By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
What is the definition of a well-balanced individual? One who has a chip on both shoulders!
This week we read the Ten Commandments. The great Revelation at Sinai saw Moses come down the mountain bearing the Tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments engraved on them. As we know, the two Tablets were divided into two columns — the mitzvos between us and G‑d and those governing our human relations. The one side was devoted to our responsibilities to G‑d, such as faith and Shabbos, while the other side dealt with our interpersonal duties, such as no murder, adultery, or thievery.
The message that so many seem to forget is that both these areas are sacred, both come directly from G‑d, and both form the core of Torah law and what being Jewish is all about. We must be well-balanced Jews. We may not take the liberty of emphasizing one Tablet over the other. A healthy, well-rounded Jew lives a balanced, wholesome life and is, as the Yiddish expression goes, “gut tzu G‑t un tzu leit”—good to G‑d and good to people. If you focus on one side of the Tablets to the detriment of the other, you will not be properly balanced.
A good Jew is a well-balanced Jew. This means that it’s not good enough to be frum on the ritual side of Judaism and free and easy on the mentschlichkeit side. You’ve got to be honest and decent and live with integrity so people will respect you too. If you are frum to G‑d but not fair with people, you can become a fanatical fundamentalist blowing up people in the name of G‑d! The same G‑d Who motivates and inspires us to be G‑dly and adhere to a religious code also expects us to be a mentsch. There is no doubt whatsoever that it is, in fact, a mitzvah to be a mentsch.
But neither can we neglect the right side of the Tablets. A good Jew cannot simply be a democrat, a humanitarian. Otherwise, why did G‑d need Jews altogether? It is not enough for a Jew to be a nice guy. Everyone must be nice. All of humankind is expected to behave honestly and honorably. To be good, moral, ethical, and decent is the duty of every human being on the planet. A good Jew must be all of that and then some. He or she must be a good person and also fulfill our specific Jewish responsibilities, the mitzvos that are directed to Jews that are uniquely Jewish.
I recently came across an interesting statistic on the Ten Commandments. The right-hand Tablet, bearing the duties to G‑d, consists of 146 words. The left-hand Tablet, listing our human responsibilities, only has 26 words. Yet, tradition has it that both Tablets were filled with writing. There were no big, blank spaces. So how did 26 words equal the space of 146 words?
Well, anybody who uses a computer or word processor knows the answer. You simply adjust the font size. You can type in 10-point size or 24-point size. Take your pick. So if we apply that same principle to the Tablets, we have a simple solution. The 26 words on the left, reflecting our moral and ethical human responsibilities, were simply a bigger size than the 146 words on the right, reflecting our G‑dly, religious responsibilities. So, I guess we shouldn’t be underestimating the importance of the human-relations side of the Ten Commandments.
Then again, the very same G‑d Who said we should be nice also said we should have faith and keep Shabbos (yes, it is one of the Big Ten), kashrus, mikveh, and the rest of it. In fact, when people say to me, “Rabbi, I’m not that religious but I do keep the Ten Commandments,” I often wonder whether they are actually aware that keeping Shabbos is the Fourth Commandment.
As we read the Ten Commandments this week, let us resolve to keep our Jewish balance, not to become “one-armed bandits.” Please G‑d, we will live full, wholesome, rich, and well-balanced Jewish lives. Amen.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.