In this week’s parshah, God hands down the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people. With these laws, the group of tribes finally becomes united as a nation, establishing a covenant between themselves and God. Essentially, this is a contract: If the Jewish people follow the commandments, God will protect them and provide for them.
But the Ten Commandments are more than a contract. They form the basis for our relationship with God and teach us the basics for how to maintain good relationships with other people. The mitzvot are often divided into two categories. There are mitzvot that are bein adam l’makom, which deal with our relationship with God; and there are mitzvot that are bein adam l’chavero, which have to do with how we treat our fellow man.
The first two of the Ten Commandments set the tone: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage: You shall have
no other gods besides Me.” This is the foundation on which the covenant is built. This commandment recognizes God’s authority as the one and only God. It also reminds us of the historical moment when God saved us from slavery and we began the journey toward nationhood and the Promised Land. That experience of the Exodus marked and defined the bond between God and all of the Jewish people forever more.
The covenant, as described in the Ten Commandments, goes on to reassure us that God will show “kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” God’s infinite kindness, His chesed, also serves as a model for how we should act toward each other. We should be honest and fair and respect another person’s possessions. We should treat others with dignity. We should honor our parents.
I am very happy that this is my parshah, because I immediately thought of my mom. I thought of her, because she also sets rules for me to follow and she protects me. Her rules, just like the mitzvot, are meant to guide and teach me throughout my life how to be a good person and to make a positive contribution to my community.
Becoming a bar mitzvah means that I am old enough to understand the obligations of the mitzvot and that I am mature enough to follow them. I am now responsible for my own actions, for making wise choices and to know right from wrong. While I still have a lot of growing to do, I am mature enough to be able to consider the needs and feelings of other people. I am also old enough to better understand what God wants of me. I have new responsibilities, such as fasting and wearing tefillin. By living my life according to the laws of Torah, I have a better chance of becoming the best possible person I can be.