The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tetsaveh: all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom

In this week's Torah portion, God describes to Moses how to prepare the priests, including the High Priest, for consecrating the Tabernacle, and how the priestly duties are to be performed. There is a very detailed description of the High Priest's garments. God tells Moses:
And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty. And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office. And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office. [Exodus 28: 2-4]
The expression "wise hearted" is in Hebrew, חַכְמֵי-לֵב, or chokmei-leiv. The term Chokmah appears as the second Sefira of the Tree of Life, the immediate state of consciousness after the initial first impluse. It is also the word for wisdom in Hebrew. Leiv is the Hebrew word for heart. The Hebrews regarded the heart as the seat of consciousness. Thus it describes a person whose consciousness is infused with the highest possible wisdom. This is reiterated in the same sentence by the expression "the spirit of wisdom", or רוּחַ חָכְמָה in Hebrew, or ruach chokmah. Ruach is one of many Hebrew words for soul. As the Inuits have many different words for snow, Hebrew has many different words for soul.

The crudest concept of the soul is that of the נֶפֶש, or nefesh. This can also mean "breath", or "life force". Everything that breathes air has a nefesh. That is why Kosher laws classify meat one way and fish another. To the medieval understanding, fish did not breathe air (since they did not understand the function of gills), and thus did not need to be sacrificially slaughtered in a way that took their souls into account. Sometimes this is called the "animal soul". The nefesh is inclined to sin, and in the Mussar tradition, needs to be tamed by higher principles. It is where our impulses, urges and addictions manifest themselves. In a sense, the Entered Apprentice degree is designed to make the candidate aware of his nefesh.

The next most sophisticated concept of the soul is that of the רוּחַ, or ruach. This can also mean "wind", or "spirit". This is particular to man. It is sometimes called the "intellectual soul". It can be moved by reason, and can be strengthened by study, meditation and prayer. The Christian concept of the Holy Spirit originally comes from Judaism, where it is called the ruach ha-kodesh, or literally, "Holy Spirit". When used alone, however, the ruach is the rational soul of an individual, that is, when it does not refer to a ghost. In a sense, the Fellowcraft degree is designed to make the candidate aware of his ruach.

The subtle concept of the soul is that of the נְשָׁמָה, or neshamah. This also translates as "breath", but in a much more subtle sense. This is a portion of the Divine housed in the human soul. Jews believe that the neshamah cannot be tainted by sin. In Jewish mysticism, the first objective in starting one's spiritual path is to waken the neshamah. The morning prayers includes the line: "My God, the soul (neshamah) that You have placed in me is pure." The last line of Psalm 150 states: כֹּל הַנְּשָׁמָה, תְּהַלֵּל יָהּ, or "Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD." [Psalm 150: 6]. I would translate line as "Everything that has a neshamah, by breathing praises the Lord."

It is a focus of Jewish meditation to pull the center of consciousness from the nefesh, to the ruach, to the neshamah. In a sense, the Master Mason degree is designed to make the candidate aware of his neshamah.

So who made Aaron's garments? Those whose hearts are directed by the spirit of the highest conceivable form of wisdom, those whom God has infused with the spirit of that wisdom. This is what Freemasonry aspires to, and what alone qualifies us to do our Work.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Terumah: And let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.

In this week's Torah portion, God gives Moses instruction for building the Tabernacle, or Mishkan. It is to be made out of materials gathered by all the people, out of precious things in their possessions. Everyone is to contribute to it. There is to be an Ark made of gold and acacia wood to store the Tablets of the Law. The cover of the Ark (the karopet of ha-aron) will be made of gold and will have two cherubs made of the same piece of gold as the cover itself, facing each other with faces downcast but wings spread wide to cover the whole Ark, carved into the top of the cover. God instructs Moses that He will instruct him when Moses puts his head between the two cherubs over the Ark.

There was also to be a table made of acacia wood plated in gold, on which would be placed the showbread. These were twelve loaves of bread (one for each of the twelve tribes) specially baked to sit before the Presence of God. After which, they would be divided among the priests and eaten. It is mentioned in 1 Samuel 21: 4-7 that King David was given the showbread to eat by the High Priest.

