I would imagine that G-d would have been very careful in choosing which morals he would reserve for the special event on Mount Sinai over 3300 years ago. Here G-d was making his personal introduction to millions of people simultaneously for the first time in history. He called upon great thunder and lightning to accompany his address. Witnesses say that the Jewish people were so shocked by the intense level of revelation that their souls literally flew out of their bodies. Never would such a level of revelation take place to such a mass of humanity in one event. These words, surely chosen carefully, would make up the content of the Ten Commandments, inscribed onto two tablets and gifted to the world as the basis of moral behavior for millennia to come.
But a quick examination of the Big Ten may lead us to a curious question.
It makes sense to us why G-d would choose to use this opportunity to establish belief in G-d as well as prohibitions against idolatry and the defamation of G-d’s name as the first three principles of a G-dly life. In addition we can surely understand why murder, adultery and kidnapping (robbery of a person) should be established right up front as cardinal sins for all of mankind. Although we may not have thought about it before, I think we can also accept that giving honor to parents and keeping one day a week as holy day are both reasonable enough to be counted amongst the top ten.
However, when it comes to number nine, as a young man I somehow couldn’t absorb the rationalization that puts them on it on the same plane, with such importance to be chosen as part and parcel of the Big Ten!
Literally, the ninth commandment is a prohibition against giving false witness, often interpreted as specifically not testifying falsely in court. Obviously this would be a major behavior flaw which could undermine the very fabric of society. The long term repercussions of such behavior for any type of justice system would be catastrophic. Giving false witness is illegal in all civilizations for good reason. But the question remains - there are many personal actions which could undermine the social fabric. So why choose this one in particular?
In fact, if G-d would have replaced #9 with a positive commandment to tithe with charity, or be compassionate and loving in your relationships with your fellow man, or be honest in business and government, I may assume that such a commandment would be better understood and have a greater effect on the future of mankind.
Somehow the paramount importance of this commandment was always lost to me. Until we stop to take a better look at its real meaning. When we make a simple effort to find the source for lying in court, we realize that what goes on in court is in fact an extension/reflection of dishonesty in a society at large. For this reason this ninth commandment should be extended to be a lesson for all societies on not giving false witness in any aspect of our lives. The ramifications of dishonesty as a pattern in human behavior have repercussions which affect every aspect of life and society. When we look at Commandment # 9 in that context, it becomes overwhelmingly clear why it was counted as one of the Big Ten.
In fact, there is a clear reason why the ninth commandment is connected to the first. If we believe in G-d and that He is the creator of the universe and plays an active role in this world (as he was in taking the Jewish people out of Egypt), then it follows to say when we lie we do more than deceive another human being - we show a total disrespect for G-d. If G-d has a plan for this world, and designs Divine Providence in a way to help us fulfill a greater purpose in this life, then by lying we are both denying His reality as well as trying to recreate that reality to appear in a different form. Our lie takes to a cosmic dimension of trying to lift us to the level of being a competitive creator, of a different reality. When we give false witness, whether it be in court of law or the basketball court, we deny G-d’s involvement in the world he made, and try to redirect that creation to accomplish something it was not intended for. Few actions can go straight in the face of G-d as such a denial.
Perhaps today, when the fabric of social mores is stressed to the breaking point and in some cases is actually under attack, we can relate to the importance of this commandment on even a greater scale than in past generations, when honesty seemed to be more widely accepted and was even taken for granted.