Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut
at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to
discover there was nothing in it to steal.

Ryokan returned and caught him. “You may have come a long way to visit
me,” he told the prowler, “and you shoud not return emptyhanded. Please
take my clothes as a gift.”

The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.

Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow, ” he mused, “I wish
I could give him this beautiful moon.”


By Gershon Winkler:

The Ten Commandments is a sadly misunderstood and misinterpreted body of ancient Jewish rules-to-live-by, twisted out of context by religious cultures unfamiliar with the original Hebraic language and cosmology that inspired it, to begin with.

Ever since the Hebrew scriptures were translated from Hebrew to Greek to Latin and finally into English, the ancient Decalogue of the Hebrews has been a household word across the western cultural map. More recently, the media has given The Ten Commandments further exposure when Cecil B. DeMille titled his biblical epic “The Ten Commandments,” and, when of late, they aroused controversy surrounding the issue of separation of Church and State in the case of a county judge who refused to remove them from the front lawn of his court house. Ironically, the Ten Commandments remained the stalwart of a European Christian culture that in all other respects was founded upon an agenda of superceding the very scriptures that contained the Ten Commandments: the Hebrew Scriptures, otherwise derogatorily known as the “Old” Testament.

I would like to discuss here some of the original meaning and intent of this popularly known but sorely misunderstood body of ancient Jewish laws. For example, nowhere in the Decalogue does it state “Thou shalt not kill.” Rather, the Hebrew writ reads: “You will not murder” (Exodus 20:13). The “thou shalt not,” or “you may not,” is an incorrect rendering of what more accurately reads “you will not,” implying that if one observes the instructions of the first five “commandments” one will not be prone to committing murder, sexual abuse, theft, slander, etc. After all, the Hebrew ancestors did not need to be commanded not to murder or steal or slander as if they were a nation of idiots oblivious to simple, basic morality. It would otherwise be akin to an American law prohibiting the wanton slaughter of fellow humans or the random trashing of parked vehicles. The laws in the Ten Commandments were mostly duplicates of laws already in force and articulated earlier in the Torah. They were laws long ago transmitted to Abraham from his teacher Eber who received them from his father Shem (a/k/a Malkitzedek) who in turn receive them from his father Noah, the famed hero of the Great Flood. They are repeated here in the new context of relationship with the Creator as opposed to their original context of mortal legal injunction. Thus, the first several “commandments” are about the relationship between humans and God while the last five are about the relationship between humans and each other. The intention here is to predicate one upon the other rather than foster a sense of morality shadowed by societal legislation alone.

“Noachian Law had been secured by the external safeguard of severe punishment (Talmud, Baba Kama 38a), which nevertheless proved insufficient (Talmud, Avot 3:5). Now these external safeguards were to be replaced by the internal restraints provided by the chuqim of the Torah, laws which make awareness of God a reality in human life [and a determinant factor in wholesome human behavior].” — Philip Biberfeld: Universal Jewish History [Feldheim, 1980], Vol. 4, p. 79

The first of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3) is another example of a misreading. It does not read: “Thou shalt have no other gods besides Me [or before Me]”, as it is usually translated; rather it reads: “You shall have no other gods upon My face,” meaning we ought not to appropriate onto God neither definition nor image, presuming to know what God is all about. As God is described as saying in the Hebraic scriptural book of Isaiah the Prophet: “‘My thoughts are not like your thoughts, and My ways are not like your ways,’ declares Infinite One. ‘For as high as heavens are from earth, so high are My ways from your ways, and My thoughts from your thoughts'” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Even the word God is a mistranslation of the Hebrew term used: elo’heem, which is a plural word meaning literally All Powers (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 5:1), and is used also to describe humans who wield powers such as mortal judges (Exodus 21:6) and persons of high spiritual standing, or angels (Psalms 82:6).

Where the customary rendition of the Ten Commandments describes a “God of Vengeance” (Exodus 20:5) the Hebraic reading describes a God who is master over vengeance, meaning is — on the contrary — a God who is not subject to the human emotional reactions such as revenge and grudges:

It is written: “God is a God of vengeance and anger” [Nachum 1:2]. Said Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi: “A mortal is overcome by vengeance and anger, but the Holy Blessed One overcomes vengeance and anger, for it is read this way — ‘God is lord over vengeance and anger.'” It is written: “God is a God of jealousy and vengeance” [Nachum 1:2]. Said Rabbi Natan: “Only a mortal succumbs to jealousy and vengeance, but the Holy Blessed One overcomes jealousy and vengeance, for it is read this way — ‘God is lord over jealousy and vengeance.'” — Midrash Tehilim 94:1

The commandment against adultery is another example, for in the Hebraic language the wording is lo’ tin’af — meaning “You will not commit sexual abuse” as mentioned above. The implication extends to any wrong use of one’s sexual impulse. What exactly constitutes “wrong use” is relative to one’s belief system. In Jewish law, for example, a married man having sex with a woman who is not married to anyone else does not constitute adultery. Conversely, a single woman having sex with a married man does not constitute adultery. Nonmarital sex, or premarital sex is not a prohibition in Judaism whereas it is in Christianity. The prohibition extends beyond adultery and includes incest. What constitutes incest, however, is relative again to one’s belief system. In Jewish law, sex with your child or parent is a severe crime, but is allowed with your uncle or niece or cousin. Sex between siblings, however, while forbidden, is not criminal. Rape in Judaism extends as well to a man forcing his legally married wife, something still not illegal in half the country. The extension also touches upon the issues of other sexual situations such as homosexuality. While Christianity forbade all homosexual activity, Judaism forbade only male homosexual acts, and even then, only sodomy. Lesbianism was never forbidden in Jewish law, nor were male homosexual acts short of sodomy. While the ancient rabbis considered them lewd acts, nonetheless — as they aptly put it — “Since when did the Torah forbid lewdness?” (Talmud, Sanhedrin 54a-56a; Yevamot, 55b, 76a; Maimonides’ Pirush ahl ha’mish’nayot, on Sanhedrin, Ch. 7).

