Rabbi Klein's Book

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


The Ten Commandments in a Changing World


This thought provoking philosophical book by the late and great scholar Rabbi Isaac Klein is as valuable today as it was when published in 1963.  The first commandment is that among other truisms we are incapable of having any conception of God – that we as humans are incapable of this.  As children many of us viewed God as an all knowing wise man with a white beard who rewards and disciplines as necessary. We should consider what the belief in God (the image of a good  and just God) has upon our lives and conduct.  In today's world it is rare that we ever spend a moment thinking about God in our daily routines as we rush about doing our multitasking cyberspace existence. Although the majority of humanity do not state that they do not believe in the Lord, they do not connect occurrences as including “Him”. In today's Western, “civilized” countries, we no longer believe in multiple deities.  We want to believe that at least we should worship our one God, the God of our forefathers.  It is science that appeals and happenings are attributed to conditions of a positive or negative situation.  We must however remind ourselves that even the great Albert Einstein stated, “God does not play dice with the universe”. He believed that a higher being created the world we live in.

The second commandment : “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” excludes idol worship.  In today’s world it is suggested that we shall at least believe in the one God that we do have.  For the most part, idol worship is no longer a problem in our modern world.  The concept of  belief in God includes moral and ethical behavior. The assumption is that our conscience is included in our “soul” - our conscience which was documented in the Torah, in the law and our interpretation of godliness.

The third commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.” In essence if we are to be considered honest/moral people we must not take false oaths invoking God’s name.  Unspoken is the command that you will have the wrath of the Lord if you lie – and consequences will surely follow.

The fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy”.  Most of us in the modern world disregard this commandment.  We have as a result lost something very beautiful and emotionally healthy.  One day is like the next, there is little time to look at what is important in our lives. We have lost a great deal when we do not use the synagogue to pray with others, to be with people who are like minded in their beliefs, in justice, in holiness, in morality.  Life is not merely made up of ordinary humdrum behavior where godliness is omitted.  Our material goods are only lent to us for a time. This is demonstrated by a Yiddish song : “Weib und Kinder musst du lassen schtain und mit mir auf yene welt mit gain” (Wife and children you must leave and you have to go with me to the next world). No matter how much money we feel that we have to scratch together, it will enhance our lives if we set aside the Sabbath to recover from the pressures of everyday tasks. Keeping the Sabbath as holy, as special, setting the seventh day aside,  enables us to gain control just as the kosher laws do.  It helps us in enhancing our lives.  Self control is essential in keeping us healthy both in a physical and emotional sense. It keeps us “grounded”.   (Take the alcoholic – a person who has lost self control – who practices impulsivity, relief for the moment with dire consequences later).  The kosher laws help us to control the consequences of over indulgence and other deviant and questionable practices and actions.

The fifth commandment: “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee”.  When there is mutual respect and love between the members of the family it becomes the best and strongest agency for character building.  Honoring our parents is more than attending to their physical needs.  Inclusion, not exclusion, is essential in the honoring; to be kind and thoughtful; to protect as they protected us.  To speak with love and respect even when the parent seems to be wrong.  Never to make the person “mevayish” (embarrassed, hurt). In our Jewish religion, parents are the guardians of their children’s characters, the messengers of God on this earth.

The sixth, seventh, eights, ninth and tenth commandments are all self explanatory:  Thou shalt not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness against thy neighbor.  All of the above are immoral acts which seriously hurt other human beings by depriving them of earthly goods, , their loved one,  their good name and their lives! If these commandments are not heeded there is a total lack of trust, of honesty, and morality, which lead to destruction and annihilation. Individually these are crimes against the person, collectively they are crimes against a nation, a country, a world.  We have seen this frequently demonstrated by politicians and certain leaders of countries.  A very clear example is the psychopathic Hitler who was able to destroy six million of our people, of us. 

The tenth and last commandment:  “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife (or husband);  etc, etc.  This commandment is a difficult one.  The question is how to control feelings?  To strive is not wrong; to want more than you currently have is by no means negative.  To feel is normal, it is human.  We must not carry out our feelings of envy and jealousy to hurt another human in spite of the fact that we might want what our neighbor has.  Our feelings may spur us on to accomplish those things that have meaning to us or to be successful because of these feelings which can have a positive outcome.  Just envy and jealousy is a destructive emotion if we become hostile toward our neighbor because of our unhealthy emotions.  There is an old German-Jewish proverb: “Man muss zufrieden sein”.  One must be at peace with oneself. This is closely connected with an English proverb:  “What I aspired to do and could not achieve, I comfort me”. 

If we follow the ten commandments as best we are able our lives will have a positive and healthy structure which will guide us throughout a more peaceful existence on this earth.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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