Did Moses have other commandments up &mdash or on &mdash his sleeve


Exodus 18:1-20:23

Isaiah 6:1-7:6, 9:5-9:6

This week’s Torah portion includes the giving of the Ten Commandments (referred to in Jewish tradition as the “Ten Utterances”). Over the centuries there have been many who have proposed adding their own additional commandments. Each year I have asked the students in our confirmation class at Sherith Israel to compose their own 11th commandment, and this year’s class will do so again.

In “God’s Mailbox,” Rabbi Marc Gellman tells of additional commandments as follows: “After giving Moses the 10th commandment, God went right on and gave Moses commandments 11-15. Moses didn’t know what to do. He had already filled two big rocks with the first 10, and knew that there was no way he could lift three rocks. Moses wasn’t even sure he could lift two!”

But Moses didn’t want to tell God to stop, so he kept writing the extra commandments on his sleeves. Here are 11 and 14.

No. 11: God spoke to Moses and said, “You may think cutting a line is a little thing, but it is really a big thing. When people are waiting in line for something and you sneak into line ahead of them, what you are really saying to all the people in the line is something like, ‘The rules in life are for you but not for me. I get to do what I want whenever I want to do it, and without waiting, because I am more important than all of you jerks! I don’t care how long you have been waiting in this line because I don’t care about you!’

“Sneaking into line is one of the many bad things we do that we think are little because they are not like robbing a bank or shooting somebody. But Moses, you need to teach the people this big thing: The way people get bad in big ways is that they get bad in little ways first. The way people end up doing big bad things that matter is by first doing little bad things and thinking that they don’t matter.

“You can also tell them, Moses, that when they die and their souls go to heaven, I have a big long line up here that goes nowhere, and all the people who sneaked into line here on earth get to wait in that line for a very long time.”

Even though Moses was only writing on his sleeves, not on rocks, Moses had a good idea that he might run out of sleeves, so he just wrote: Don’t cut in line.

No. 14: God spoke to Moses and said, “People say too many bad things about other people, and that’s the truth. If you have nothing nice to say — nothing that will make somebody else feel happier or prettier or luckier, nothing that will help and not hurt, nothing that will lift up and not tear down — then my advice is to just shut up!

“Life is hard enough without other people dumping on you. You know that, so don’t be the dumper unless you are ready to be the dumpee. Remember: no one gets a good name by dragging other people’s names through the mud.

“Now, Moses, you must teach the people that sometimes they will have to say things that are not nice. If they see a friend getting into trouble, they must say something to try and stop their friend before it is too late. Really, the things you say to a friend who is about to mess up his or her life are nice things, even if they don’t sound nice to the person who hears them. Nice things can be hard things to hear and still be nice.

“If you try to say something nice whenever you speak, you will be surprised at just how many nice things you can find to say about other people. The amazing thing is this: The more nice things you say, the more nice things you will see.”

Moses wrote on one of the last clean edges of his sleeve: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

I hope we can each observe the Ten Utterances and learn additional commandments that will lead us on the path to a righteous life.

Rabbi Larry Raphael is the senior rabbi of Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco.