The Ten Commandments were given by God to Moses on two tablets. The first tablet consisted of laws between man and God, such as belief in God and observing Shabbat. The second tablet contained laws between man and man, such as don’t kill, don’t covet. The Mabit (Rabbi Moshe ben Yosef Di Trani, 1500-1580) points out that on the tablets, the laws between man and man were inscribed using fewer words and a larger font than the laws between man and God. This is to emphasize the central importance of the laws between man and man. To merit receiving the Holy Torah, we must first treat others with kindness and respect.
Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543-1620) used this concept to explain why the Book of Genesis comes before the Book of Exodus. Genesis is filled with lessons on the proper way to treat others, which we must learn before we reach the Book of Exodus and the giving of the Torah. Similarly, Torah portion Yitro starts with a depiction of the “shalom bayit” (peace in the home) of Moses’ family, then continues with Yitro helping Moses set up a justice system to ensure fairness to all. Only after making peace in the family and the community are the Jewish people ready to receive the Torah from God.
Image: “Moses and Aaron with the Ten Commandments” by Aron de Chavez, 1675