometimes mischievous lad— was sent to my office to have a “talk with the rabbi.”

I adore this child for his brilliance, his penchant for asking great questions and his ability to retain information. But this past week, the imp within him rose to the surface.

He placed a tack on his teacher's chair — and well, you can guess the rest.

I decided to use this opportunity to talk to him about the importance of, in the words of my late grandfather, “thinking twice before doing once.” We talked about the pain he had caused his respected and beloved teacher.

And that eventually led us to this week's Torah portion, which features the 10 Commandments.

Yet, as I sat there with this repenting child going over the 10 Commandments, I found myself at a loss to actually explain most of them in today's terms.

In truth, how many are intuitive to life today — or more specifically to a younger generation so eagerly in need of a moral compass?

In short, here are the 10 Commandments:

  • You shall have no other Gods but me.
  • You shall not make for yourself any idol, nor bow down to it or worship it.
  • You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
  • You shall remember and keep the Sabbath day holy.
  • Respect your father and mother.
  • You must not commit murder.
  • You must not commit adultery.
  • You shall not steal.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  • You shall not covet.

You may note a thematic division between the first and final commandments. The first five relate to our relationship with God, and the second five provide direction on how to relate to each other.

They are bridged by the fifth commandment, which refers to the miracle of life — as God has gifted mothers and fathers with the ability to procreate, and to create godliness between us.

As I began to go over the list of the 10 Commandments, it occurred to me that aside from stealing, murdering and respecting our parents, many of the concepts were above the head of this smart and receptive child. So I asked him, “What do you think God should have added to the list to make them more important to you?” He thought, and then he answered.

“Take care of the environment.”

“Be kind to each other.”

“Don't hurt another person.”

Lesson learned.

But as I was driving home, I thought for a moment: If today, we were to act as advisors to God, the creator, the supreme force, who put this world in motion, what new commandments would we suggest?

In 2014, authors Lex Bayor and John Figdor took on a project to expand the 10 Commandments as part of their book”Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-first Century.”

By no means am I suggesting that we dispense with the “Decalogue” that has guided and grounded humanity for more than 3,000 years, but wouldn't it be an interesting exercise to write a supplemental series of secular commandments for today?

The authors held a contest, offering each finalist $1,000. Here are the winners. Warning: You may consider some controversial — even heretical — but they add to the conversation.

  1. Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
  2. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
  3. The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
  4. Every person has the right to control of their body.
  5. God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
  6. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
  7. Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
  8. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
  9. There is no one right way to live.
  10. Leave the world a better place than you found it.


What do you think?

Indeed, the Torah and other wisdom texts continue to play a vital role in our lives. Yet, perhaps, we need to maintain an open mind toward humanity's evolution, as together we assist God to complete creation.

A speaker at a conference I recently attended noted that religion — in particular, new religious ideas — run a risk.   When they are introduced, they overflow with the heat and excitement of hot lava — but over time they settle into the volcano and become part of the established rock.

That's why we need to be perpetually challenging our religious premises and practices. We need to be cautious of ideas becoming etched in stone, so much so that they become cold as rock.

The Talmud and the Jewish style of study, demand constant debate, discourse and even disagreement over the 10 Commandments and the 613 commandments within our tradition.

That is so important in a world advancing so rapidly. But are they enough?

For example, too many today use words—through emails, texts and tweets — to injure rather than to heal. Should there be a commandment about that?

Are we spending more time worshipping technology than experiencing the beauty of God's natural creation?

Are the 10 commandments and how they are interpreted sufficient, or should we be constantly reading, searching, and expanding our consciousness — to create additional ones?

Is that perhaps part of the process which God put into motion at the beginning of time?

Indeed, as the world and its inhabitants continue to evolve, we continue to learn. If we were to turn the task to expanding commandments to young children, what could they teach us?

Is it enough to place the 10 Commandments in stone? What do we still have to learn?

What unwritten commandment would you share with God to help repair the world?

Are we done, or is there more?

Shabbat Shalom, v’kol tuv (with all goodness)

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Tue, June 2 2020 10 Sivan 5780