The lampstand, or menorah,  was to be made of one enormous, solid piece of gold, hammered into six branches to hold seven lamps. Cups, spheres and flowers were hammered out of the gold to decorate it. The menorah was roughly 150 pounds, made of a single piece of gold.

The cloth of the Tabernacle was to be made of linen and wool, dyed with expensive dyes like techelet and  crimson worm. The Torah forbids wearing clothing made of a mixture of wool and linen, but also insists that the garments of the High Priest be made of a mixture of wool and linen. The dyed cloth was to be woven into a tapestry with cherubs decorating the fabric. Ten such cloths would be made, with each curtain 42 feet by 6 feet in area. They were sewn together in two groups of five with golden fasteners to attach them together, with eleven sheets of goats' wool, of area 45 feet by 6 feet, forming a cover. Five sheets were sewn together, and six sheets were sewn together, with the sixth sheet forming a tent flap for the Tabernacle. A roof was made of ram skins, processed with a type of tanning that made them red, with another roof made of skins processed with a type of tanning that made them blue, called tachashim (תְּחָשִׁים). Some interpreters think that the blue-processed skins were dolphin skins, while others think they were badger, or cow leather that was heavily processed.

The tent beams of the Tabernacle were made of acacia wood plated in gold, and shod with silver. Similar to the cloth of the Tabernacle, a curtain (parokhet) would be made, hanging from the rafters, to shield the Ark from view. As I have previously blogged, parokhet and kaporet are anagrams of each other, as are ha-Aron and Aharon (Aaron). The curtain, along with the wall of the Tabernacle, demarcated the extent of the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle.

Interestingly, in Kabbalah, the word parokhet takes on a transcendental meaning, as the barrier between adjacent higher realms of being. Between the world of Action (or Assiah) and the world of Fomation (or Yetzirah) is a curtain or barrier. And between Yetzirah and the world of Ideas (or B'riah) is a curtain. This barrier is inadvertently amusingly described by OTO devotees as "The Veil of Paroketh" (literally, "The Veil of a Curtain").  And between B'riah and the world of Archetypes (or Atzilut) is a curtain, which the Hermetic tradition calls "The Abyss".

An altar was to be made of acacia wood plated in copper, square with protrusions (literally, "horns") emerging out of each corner. This was for burnt offerings.

The Torah will repeat everything in this Torah portion later on once the people come to actually build these things. Next week, the instructions for preparing the Tabernacle will be given, and then there will be a rather disappointing interlude where Aaron, in Moses' absence, will build a Molten Calf for the Children of Israel to idolize. This will have unfortunate consequences. After which, the people will do what God commanded, and it will be described nearly identically with what was written in this week's Torah portion, with different verb tenses.

Of course, to Masons, "the Tabernacle was a model for King Solomon's Temple, of which this and every well-governed lodge is a representation." If it weren't a few hours before Shabbat, I'd explore this in a lot more detail.

The Haftarah for this Torah portion is from the First Book of Kings [1 Kings 5: 26 - 6:13]:
And the LORD gave Solomon wisdom, as he promised him: and there was peace between Hiram and Solomon; and they two made a league together.
And king Solomon raised a levy out of all Israel; and the levy was thirty thousand men.
And he sent them to Lebanon, ten thousand a month by courses: a month they were in Lebanon, and two months at home: and Adoniram was over the levy.
And Solomon had threescore and ten thousand that bare burdens, and fourscore thousand hewers in the mountains;
Beside the chief of Solomon's officers which were over the work, three thousand and three hundred, which ruled over the people that wrought in the work.
And the king commanded, and they brought great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house.
And Solomon's builders and Hiram's builders did hew them, and the stonesquarers: so they prepared timber and stones to build the house.
And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.
And the house which king Solomon built for the LORD, the length thereof was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof twenty cubits, and the height thereof thirty cubits.
And the porch before the temple of the house, twenty cubits was the length thereof, according to the breadth of the house; and ten cubits was the breadth thereof before the house.
And for the house he made windows of narrow lights.
And against the wall of the house he built chambers round about, against the walls of the house round about, both of the temple and of the oracle: and he made chambers round about:
The nethermost chamber was five cubits broad, and the middle was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad: for without in the wall of the house he made narrowed rests round about, that the beams should not be fastened in the walls of the house.
And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building.
The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house: and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the middle into the third.
So he built the house, and finished it; and covered the house with beams and boards of cedar.
And then he built chambers against all the house, five cubits high: and they rested on the house with timber of cedar.
And the word of the LORD came to Solomon, saying,
Concerning this house which thou art in building, if thou wilt walk in my statutes, and execute my judgments, and keep all my commandments to walk in them; then will I perform my word with thee, which I spake unto David thy father:
And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.

