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    The Higher Ten Commandments

    There are two levels on which to understand the Ten Commandments.

    They are suggested by a comment of the Zohar. Parashat K’doshim says, “You shall keep My Sabbaths” (Lev. 19:3). On this and similar verses the Zohar asks, Is there more than one Sabbath?

    Its answer is that there are two Sabbaths, a higher and a lower.

    The “lower” Sabbath is the occasion when we are careful about what to do and what not to do. It becomes a “higher” Sabbath when it elevates us in holiness and spirituality.

    The “higher” and “lower” levels of the commandments apply not only to Shabbat but to every part of the Decalogue.

    When we limit the Second Commandment, for instance, to forms of idolatry that were customary in ancient days, we deny ourselves the “higher” mitzvah of ensuring that we do not make icons out of human beings, earthly temptations, or worldly pursuits.

    When we limit the Fifth Commandment to the parents who gave us birth we are already doing a great thing, but we are denying ourselves the opportunity of honouring the whole history and tradition of which we are heirs.

    When we restrict lo tignov – the commandment about stealing – to a rule, certainly an indispensable one, about life in human society, we forget that there is another kind of stealing which must also be taken seriously – stealing from oneself.

    I steal from myself if I fail to live up to my potential and to be the best possible kind of me. (The source of this idea is a saying of the Kotzker Rebbe.)

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