On Monday morning, The Ten Commandments will be read from the Torah to mark the first day of Shavuot. According to Virtual Jerusalem — http://22.214.171.124/vjholidays/shavuot/ten.htm — "When the Ten Commandments were given at Mount Sinai, the course of human history was changed forever. No document has influenced the course of civilization like the Bible, and it can be argued that of all the contents of the Bible, these ten laws have been the single most influential section."
You can read the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1 or if you prefer, you can have them sung to you at ORT's wonderful Web site Navigating the Bible at http://bible.ort.org/books/torahd5.asp?action=displaypage&book=2&chapter20&verse=2&portion=17
Robin Treistman has a thought-provoking essay entitled "The Ten…," in which Treistman tries to shatter some myths, at www.wzo.org.il/encountr/tencom.htm For example, Treistman argues that the phrase "Ten Commandments" is actually a poor translation of the Hebrew Aseret Hadibrot, "The Ten Statements."
So what makes these statements so special? "Jewish tradition holds that inside of — or included in — these Ten Statements is the entire Torah," Treistman writes. "In other words, the Ten Statements are actually Ten Categories into which each of the 613 Torah commandments falls. Name any commandment and I'll bet we can figure out where it belongs: Holidays, which sanctify time like Shabbat (the Sabbath) belong in the fourth commandment about observing Shabbat. Dealing honestly in business falls under not bearing false testimony…"
Rabbi Anchelle Perl is happy to burst another misconception. Thanks to countless paintings and the unforgettable image of Charlton Heston atop Mount Sinai, we are all familiar with the Ten Commandments etched on those two tablets, square on the bottom, round on the top. Not quite, says Perl. On his Web site — www.rabbiperl.com/holidays/shavuos.htm — he quotes the Talmud to argue that the tablets were actually square on top. He says Judaism has a responsibility to depict one of its most important symbols accurately.
For many more sites about the Ten Commandments and Shavuot, check out Beith HaChatulim — www.geocities.com/Heartland/Hills/1259/shavlinks.htm — and Maven www.maven.co.il/subjects.asp?S=126
There are a few Ten Commandments sites that focus on kids. The Jewish Theological Seminary site has a large poster celebrating the giving of the Torah that kids can print out and color at http://learn.jtsa.edu/topics/kids/shavuot_together/poster.shtml The TorahTots site — www.torahtots.com/parsha/shmos/yitro2.htm — has a comprehensive look at the preparation the Israelites went through in order to receive the Torah in addition to an explanation of the Ten Commandments geared toward kids.
It seems that there are many children who could have done well to study the TorahTots site. Richard Lederer has scoured the world for some of the most outrageous things kids have written about the Bible. Here are some biblical bloopers — actual mistakes made by young scholars about the Exodus and the Ten Commandments — at http://pw1.netcom.com/~rlederer/arcblpr.htm
"Moses led the Hebrews to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. The Egyptians were all drowned in the dessert. Afterwards, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Amendments. The First Commandment was when Eve told Adam to eat the apple. The Fifth Commandment is humor thy father and mother. The Seventh Commandment is thou shalt not admit adultery."
The Ten Commandments not only have become central to Judaism but also have woven themselves into our popular culture. Many sites even have lists of lists www.exxnet.com/geni/tencom.htm — of "new" commandments. I leave you with a couple:
Ten Commandments of Lobbying — at www.mokids.org/commandments.htm — "Take your friends where you find them. Today's opponent may be tomorrow's ally."
Ten Commandments for Sane Living — at www.stevenharper.com/ten.htm — "Strike a balance between work and play… Nobody ever said on their death bed, 'I wish I had spent more time in the office.'"