10 Commandments

What is the greatest day in human history? If you needed to pick one day that is the single most important date in history, which would it be?

June 6, 1944, D-Day, the invasion of Normandy that turned the tides in World War II?

July 14, 1789, Bastille Day, marking the French Revolution and ushering in freedom and equality to the world?

May 14, 1796, the day that Dr. Edward Jenner first developed the smallpox vaccine?

Perhaps you would choose the day that God split the sea during the Exodus from Egypt, or the day that God gave the Torah at Mount Sinai.

These are all great options. But they are all wrong. None of these days are the greatest day ever. There’s one day that is more important than all these days. But before I share with you what day that is, I want to tell you about the second greatest day of all time.

The second greatest day of all time is the day that God gave the Torah at Mount Sinai. When Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments, ethics and morality were revealed to the world in a way that had never happened before.

How do we know right from wrong, good from bad? In a world where truth is determined by mankind, and monarchies, governments and legal systems decide how we ought to behave, good values can become elusive and good people can become a rare commodity. Pharoah believed that infanticide was just, and Haman believed that murdering all the Jews in Persia was the greatest service he could provide his king. Without an object set of values, who’s to say they were wrong?

But they of course were very wrong.

In Judaism, we have a code of ethics dating back to the creation of the world that tells us right from wrong. Adam and Eve were given a set of rules in the Garden of Eden (which they broke, though that’s for another time…), Noah was given a set of rules when he exited the arc, and Abraham was praised by God for being a man of justice and righteousness.

In Judaism, we believe that there are an objective set of rules that govern how we should act. There is right and wrong, good and bad, as determined by God and shared with humanity through His Torah.

The day that God gave the ten commandments to the world was important, but not because it was the day that ethics and morality were given to the world. Ethics and morality had been given many years prior. Abraham knew right from wrong, Adam knew right from wrong. There is no way that God would create a world, and not share with his creations the proper way of conduct until thousands of years later.

The day that the 10 commandments were given at Sinai was important for another reason. God revealed himself to the world on that day. The focus of the day was not on laws and ethics but on divine revelation. The whole world had the opportunity to see and hear God, something that had never happened before.

Every student of the Bible will notice that the actual statement of the 10 commandments in the book of Exodus is only 14 verses, not even a complete chapter. But the preparation for the revelation at Sinai is many chapters.

Knowing what is right and wrong is important. But doing the right thing is more important. How do we transform ourselves from people of knowledge to people of action?

If a parent tells a young child not to eat a cookie, then places the cookie on the table and leaves the room, will the child eat the cookie? The child may know that he is not allowed to eat the cookie, but that does not mean he will in fact refrain.

A bank robber may know that theft is wrong, but that does not mean that when he is in debt he won’t resort to robbing a bank.

The answer is that we need to have an awareness of God. We need to believe that God is involved in our lives on a daily basis. He is watching us, he is caring for us and guiding us.

The child will (hopefully) not take the cookie while his parent is still in the room. And the bank robber will (hopefully) not rob the bank while his children are watching.

Likewise, if we feel God as present in our own lives, we will live up to his expectations of humanity.

The day that God gave the 10 commandments to the world was the day that God told the world, I’m here, and I care about you. I am giving you a gift, a guidebook for how to live your life and be successful. And I look forward to seeing you succeed.

There is something peculiar about the day that God revealed himself at Sinai. No date is given. The Torah provides the date for the Exodus from Egypt and a myriad of other events. But perhaps the greatest day in human history – the day that God revealed himself to the world – has no recorded date! How can that be?

A number of the commentaries suggest an insightful answer. The Torah deliberately does not record the date of the Revelation at Sinai to teach the lesson that every day can be the day of revelation. We should not mistakenly think that God revealed himself to the world thousands of years ago, and that was it. No. Every day God reveals himself to the world, and every day we have the opportunity to seek out God, to see God in our lives.

This brings us to the answer to the question we started with. What is the most important day in human history? Today.