Each of the commandments of the Decalogue, then, are rich with contextual meanings and implications within and beyond the literal wording, and were never understood by the people with whom they originated more than 3,000 years ago as some kind of curt and dry list of supposedly “golden rules.” Nor were they understood as some kind of dogma, the fulfillment of which would bring rich rewards, and the violation of which would bring tragic consequences. As the famed philosopher Martin Buber put it:

“One who rejects God is not struck down by lightning; one who elects God does not find hidden treasures. Everything seems to remain just as it was. Obviously, God does not wish to dispense either medals or prison sentences” [from Literarische Welt, published in June 7, 1929, and “What Are We to Do About the Ten Commandments?” published in Israel and the World, p. 85]

Finally, and most importantly, nowhere in the “Old” Testament or in the entire Hebrew tradition are they called the “Ten Commandments.” Rather, in the Hebrew they are always referred to as Asseret Ha’dib’rot, meaning literally: “ten of the resonances,” meaning ten important aphorisms out of all the hundreds of others recorded in the Torah. They are also referred to as sh’nay lu’cho’t ha’b’rit, meaning literally: “two tablets of the covenant.” In the classical Jewish mystical writ known as the Zohar, they are called the ten “suggestions” (Sefer Ha’Zohar, Vol. 2, folio 82b).

The rendering of “commandment” typically originates in a mindset that was and remains unfamiliar with the Jewish vernacular and the ideology that birthed it. It is an interpretation chosen by those unfamiliar with Judaism who presume that the Hebrew Scriptures, or the “Old” Testament, is all about laws, commandments, mandates, burdens of which Paul — the founder of Christianity as we know it — claimed to have freed the followers of his newfound religion. Accordingly, Torah was and continues to be customarily translated as “The Law” when the word torah really translates as “Guide,” no differently than horah translates as Parent and morah as Teacher. To the Jewish people, then, the Torah was never burdensome and in fact fostered in them a potent sense of freedom, which, in turn, has rendered them most prominent, in proportion to the world population, in struggles for civil liberties. In fact, the very revelatory experience that birthed the Ten Commandments in the first place was preceded by the people’s expression of personal freedom, of personal choice (Exodus 19:8; see also 11th-century Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki on Exodus 21:6).


Criticized by the Pharisees and the Jerusalem scribes for not

living “according to the traditions of the elders” because he and

his disciples eat without washing their hands, Jesus, instead of

defending his action, attacks his critics as “hypocrites” and

charges that they value their own traditions while breaking

God’s commandments. Then he publicly calls into question the

kosher laws themselves—again explaining his meaning to his

disciples alone:

And he called the people to him again, and said to them, “Hear

me, all of you, and understand; there is nothing outside a man

which by going into him can defile him; but the things which

come out of a man are what defile him.” And when he had

entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him

about the parable. And he said to them, “Are you, too, without

understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man

from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but

his stomach, and so passes out of him? What comes out of a

man is what defiles him; for from within, from the human

heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, . .

. envy, pride, foolishness. . . . All these evils come from

within” (7:14-23).

Here Mark wants to show that although Jesus discards

traditional kosher (“purity”) laws, he advocates instead purging

the “heart”—that is, impulses, desires, and imagination.

Now that Jesus has alienated not only the scribes, Pharisees,

and Herodians, but also his relatives and many of his own

townspeople, he travels with his small band of disciples,

preaching to the crowds. Anticipating what lies ahead of him in

Jerusalem, where he will challenge the priestly party on its own

ground, Jesus nevertheless resolutely leads his followers there,

walking ahead of them, while “they were astonished, and those

who followed were terrified” (10:32). On the way he tells the

twelve exactly whom they are to blame for his impending death:

“The chief priests and scribes . . . will condemn [the Son of

man] to death, and hand him over to the nations, and they

will mock him and spit upon him, and scourge him and kill

him” (10:33).

Opposition to Jesus intensifies after he enters Jerusalem.

Having prepared a formal procession to go into the city, Jesus is

openly acclaimed, in defiance of the Romans, as the man who

comes to restore Israel’s ancient empire: “Blessed is the kingdom

of our father David that is coming!” Then, with his followers, he

enters the great Temple and makes a shocking public

demonstration there:

He entered the Temple, and began to drive out those who sold

and those who bought in the Temple, and he overturned the

tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold

pigeons; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything

through the Temple (11:15-16).

Now Jesus invokes the words of the prophets Isaiah and

Jeremiah, as if to speak for the Lord himself against those who

permit financial transactions in the Temple courtyard:

And he taught, and said to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house

shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you

have made it a den of robbers.” But the chief priests and the

scribes heard it, and sought a way to destroy him, for they were

afraid of him, because the whole crowd was astonished at his

teaching (11:17-18).

When the chief priests and scribes, joined by members of the

Jewish council, demand to know by what authority he acts, Jesus

refuses to answer. Instead he retells Isaiah’s parable of God’s

wrath against Israel (12:1-12) in a way so transparent that even

the chief priests, scribes, and elders recognize that he is telling it

“against them” (12:12). The following scenes show Jesus

contending first against the Pharisees and Herodians, who fail to

trick him into making anti-Roman statements (12:13-15), and

then against the scribes (12:35). Finally he warns a great crowd:

Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes, and

to have salutations in the marketplaces, and the best seats in

the synagogues, and the places of honor at feasts, who devour

widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They

will receive the greater condemnation (12:38-40).

–Elaine Pagels (The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics )