It is all in the action; it’s the thought that counts

Rabbi Dovid Hazdan

Great Park Synagogue. Dean Torah Academy

I am Hashem your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery. (Exodus 20:2)

אָנֹכִי ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים. (שמות כ:ב)

“Anochi Hashem Elokecha……..”1

There is a strong balance and many correlations between the two tablets that housed the Ten Commandments.

The five commandments on the right tablet addressed man’s relationship with G-d. The five commandments on the left deal with our interpersonal relationships.

It is interesting to note that the five commandments that deal with our responsibility to G-d, begin with laws relating to thought (belief in G-d) and then continue with a law relating to speech (blasphemy) and then finally address action (Shabbat and honour to parents).

But the tablet on the left and its commandments that address our responsibilities to our fellow human being, has an inverted progression. It begins with laws relating to action (murder, adultery and robbery), then proceeds to a law relating to speech (false testimony) and finally addresses the realm of thought (do not covet).

Why is there a different order relating to thought, speech and action on each of the two tablets?

Our natural tendency is to limit religion to the experience of the mind and the heart. Haven’t we all heard someone say: “I’m inspired intellectually and philosophically” or “I feel so Jewish” or “I’m a Jew at heart”. There is a sense that religion can develop and grow without the need to articulate our relationship with G-d, or express it in actions and duties.

The tablet on the right addresses this misconception by emphasising that Judaism requires us to ensure that our religious sensitivities and experiences positively affect our words and actions. Our thoughts must develop into uplifted and inspired communication of our values, and ultimately elevate our behaviour and the way we conduct our lives.

By contrast, the attitude of society towards social responsibility deals primarily with the realm of action. The great constitutions of the world address conduct and behaviour and very rarely the domain of words (hate speech). No constitution regulates thought. We are convinced that legislating humane actions can preserve morality.

The tablet on the left warns us that we can never secure a just and civil society without transforming attitudes. When hearts and minds continue to harbour prejudice and hate, laws that govern behaviour alone, cannot ensure human rights. We need to address and elevate our speech and even our thoughts if we are to establish a caring, humane and just society.

The beauty of Judaism is that our total religious experience is governed and enhanced by both Tablets – the left and the right.

1. Exodus 20:2

©2019 by The Office of The Chief Rabbi