David Hazony, author of "The Ten Commandments: How Our Most Ancient Moral Text Can Renew Modern Life"
In our world, it’s been a long time since the Ten Commandments, as a text, had any real meaning. We’ve put them into a black box, glorified that box and attached all sorts of sacred connotations to it, rendered it symbolically and, having commissioned our artists to depict it visually, have convinced ourselves that we no longer need to know what’s inside.
According to polls, about 90 percent of Americans have an opinion about whether they should be positioned in front of a courthouse, while only 40 percent can name more than four of them. We’ve never let go of the Ten Commandments as a symbol, but as a teaching about life they’ve become largely forgotten.
According to one rabbinic tradition, as soon as he saw the calf, Moses realized the Israelites were too busy looking for symbols instead of wisdom—such that the Two Tablets had become an idol, too. The most important thing about the Ten Commandments, the story seems to teach, is to forget what they look like and listen carefully to what they say. “Sometimes,” the rabbis concluded, “you have to destroy the Torah in order to uphold it.” Holy Moses!
What if, in other words, we were to smash the tablets ourselves, forgetting what they look like for a minute and chasing down their deeper insights, finding in them a direction for modern life, something we can breathe and internalize and challenge and approach with our whole being rather than just our limited religiosity?