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Where Do the Seven Commandments Come From?

From the first, the Bible’s first Book, Genesis, refers to universal revelations to the human race’s common ancestors    (Genesis 1:26, 1:27, 5:1; 9:6). The idea is that human beings are hard-wired, basically, from our species’s very inception, to know and live by Nature’s universal laws.

Everything in nature is subject to God’s laws. Human beings, who stand somewhat apart from the rest of the natural world, are still part of nature: we, too, are subject to His laws, including His universal ethical and moral laws.

Genesis speaks only of the root revelation: God put us all on notice, our entire species, and holds us to it that knowledge, that every person - of every race, sex, age, status and condition - is sacred, "made in the 'image' of God." What’s unspoken are the Seven Universal Commandments. Yet to anyone who accepts the initial Revelation, of the sacred, inviolable, free-willed nature of the individual human being, the Seven Universal Commandments follow logically. For that reason, we believe, Genesis 9, the Revelation to Noah and his wife (whose name is “Na’amah,” or “Pleasant”) and their descendants – their descendants being the entire human race – states the word covenant (in Hebrew, “b’rit” or “b’ris”) seven times. This refers to the Seven Universal Commandments.

At that point, if not before, the Seven Commandments were inscribed upon the human soul.

According to the Torah – the “Guidance,” “Teaching,” “Way” or “Law” of the People of Israel (the Jewish People) – other nations may have forgotten or strayed from the Seven Commandments. But the People of Israel maintained the ancient tradition. In fact, the Torah teaches that the Seven Commandments were the core of the curriculum in the school, or “yeshiva,” of Shem and Ever, Noah’s son and grandson.

When the subject of the Seven Commandments comes up in the Torah, it’s always in the context of something inarguable, of extremely ancient sacred Teachings that go back to the dim beginnings of the human race and then re-stated later, clearly and explicitly, at the Revelation of the Torah to Moses and the People of Israel at Mount Sinai. (See Mishnah, Tosefta Avodah Zarah 8:4; Talmud, Sanhedrin 56 -59, Chullin 141, Bava Kamma 38a; Seder Olam 5, Genesis Rabbah 16:9, 24:5, 34:8, Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:17, 2:25, Song of Songs Rabbah 1:16; Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 1.) These were the Teachings of the Elders and Sages and Teachers of Israel which were not disputed nor debated, since they are a direct part of Israel’s great Tradition – the Oral or unwritten Tradition – from Sinai. 

While Israel is, apparently, the one nation that has kept formal awareness of the Seven Commandments alive, this point can’t be over-emphasized: they belong to everyone: the Seven Commandments are the common inheritance of all humankind

By Michael Dallen

 

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