The Aseres HaDibros, Ten Commandments, comprise the centerpiece of Hashem’s Revelation at Har Sinai. They are the basis of our Torah. One would think that when Hashem “introduces” Himself to the people that He redeemed from Egypt, for whom He wrought unparalleled miracles, a nation that had achieved an extraordinarily high level of holiness, the dor deiah, generation of knowledge, that these commands would be earth-shattering. Yet, Hashem enjoins them to commit to such common sensical prohibitive mitzvos as: do not steal; do not commit adultery; do not murder. One lectures to a group of revered intellectuals concerning profound matters, not subjects that apply to the common person whose background is, at best, murky.
Horav Eliyahu Svei, zl, explains that these three sins are relative to the individuals to whom they were given as prohibitions. In other words, the Lo sirtzach, “Do not murder,” of the Aseres HaDibros is different and much more demanding than the “Do not murder” that is applicable to the common man. He quotes this idea from the Alter, zl, m’Slabodka who cites the well-known Mechilta (Mishpatim 15) which records the dialogue that ensued between Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel and Rabbi Yishmael Kohen Gadol as they were about to be executed by the Roman murderers. Rabbi Yishmael wept. Rabbi Shimon asked why he was weeping. Rabbi Yishmael responded that this was Hashem’s decree, and they should accept it as such. Rabbi Yishmael replied that he was well aware of this. He questioned only why they were being murdered like common sinners. Did they deserve to be treated like “garden-variety” murderers? Rabbi Shimon asked, if perhaps he was having a meal when a poor person had come to his door for alms and he had ignored him. “Absolutely not!” Rabbi Yishmael countered, “I would have guards by the door who would immediately walk the poor man into the house and feed him.” Rabbi Shimon asked, “Would it be that a woman came to your door with a halachic query and you made her wait?” “Yes,” he answered. “A widow came to me with a question, and I asked her to wait while I tied my shoes. This must be the reason.” We derive from here that some people are held to a higher, more exacting and demanding standard. When one causes pain, when one negatively touches on the emotions of another Jew, in the Torah’s vernacular, it is considered to be tantamount to murder!
The Alter applies the same logic to Lo signov, citing the Talmud Chullin 133a which records Abaye as saying that, although he was a Kohen and entitled to the various matnos Kehunah, gifts that are given to the Kohanim, he stopped taking for himself, because some Kohanim needed it more than he did. This, he felt, was akin to stealing. This indicates the standard by which Abaye lived. If he took something which by right belonged to him, but another person needed it more, he considered it stealing. Once again, we see that the Torah’s concept of theft is quite different than ours
Last, we come to the aveirah, sin, of adultery, which, according to societal norms, is a physical act of infidelity which transgresses the boundaries of marriage. The Rosh Yeshivah extrapolates from the incident concerning Reuven about whom the Talmud writes: “And he (Reuven) lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine,” (Bereishis 35: 22 ) when in fact, all Reuven did was move the bed. Indeed, Chazal (Shabbos 55b) say that Reuven committed no sin. Why then does the Torah consider his act of moving the bed an ignominious transgression against his father’s marital relationship with Bilhah? Obviously, we must say that while what Reuven did was not an act of adultery in accordance with common societal standards, Reuven was held to a higher standard, and on his spiritual plane, this was considered a violation of Lo signov.
A similar lesson is derived from the sons of Eili HaKohen, whom the Navi holds in contempt for their licentious behavior. Chazal (Shabbos 55b) say, however, that they were nothing of the sort. They delayed the women who were offering korbanos after their purification period, thus causing their husbands to wait unnecessarily for their arrival. This act of detainment was cause for men of such elevated spiritual achievement to be in infringement of the prohibitive mitzvah of Lo sinaaf.
The Rosh Yeshivah concludes with a powerful sine qua non for every one of us. Chazal discern the three characteristics which distinguish the national Jewish character: baishanim, a sense of shame; rachamanim, mercy; gomlei chassadim, performing acts of lovingkindness. This means that a Jew must refine the concept of shame, to embarrass more quickly, easier than one who is not a member of the Am Ha’Nivchar, Chosen People. He was to be more merciful and exhibit greater adherence to carrying out acts of lovingkindness. If a Jew’s compassion comes up short on the Heavenly scale, Hashem considers this failure to be an act of murder! This applies equally to theft and adultery. No one said it was going to be easy, but, then again, being a member of the spiritual corps d’elite never is.