Sacred Truths and True Intentions
Howard Bliman, MD
15 March 2018
Last year, the 300th Anniversary of Freemasonry occasioned this online commentary: “Never is a moral compass needed more than in times of turmoil and never have humans lived in a more tumultuous time. Technology is changing everything.”((Savage, Michael. Commentary on the 300th Anniversary of Freemasonry, online, paraphrased, September, 2017.)) But what is the lodestone((Naturally occurring magnet that can serve as a navigational compass.))of our moral compass, and where does it point?
From one generation to the next, the evolution of culture, politics, and technology has changed the meaning of our words. Even time-honored words of wisdom are but clumsy constructs of our true intentions.
The Ten Commandments have been our moral compass for thousands of years. Three great religions have embraced them and technology cannot replace them. Yet their exact meaning to the people who first received them is not clear.
Clearly, the wording, syntax, and organization of the Ten Commandments are contractual. The first three commandments identify God as the absolute ruler of the universe by prohibiting the worship of any other god and barring any misuse of His name or reputation. The second tablet lists a hierarchy of dependent clauses that aim to preserve: the primacy of life, the sanctity of marriage, the boundary of ownership, the integrity of words, and the decency of thoughts. In effect, the cornerstone of unconditional love and respect in the first tablet lays a solid foundation for the second tablet, which lists prime examples of the Golden Rule.
Perhaps the original words in the original tongue could shed more light on true intentions. For example, the literal translation of the Sixth Commandment from the Hebrew “Lo tirtzach” is, “Thou shalt not murder,” not the familiar, “Thou shalt not kill.” ((Barclay, William. The Ten Commandments, Westminster John Knox Press, 1998, p. 52.)) The former is more sensible, because it excludes unavoidable or accidental deaths.
The popular King James version of the Fifth Commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” seems less fitting than the literal, “Kaved = Respect thy father and thy mother.” ((Berlin, Adele; Brettler, Marc Zvi, and Fishbane, Michael, eds. Commentary on Exodus 20:12, The Jewish Study Bible: Tanakh Translation, Oxford University Press. 2004.)) The latter is more meaningful, because honor can never be guaranteed, but respect can always be given.
The Fourth Commandment, “Zachor = Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” also promotes unity and domestic tranquility, because dedicating a sabbatical day to rest, faith, and celebration brings people closer to God, nation, and each other. ((Exodus 23:11-12; Leviticus 25:2-4; Sabbatical Year, New Bible Dictionary, Second Edition, Tyndale House, 1982 p. 1043))
At face value, the First Commandment, “I am the LORD your God, who brought cha = you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery,” ((Exodus 20:1-21, Deuteronomy 5:1-23, ‘’Ten Commandments,’’ New Bible Dictionary, Second Edition, Tyndale House, 1982 pp. 1174-1175)) appears confined to a certain people, time, and place. But to succeeding generations everywhere, “you” addresses “all of us!”
When sacred truths take on new meaning, the lodestone of our moral compass could preserve their true intentions. The Ten Commandments are timeless, because the spirit behind their sacred truths lives above the letter of the law.