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24 January. Exodus chapters 19-21
In chapter 20 we have the giving of the Ten Commandments. These simple but far-reaching principles, from which the rest of the Torah derives, are still well known today (in name, if not in detail) even by those who practice neither Judaism nor Christianity. Most people if asked to recite them will first think of the “thou shalt nots” – no murder, adultery, theft, lying or covetousness. Keeping these is the basis of civil society. If we can trust our neighbours not to kill us, take our partners or goods, to tell the truth and not to be envious of our possessions (or we of theirs) then we can live in peace with them, and any differences between us can be accommodated.
But before these five commandments about dealing with other people come the five that are about our dealings with God and our families. To acknowledge there is one God, recognise that he is transcendent and cannot be reduced to an image, to worship no-one and nothing else, to give ourselves and our servants a day off a week, and respect parents (throughout our lives – this commandment is not aimed at children!) will help us live in a prayerful and considerate way so that the second set of rules will be easier to keep.
As the illustration above shows, Moses was said to have his face veiled when receiving the commandments and passing them on to the Israelites. One reason may have been to emphasise that these laws were not of his own devising but of divine origin.