Thursday, May 9, 2013

The First Commandment vs. We the People of the United States..."

We have seen last week (see here) that the Ten Commandments include two commandments that were conveyed directly by God, these are the First and the Second commandments. 

Now, and I know that this question will sound absurd,  which one is the First commandment? 

Let me explain.

Literally, the First Commandment says: "I am HaShem your God, Who took you out of Egypt from the house of slaves" .  This statement is definitely not written in an imperative form, as a direct order from God like "You shall not kill". Perhaps this might not be a commandment (Mitzva) but a preamble where God introduces Himself to the people of Israel before giving them the commandments,  similar to the preamble of the American constitution: "We, the people of the United States...." . 

Interestingly this is how other Biblical religions have understood the First Commandment.  For Protestants, for example, the First Commandment is not "I'm the Lord your God" but  "Thou shalt have no other gods before me".   For the Catholic tradition the first commandment is integrated as an introduction (a preamble) to the second commandment. The catholic First commandment reads: "I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me."

In Judaism the First commandment "I'm haShem your God" is indeed considered as a specific precept, i.e.,  a Mitzva.  In his Sefer haMitzvot a book which details the account of the 613 precepts of the Tora Maimonides (haRambam) brings "I'm HaShem your God" as the first Mitzva of his book. That is, for Maimonides this is the "Starting Precept of the Tora". Definitely not a principle or a preamble. 

Now, we need to clarify. What is the content of this very important Mitzva? What are we ordered to do, think or believe by the "Starting Precept of the Tora"? 

To be continued..

(If you any suggestions on this question write to:

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