The Ten Commandments were engraved on the tablets in two groups of five each. Nachmanides comments as follows:

    "Five of the Ten Commandments deal with the honor of the Almighty, the Creator, whereas the other five address the well-being of humankind. The commandment to honor father and mother is a part of the commandments honoring G‑d Himself, since by honoring one's father and one's mother one honors G‑d, because G‑d is a partner in the formation of any human being.

The ten sefirot parallel the ten fingers….

    "We are therefore left with five commandments which address man's needs and dignity. It appears that one set of five commandments was engraved on one of the two tablets, and the second on the other. We are to regard both groups of commandments as equally important. This corresponds to what is written in the Sefer Yetzirah, that the ten sefirot parallel the ten fingers, five on each hand, with a covenant forming the link between them in the center.

    "This explains the need for two tablets. Up to and including the commandment of honoring father and other, the commandments allude to the Written Torah; the commandments found on the second tablet are an allusion to the Oral Torah. Our sages may have had this in mind when they said that the reason that there were two tablets was that one symbolized Heaven whereas the other symbolized Earth; they symbolized the relationship between bride and groom. They symbolized the two worlds, the Here and Now and the Hereafter. All of this is reflected in a single allusion. Intelligent students will understand this."

Thus far Nachmanides.

The two stone tablets…were both of identical dimensions and contained five commandments each….

Rashi comments on the verse in Song of Songs: "Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of the gazelle," (Songs 4:5) that the expression "two breasts" refers to the two stone tablets. They are described as "twins" because they were both of identical dimensions and contained five commandments each. The commandments very much parallel each other:

  • The injunction not to murder corresponds to the commandment "I am the Lord Your G‑d", for the murderer diminishes the stature of G‑d by destroying His handiwork;

  • The commandment not to have other gods corresponds to the prohibition of adultery, because the adulteress practices deceit of her husband, whereas the idol-worshipper practices infidelity against his Maker;

  • The commandment not to use the name of G‑d in vain corresponds to the prohibition of stealing, for in the end every thief will resort to a false oath to deny his deed;

  • The commandment to observe Shabbat and keep it holy corresponds to the prohibition of being a false witness, for anyone who does not observe Shabbat testifies that G‑d did not create the universe and rest on the Seventh Day;

  • The commandment to honor father and mother corresponds to the commandment not to covet, for he who covets someone else's wife will ultimately sire children who will repudiate and curse him instead of honoring him.

The Zohar on this portion also deserves study.

I will first begin to explain the commandments themselves, and later on their mystical dimensions. The commandments: "I am the Lord your G‑d" and "You must not have any other god" tell us that "I am the Lord your G‑d" is the source of all positive commandments, and "You shall not have any other god" tells us that the same G‑d is the source of all negative commandments.

Our sages teach us that Israel heard these two commandments directly from G‑d's mouth (Makkot 24). This is why you find that G‑d addresses Israel in the second person in these two commandments. When G‑d introduces the third commandment, He switches halfway through the commandment (Ex. 20:7) to indirect speech, i.e. "For He will not consider blameless, etc." He also did not say, "Do not utter My name in vain, but "Do not utter the name of the Lord your G‑d in vain." It was Moses quoting G‑d who said these words; hence the change in style. The same applies to the remainder of the first set of the Ten Commandments.

[Translated and adapted by Eliyahu Munk.]