Posted on February 10, 2012 by Barer
This week’s parsha, among a few other things that regularly and justifiably receive less attention, contains the עשרת הדברות (never called any title in the text itself), somewhat loosely translated as the Ten Commandments (more literal would be the Ten Utterances). What stood out to me reading them this year was the conditional nature of some of the commandments. This was first highlighted by the Rashbam commenting on what are traditionally considered the two halves of the first commandment, where he says that the way the commandment is phrased: “I am Hashem your God, that took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery; you shall have no other Gods before Me” (20:2-3, translation mine) implies that the second half is conditional on the first. That is to say, Hashem requires Bnei Yisrael to worship no other Gods precisely because He took them out of Egypt. This implies that, if there were no Exodus, there would be no required fealty to Hashem. What is traditionally considered the fifth commandment, honouring one’s parents, is proclaimed in an explicitly conditional format, as the text says: “Honour your father and mother, so that your days on this earth that Hashem your God is giving to you will be lengthened” (20:12, translation mine). Again, this seems to imply that the only reason to honour one’s parents is to reap the reward of a long life. I grant that this is a cynical read, and that, as a matter of fact (as far as the text is concerned), Hashem did take Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, and that almost all people would consider a longer life to be a desirable good. However, phrasing some of the central commandments of the religion in this way still strikes me as odd. Why would Hashem need to provide incentives or conditionals for following the Torah? Is it not enough to say ‘do the following because it is right’ or ‘because I said so’ (which gets to the heart of the Euthyphro dilemma).
To give a command
On the condition that x
Seems to cheapen it