This should be familiar to every Freemason.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mishpatim: These are the rules

I have discussed previously that Jewish law recognizes three kinds of mitzvot, or commandments.The first kind  of laws are mishpatim, or ethical rules. These are the ethical guidelines for living that any compassionate person might come up with if they thought about the situation enough. The second kind of laws are the the zakhorim, or tribal (or national) remembrances. These tell the observer to keep in mind the history of the Children of Israel, and help the observer identify with and find his place within the Jewish people as a whole. The most important remembrance is to remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and God brought you out of bondage to make you a free man. The third kind of laws are the chukim, or esoteric rules. These are usually somewhat strange and non-obvious, such as not mixing linen and wool in the same garment. Doing so will not help perpetuate any remembrance, nor will it lead to any ethical action, and yet it is in the Torah, so it falls into the third category. Kabbalists and other Jewish mystics often attach deep significance to the chukim as mystical observances with deep esoteric meaning.

This week's Torah portion is named after the first statistically improbable phrase in the portion. This portion begins, "Now these are the judgments [mishpatim] that thou wilt set before them." [Exodus 21:1]. What follows is a list of 53 ethical rules, that cover a wide range of situations, but all of which are very specific. For example, if an ox gores a human being to death, the ox will be put down, but its owner will not be responsible for the death, unless the ox has a history of aggressive behavior, and has been warned by the community about the ox's behavior, in which case both the ox and its owner will be put to death. [Exodus 21: 28-29].

Some of the rules seem a bit odd today. A male slave is to be freed at the start of the seventh year of servitude, but if the slave wants to remain the property of his master, he will publicly declare that he loves his master and does not wish to go free, upon which his master will bring the slave to a court of law to declare this, and then to the doorpost of his home, and there pierce the slave's ear with an awl against the doorpost.[Exodus 21: 2, 6-7]. Much of this makes sense, except for piercing the slave's ear against the doorpost. It could be that in ancient times, among men only slaves pierced their ears, but that would not explain why it had to be done against the doorpost of his master's house. Jewish law requires a house to have a mezuzah nailed to the doorpost, so maybe, in a sense, the voluntary slave is like a mezuzah, but I admit that's a stretch.

This is one of several places in the Torah where the Lex Talonis appears. Literally, this passage says, "And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." [Exodus 21: 23-25]. It should be strongly noted that Rabbinic Judaism (pretty much every Jew except the Karaites and Samaritans, who collectively number only around a few thousand on earth) does not take this to mean that an eye requires an eye, or that a tooth requires a tooth. This is important. This has been taken throughout the Jewish world to mean that if a person strikes out the eye of another person, striking out the eye of the culprit is the maximal penalty possible. Similarly, the maximum punishment for knocking out a tooth would be to have one tooth knocked out. Even if a person were to sever the foot of the High Priest or the king, the most severe punishment he could receive would be to have his foot severed off. No death penalty could be exacted no matter who received the injury from whom.

By the time of the redacting of the Talmud, this law was interpreted to require monetary damages rather mutilation as the penalty for these offenses. Jews regard punishment by mutilation as barbaric, and have for at least two thousand years.

There is also a kind of Castle Law in these rules. If someone breaks into your home at night, and you kill him, it is not murder, but justifiable homicide. However, if the killing happens during the day, it is murder. [Exodus 22: 1-2].

