Yitro: G-d and Satan discuss the 10 Commandments

G-d and His servant, Satan, were having another conversation. (Cross-ref. Book of Job).  G-d said: “I’m so proud of My Jewish people!  This Shabbat they’ll read Parashat Yitro, which includes what they call My “'Ten Commandments.'”  These are the core rules that set forth how I expect them to live, both in their relationship with Me and with each other.  They’ll even stand up while the Ten Commandments are read, which shows how important they consider them.”

Satan was distinctly unimpressed.  “So the Torah reader will read them aloud while everyone stands for two minutes, big deal!  Do they really pay any attention to what you commanded them?” 

G-d: “They’re only human, but I presume you have a criticism.” 

Satan: “Indeed. The Torah reading is only a small part of what they cynically call their ‘service.’  Have you listened to what they say?”

G-d:  “Of course, but get to the point.”

Satan: “The overwhelming majority of their prayers are just gush praise for You.  The Psalms are especially apple-polishing and repetitive. ‘You are so wonderful! You did this for us and that for us.’  It goes on and on and on, with their “service” divided into sections by – what else – their central praise-prayer Kaddish!  Then they say the “S’hma” acknowledging that you are G-d, and that they are supposed to obey Your commandments, but the only ones they mention specifically are wearing t’fillin and zizit.  As if that takes a lot of effort!  Then they finally reveal their true purpose by presenting a long list of demands in what they consider their most important prayer – the weekday Amidah.  And just to be sure that You are paying attention, they say these three times a day, and even repeat them; first everyone prays them silently, then the leader prays them aloud!  It’s completely self-serving.”

G-d:  No wonder I appointed you Chief Prosecutor.  You are too critical, but I'll admit, I never looked at their prayer services that way.  They must think that I am very egotistical or lack self-esteem, and that I’ll give them what they want if they’re effuse in praising Me. Of course, what I want is proper behavior, which means loyalty to My commandments, not praise.   

Satan: And as you’ve said, the “Ten Commandments” are the essence of that proper behavior, and yet they’ve shown shocking disrespect for them!

G-d: How so?   

Satan: Mixed in with all that praise are many other excerpts from Your Torah, but not a single reference to Your Ten Commandments!  And do You know why?

G-d: Of course, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me anyway. 

Satan: Ancient fear and stubborn clinging to tradition. Not fear of You, ironically, but of the Christians. Your Ten Commandments used to be part of the Jewish daily service recited in the Temples in Jerusalem.  But then some Jews became Christians and claimed that only the Ten Commandments reflected Your will, not the extensive “Oral Law” that Jews had actually come to live by.  So, the rabbis “demoted” Your most important Commandments by deleting them from the daily prayer service.  They said it’s okay to read them privately, but not publically, except as part of the normal Torah reading and on Shavuot.  As a result, Jews hardly pay attention to them, except in their synagogue artwork.  How hypocritical is that!  They pretend that Your Ten Commandments are important by turning them into expensive art, but they don’t actually read them or focus on them to lead the lives you demand!  It’s still the Christians who consider Your Ten Commandments most important.  In America, they even want to post them in public schools and in courthouses – Jews there oppose doing so!

G-d:  Well, that’s a very complicated issue in America.  You should read their Supreme Court decisions about it.  But I agree that it would be far better for Jews to cut back on praising Me and repeating their petitions, and instead used the prayer service time to read and emphasize My Ten Commandments every day – and then to make a special effort to follow them.  It would also provide a spiritual benefit by reminding them of their connection to Me and to each other.  Many Jews don’t feel connected to Me at all. 

Satan: So, what are You going to do about it?

G-d: I gave humans Free Will, so I can’t simply make them pay attention to My Ten Commandments.  And I didn’t like how heavy-handed you were with Job.  So, this time, I’ll let you try a very modest experiment.  You can give Rabbi Art Levine the idea of suggesting to the readers of his D’var Torah that they start regularly reading and thinking about My Ten Commandments.  If they take “his” advice and it improves their behavior, I’ll let you expand the project.

Satan:  I doubt that it will work.  Jews are a stiff-necked people – You said so Yourself in Your Torah.  They’ll make excuses, such as that the Ten Commandments aren’t in their prayer book and they don’t want to change tradition -- or that they aren't actually called the "Ten Commandments" at all in Your Torah; just "the Ten Statements" or "Ten Utterances."  And I can’t imagine why you would want to start with Art Levine!  I know him very well.  I didn’t think much of Job, but compared to Art Levine, Job was practically an angel! 

G-d: I have my reasons.  Levine wrote his rabbinic thesis on this subject.  And I'll deal with him during the High Holy Days.  Anyway, who are you to question my choice?  Were you around when I created heaven and earth?  It’s almost Shabbat now.  Give him the idea so that he can post it to his readers.  And Shabbat Shalom to you.

Satan: You’re too merciful, but You’re the boss.  Speaking of which, You look tired. Why don’t You increase Shabbat to two days?  We could all use another day off.

G-d: Let more of My people start observing Shabbat – one of My Ten Commandments – for One Day, and then I’ll consider it. 

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He who guards his mouth preserves his life
Proverbs 13:3