HaShem through Moses addresses the People of Israel – every Jewish person of every generation - individually: “I took YOU out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5). “YOU” - not the plural ‘you’ but singular, so it’s practically calling every individual Jewish person out by name: “Bob!” “Susie!” “Mark!” “Deborah!” - shall have no other gods before Me” (Id).
The whole Ten Commandments is like that. It’s a very focused text. People say it “bears Divinity on its face” [J.H. Hertz Penateuch and Haftorahs, p. 294], but no one who knows anything about it would ever characterize it as entirely humanly enforceable.
How could any human court enforce a prohibition against pure mental “coveting,” or mere “desiring,” for just one instance? No one, knowing anything about this matter, would EVER claim that it, the Ten Commandments, compels or applies to everyone – all humankind; every person of this and every generation – universally.
Yes, naturally, it offers crucial guidance to the whole human race – to anyone who wants to know how to live before and please the One holy God. But, obviously, it doesn’t directly compel or apply to anyone who isn’t a member in full-standing of the People of Israel.
Anyone who reads the Bible, who thinks that God intends the Ten Commandments to compel and direct everybody – all nations – should be regarded as a know-nothing, a Biblical illiterate. It’s a preposterous misreading.
“I took YOU out of Egypt” cleary does NOT apply to every individual of every nation. Who but the Jews, collectively and individually, are Divinely commanded to scrupulously observe, protect and defend a holy Sabbath on the seventh, the last, day of every week? When did God reveal His Name – the unique Name of “don’t take [His] Name in vain” – to every person of all the nations of the planet? (In fact, most people, of most nations, don’t even know Who He is and certainly don’t recognize this Name.) “Don’t steal” is exactly equivalent to the Noahide or Universal Law but the Ten Commandments also insist, for instance, “Don’t covet,” and even “Don’t desire [“your neighbor’s” things]” (Deuteronomy 5:18). How are mere “coveting” – without some definite physical action - or “desiring” criminal activities?
Obviously, the Ten Commandments don’t command everyone – they’re NOT universal. Furthermore, you see this right away, unquestionably, in the Scriptural preambles to the Ten: “Tell the Children of Israel,” “you shall be a ‘peculiar treasure unto Me above all people,” “you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation [a “goy kadosh”] (Exodus 19); “this is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the nations [“goyim”], that shall hear all these statutes and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4).
This is not rocket science, as they say. This is basic, the heart and essence of the whole Biblical program.
More people would know this if they just read the Bible a little more humbly. AND if they didn’t imagine that God is, God forbid, such a jerk that, for millenia, He neglected to provide the vast majority of the human race with clear compelling moral-spiritual guidance.
As we know, because we’re all First Covenant people, it IS the Seven Commandments of the Golden Tradition – the Tradition of the Golden Rule (“love your neighbor as yourself,” Leviticus 19:18; “love the stranger,” Leviticus 19:34; “do unto others,” Talmud, Shabbat 31a) and Abraham and Moses and the prophets of the People of Israel - of utterly fundamental principles, to be carefully incorporated in each nation’s basic law, that’s universal.
Oddly, even the great American thinker Thomas Jefferson never stumbled upon them – upon the Rainbow Covenant - for all his reading. Sir Isaac Newton did – and then never let go of them, becoming a Noahide servant of the One and Only God.
To his credit, Jefferson, at least, tried to logically derive the true teachings of God. From what he knew, from common sense and all the Scripture he’d read, Jefferson arrived, he thought, at “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” [Letter to John Adams 10/12/1813]
That would be a good thing to have – it’s basically just a gloss on the more obvious moral principles of Torah - and it’s a pity that Jefferson never learned enough to succeed. Because the Seven Commandments are the system that He tried and failed to arrive at.
Abraham, the great revolutionary prophet and father of the Jewish People, the prophet of all Ivri - the people who follow the Way of the Hebrews – as we’ve said before, went where Jefferson did and succeeded.
Like Jefferson, he tried to reason his way through to God’s Plan, to the plain facts about the Universe that men and women with open-eyes can perceive. He wasn’t distracted, as Jefferson was – but Newton wasn’t – by the Christian caricature of a Jewish chap, a supposed ‘god man,’ a weird hypothesized “savior and redeemer,” called Jesus.
The fundamental fact about Scripture, Torah and the Hebrew revolutionary righteousness Tradition is that God is holy. There is NO injustice, no cruelty, no lack of charity, kindness or love, and no failure of memory or perception or rationality, with Him. He Who constituted this world and this and every universe according to His Own plans constituted them in His image, to some extent, as He did us, and all Creation. And, because He did so, and gave US – alone of all the creatures of this planet – the brains to partly understand and appreciate Him, and His Creation, so we can figure out for ourselves, rationally and logically, the Divine path of goodness and godliness.
Abraham showed us the way. Later, the Divine Scripture, the Torah of Moses, shed even more light on the subject – AND, incidentally, CONFIRMED the teachings of Abraham.
Calling all this the Golden Tradition, after the popular name for the elemental Torah principle that follows from the truth of b’tzelem Elokim, the One holy God created us all ‘in His image,’ is a natural. B’tzelem Elokim was – unlike the Ten Commandments! – universally revealed. Indeed, HaShem puts every human being on notice that the individual human being is sacred, not a mere animal, nor object, nor tool, but a profoundly precious being entitled to all the fundamental rights of every human being, and – so it follows - a brother, basically, to every other human being.
All the Seven Commandments spring directly, logically, from the fact of b’tzelem elokim, AND from the fact that HaShem put us universally ON NOTICE - He has managed somehow, in each generation, to inform us - that we are all Created in HaShem’s ‘image’ and are all, accordingly, ultimately sacred on a very high, deep level.
So, for instance, we should know better than to eat our food like monsters, heedless of our own status at the top of the planet’s foodchain and heedless of the pain of the creatures that God created – also, to an extent, ‘in His image,’ like all Creation - but not with such a strong resemblance to Him or reflection of Him as our own. The world, God tells us, is real, and the pain of animals matters to Him. So should it matter to us! That’s what the Seven Laws are all about.
We keep hearing from people who hate the First Covenant and oppose the Noahide Law, claiming that it’s merely a rabbinically created – read “Jewishly created” – concept designed to reduce the vast mass of humanity to abasement, to the status of peons of the Jews. Claptrap as this is, it ignores the fact that the Seven Commandments are all logical, rational Commandments that ALL follow logically, and directly, the universal revelation of b’tzelem elokim. Even if they hadn’t all been specifically revealed to the legendary immediate post-Flood ancestors of the human race, in other words, God should still require us to revere the Seven Commandments, because: 1) He is good, and just, and holy; 2) the world that He created is good, as well as real, and reflects the holy “fingerprints” of its Creator; and 3) we, human beings, exist b’tzelem elokim, “in His image.” Since He put us all on notice of that fact, we should know enough, at least, to try to follow through on where that knowledge should lead us.
The Seven Commandments and ALL the laws that follow them – including, for instance, even the nations’ insurance laws, say, which need to be just, and equitable, and equal in their application to everyone equally situated – simply follow the simple principles of cosmology and morality which Abraham taught: Abraham realizing that God is entirely just, entirely holy, rational and loving, and created and governs the Universe accordingly.
By Michael Dallen
Let all who walk the earth recognize and know that You alone are the God over all the kingdoms of the earth.” – Morning prayer, Hebrew Siddur. See I Kings 8:60; Psalms 46:11