If a man has to sell his only clothing off his back to repay his debt to you, you have to provide him with clothing by the end of the day, so that he doesn't freeze that night. [Exodus 22: 25-26].

If you come upon your enemy's ox or donkey going astray, you are required to bring it back to him. If you see the beast of burden of someone you hate collapsing under a heavy load, you are required to make every effort to help the animal in distress, even though you might be inclined to do nothing to help your enemy. [Exodus 23: 4-5].

After declaring the three Pilgrimage Festivals, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, the Torah portion ends with a mystical visionary scene that is much commented upon by the Kabbalists. God tells Moses to bring Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron who will later die in a spiritual technology mishap, along with the seventy tribal leaders, with him to appear before God Himself. Moses alone is permitted to approach God directly. Moses lays the laws before the Children of Israel, who collectively and unanimously give their consent. Then Moses leads the gathered party of 72 to ascend Mount Sinai, there to have a collective vision of God: "And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness." [Exodus 24: 10].

The sapphire footstool is much commented upon in Jewish mystical writings. Ezekiel describes the Throne of Glory as made of sapphire. Sapphire appears in many mystical visions in Jewish literature, often being described as utterly transparent, and only blue because the sky is blue. Sapphires in Jewish tradition are emblematical of the Third Eye, and Jewish mystics have a meditation practice of focusing the mind on a single point, imagining that one looks at the point through a third eye made of sapphire.

The Torah tells us that after seeing God, the party of 72 ate and drank. Most commenters regard this as a blasphemous mistake, some going so far as to say that this is why Nadab and Abihu were struck dead in the book of Leviticus. Others interpret the eating and drinking as allegorical, that the vision fed them better than food or drink could. Still others say that the food and drink were celebratory after their collective vision.

The passage ends with Moses entering the cloud at the summit of Mount Sinai to receive the Tablets of the Law (which some commentators regard as being made of sapphire), and remaining there for forty days and forty nights. As we shall see, in his absence, much mischief occurs.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Yitro: Learn To Delegate Authority

Moses' father-in-law, Jethro ( יִתְרוֹ, or Yitro, in Hebrew), comes to visit Moses in the Wilderness, and brings Moses' wife Zipporah, and their sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Gershom was the child who was circumcised during the "Bridegroom of Blood" incident. Jethro finds that Moses is swamped with work judging various complaints among the Children of Israel. The Torah tells us that around 600,000 adult men were in the Wilderness with Moses. Considering that they had mothers, wives, daughters and sons, we can estimate that a crowd of roughly two million people were in the camp being led by Moses and Aaron. Moses was the only lawgiver, executive, or magistrate for this unhappy and unruly mob. That meant that he had to do nothing but listen to cases brought before him from dawn until dusk every day.

Jethro is described as a Priest of Midian, and also as a Sheikh of Midian. Jethro is clearly a successful leader himself. He sees the condition Moses finds himself in, and he is critical:

"And when Moses' father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even? And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to enquire of God: When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws. And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee. If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace. So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves." [Exodus 18: 14-26].
Jethro understands that a good leader delegates authority to subordinates. He doesn't micromanage. He sustains an organizing structure, and trusts the people within his structure to manage their portions of authority, thereby making the whole of it to work to everyone's advantage. The tribes therefore become jurisdictional entities, each of which are comprised of groups of a thousand people, each of which are comprised of ten groups of a hundred people, each comprised of two groups of fifty, each of which are comprised of five groups of ten. Each group has a leader who is capable of handling issues within his group. If a group of ten could not resolve an issue, it went to the leader of the group of fifty, and from there, if necessary, to the group of a hundred, and from there, if necessary, to the group of a thousand, and from there, if necessary, to the tribal head, and from there, if necessary, to Moses, and if necessary, to God.

The Masonic lodge opens at the will and pleasure of the Worshipful Master. A Master is presumably a ritualist, dinner planner, head almoner, a second secretary, head ambassador, head of social activities, a second treasurer, candidate educator, and has many other duties besides. But a bad master does all of these things without delegating authority to others. Truth be told, the Tyler should be in charge of security, the Senior Steward should lead the Junior Steward in helping set up and clean up the meals, the Junior Deacon should be in charge of the candidates during degree work, and should assist the Tyler in matters of security, the Senior Deacon should be in charge of all the junior officers and their floor work, the Junior Warden should be organizing the meals and in charge of the Stewards, the Senior Warden should be in charge of all the officers below him in authority, and make sure the Junior Steward is taking care of the candidates, and should be in charge of candidate education, the Marshall should be in charge of all floor work and should also be in charge of  accommodating all visitors, the Secretary should be in charge of dues, lodge communications, minutes and balloting, the Treasurer should be in charge of lodge finances, and making sure the Secretary collects dues, the Ritualist should be in charge of all ritual done in the lodge and should have a hand in candidate education, and there should be a head of social activities, an almoner, a head of candidate education, a lodge ambassador, and the Worshipful Master should check in with everyone and make sure they are doing their jobs, and step in when necessary to make final decisions.

Without delegating authority, a lodge is sunk and the Master is miserable.

Similarly, a Grand Lodge has a Grand Master who is the absolute authority for his jurisdiction. But rather than rule by fiat and edicts, the Grand Master understands that lodges are pretty much autonomous entities, and that lodges will properly regulate the men within their lodges. Lodges will defend the West Gate by the use of thorough investigation of candidates and the black cube, and they will regulate the conduct of their men through the use of Masonic trial. The Grand Master delegates a number of District Deputy Grand Masters, each of whom, in Massachusetts, is responsible for roughly eight lodges. The Districts have secretaries, Lodges of Instruction, and various District Officers (I, for example, am the Service Officer for my district). If things get out of hand in a lodge, the District Deputy Grand Master can step in and exert his authority to set things right. Thus, in practice, the Grand Master cares about the Grand Lodge as a whole, and leaves the management of districts and lodges to men in whose authority he trusts. He cares about membership on the whole, but he also has a Membership Committee with a head in place, and trusts them to handle their jobs. He cares about finances, but trusts that the Grand Treasurer has things handled. He gives the Grand Secretary enormous leeway to decide things for himself, as well as a group of Grand Lecturers to handle ritual, a Service Committee to handle charities and the relief of poor and distressed Brothers, their widows and orphans. He has an Education Committee to handle how candidates should be educated, and trusts that through the District Lodges of Instruction, their work is being done.

Thus, every Grand Master would prefer that if an issue with a Brother or Brethren comes up, the lodge will handle it, and if that fails, the District will handle it. The Grand Master understands that different lodges will have different styles and attitudes, and understands that there is no need to delineate the work of any individual lodge or district officer by a general edict unless the entire Jurisdiction is seriously out of whack, which is very rare. He understands that the average mason only knows the dealings in his own lodge, and if the district intervenes too strongly in a mason's relationship with his lodge, or worse, if the Grand Lodge intervenes too strongly, that the rank-and-file mason will assume that something is seriously wrong with the entire Jurisdiction, or with the Fraternity as a whole. After all, the Craft is made up of men chosen for their strong moral character. We are not ordinary men. Of course some unsuitable men make it past the West Gate, but the Grand Master would rather have a lodge deal with such men than to get his District Deputy involved, or even worse, to get involved himself.

Anyone who reads Masonic blogs these days is aware that some Grand Lodges (although thankfully, not Massachusetts) have had incidents that show that not every Grand Master understands Jethro's lesson to Moses. When Grand Masters legislate their own bigotry by edict, when they throw good men out of the Fraternity without trial, when they feud with other Grand Lodges over petty issues, the whole Fraternity is threatened. This is a volunteer organization, and many otherwise good men will walk away from such nonsense (and rightly so) if they encounter it.

Moses afterwards only heard the cases beyond the ability of the heads of the tribes to solve. Moses was chosen by God and could ask God for clarification, but that didn't mean he had to listen to every petty dispute among two million people.

The Ten Commandments (or more literally, Ten Statements) appear twice in the Torah. In this Torah portion, they are set up with a very dramatic display on Mount Sinai. God warns Moses not to let anyone up on the mountain, or they will die. From the foot of the mountain, the whole congregation of the Children of Israel can see God's presence descend onto the mountain in a cloud. Moses ascends the mountain, and hears the voice of God. God makes ten statements, which are numbered differently in Judaism from the way they are numbered in Christianity.
  1. I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
  2. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
  5. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's. [Exodus 20: 1-17].
Christians regard the first statement as a preamble to the Ten Commandments, and they split the tenth into two commandments. The sixth commandment might be better translated as "Thou shalt not murder", since the Torah allows for killing in war, and for capital punishment. The Talmud argues whether or not the eighth commandment refers specifically to stealing humans, or kidnapping. The Talmud punishes the false witness with the punishment for the crime for which the defendant is charged. Thus in a capital case, the false witness, if discovered, would face the same death penalty.

When this portion is chanted, there is a different trope, or cantillation, for the Ten Statements than would ordinarily be used for these verses. The whole congregation stands and recites along. It is very impressive.

In this version of the fourth commandment, we are commanded to remember (זָכוֹר, or zachor) the Sabbath day. In the version in Deuteronomy, we are commanded to keep (שָׁמוֹר, or shamor) the Sabbath day. Shamor might be better translated in modern English as guard, or observe. The Kabbalists believed that the change of verb was deliberate, and that God commands us to do both; that human language allows for one verb in a sentence, but that God intends us to juxtapose the two verbs into one action. Thus, in the beautiful liturgical love song to God, לכה דודי (Lekha Dodi, or "Come, My Beloved"), the first verse goes as follows:

"Observe" and "recall" in a single utterance,Shamor v'zakhor b'dibur eḥadשמור וזכור בדבור אחד

We were made to hear by the unified God,hishmiʿanu El hameyuḥadהשמיענו אל המיחד

God is one and God’s Name is one,Adonai eḥad ushemo eḥadיי אחד ושמו אחד

In fame and splendor and praiseful song.L'Sheim ulitiferet v'lit'hilahלשם ולתפארת ולתהלה
This song is sung during Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night sabbath services, and it is very lovely. The Sabbath is personified as a bride, and the song sings about rushing forth to the bride's home to escort her to the wedding, where she will be married to God, with all of the Children of Israel as guests at the wedding. The poem describes the consummation of the wedding in fairly explicit language, saying that God will love the Sabbath bride as a groom makes love to his bride (כמשוש חתן על כלה, or Kimsos ḥatan ʿal kalah). This sort of sexualized theophany appears in the poetry of St. John of the Cross, and John Donne, and in much Sufi poetry of Rumi as well, but it is dangerous theologically, and hence not usually mainstream. In many prayerbooks, the language is bowlderized to "as a groom rejoices in his bride", but the Hebrew language is clear.

The people hear the commandments from the foot of Mount Sinai, and they are terrified. They beg Moses to intercede with God on their behalf, but are afraid to death of interacting with God themselves. They beg Moses to insist that God never speak directly to them again. In this is the plight of the Prophet. The average person would rather die than speak to God directly, to even to hear God's voice speak to them directly. The mystic feels otherwise, yearning for God's voice, and willing to risk death to hear it.

Thus alone Moses entered the mists within which God's presence dwelt on the mountain. Each mystic who wishes to behold God must enter the mists, where his senses will fail him, and do so completely alone. That is why the candidate in the EA degree knocks on the West Gate by himself, of his own free will and accord. That is how momentous those three distinct knocks should be for the candidate, as if he were entering the mists on the summit of Mount Sinai.

Nobody has ever said that the Jewish people lack a sense of humor. The Torah portion ends with God telling Moses that if he, or the Priests, enter the stone altar at the Temple, to use a ramp instead of steps, because if they are not wearing underwear, they may accidentally flash God when they lift their knee to step up each step. Seriously, that's the last commandment in this week's Torah portion.