Resisting the allure of the mystery box: The Ten Commandments

Today I’m embarking on a series about…the Ten Commandments. Why on earth would you spend your time watching a video about the Ten Commandments?

Well, give me the next six minutes to make a case for you and then if I do a bad job you never have to think about the Ten Commandments ever again in your whole life. 

To make my case, I want to borrow from one of the most influential and important sources of wisdom of the past century: Family Guy.

Peter and his wife Louis are in a meeting with a sleazy time-share salesman in a cheap suit. Peter has entered the time-share company’s contest and he’s won a boat. And the salesman says, “Just hold on a minute, you have a choice. You can have the boat…or the mystery box!”

And Louis, who’s the voice of reason in this show, says, “What are you crazy, we’ll take the boat!” 

But Peter has fallen, almost immediately, for the bait. “Not so fast, Louis,” he says, “A boat’s a boat. But the mystery box could be anything…it could even be a boat! You know how much we’ve wanted one of those! We’ll take the box!” 

And you know how the rest of the story goes, the “mystery box” contains a couple free tickets to a bottom-rate comedy club.

And then the scene cuts to Louis and Peter in the car. Louis is clearly mortified by Peter’s foolishness, but Peter says, “I bet nobody took the boat. Who can resist the call of the mystery box!” 

Who can resist the call of the mystery box?

I chuckled pretty hard when I saw this clip — but I think I found it so funny because I also found it so…true. 

Longing for the mystery box — the mysterious, the unknown, the new — that’s such an ingrained part of human nature. And it probably serves an important function, pushing us past the confines of our own comfort zone.

But there’s also a cost of our perpetual enchantment with the mystery box. It can distract us from the “boat” that’s right in front of us — that’s been right there for the taking all along. 

You know what I want? I want to live a good life. A beautiful life. A healthy life. A happy life. A meaningful life.

And as a bit of a self-development junkie, I’m always on the prowl for the next book, or article, or podcast, or TedTalk, or YouTube video that will provide the missing piece. 

But there’s a funny thing that happens. I spend a day or a week or even a few months enamored with the promise of one “mystery box” or another that’s going to improve my life once and for all — but then, it loses its luster. The box turns out to be empty. Or at least, not what I thought it would be. And I’m on to the next thing, still trying to figure it all out. 

When it comes to finding the answers to life’s biggest questions, the mystery boxes aren’t cutting it. So…what’s the boat that’s been hiding in plain sight? That’s a question I’ve been thinking a lot about.

Well, I’m not just a self-development junkie, I’m a Jewish self-development junkie. There’s lots that goes into being Jewish. All kinds of customs and laws and practices and social and cultural aspects. 

But sometimes, I know I, for one, lose touch with something very basic: that part of being Jewish is being part of an ancient tradition, with the Torah at the center, that contains some beautiful, revelatory, incisive wisdom about how to live life to the fullest. Sometimes I get lost in the motions of being Jewish. But I forget that Judaism has been asking and answering some of life’s biggest questions for a very, very long time.

And so, recently, I’ve started delving into that tradition more earnestly. And more specifically, I’ve been studying the Ten Commandments, which is like, ground zero for Jewish wisdom. 

On the surface, they look like a list of commandments. Sure. But it’s interesting that the Bible never actually refers to them that way. If so, it would have called them the Aseret HaMitzvot. A “mitzvah” is a commandment. But in Hebrew they are called the Aseret HaDibrot

There was a 19th-century German rabbi and master linguist named Rabbi Yaakov Mecklenburg. He points out that this term, DEVARIM, which literally means statements, is used quite intentionally. Because a D_V_R (the root of DEVARIM) is non-specific and general in nature.

In other words, even though they might look like specific, localized mitzvot, commandments, they are more — each one contains many, many mitzvot and concepts, so much so that in these 172 words, all of the foundational principles of the entire Torah are contained. Meaning, the Ten Commandments is a really misleading translation. If anything, they should be understood as the 10 essential truths. The key to it all.

I’m going to be sharing with you what I’ve discovered as I’ve explored this claim. I’ve found that each one of these truths shines a light on an entire domain of “the good life.” Work. Relationships. Love. Mental health. It’s all there: the Ten Foundational Principles for a meaningful life.

The lessons that I’ve found there have been stark, profound, beautiful, and surprisingly relevant. There’s also something really powerful about the Ten as a whole — and that’s where I’ve started to see this incredible vision for what life could be like, not just for me, but for the Jewish people and the world.

So in this series I want to share with you some of those insights. To explore these amazing Ten Commandments. And to see whether we can find what we were looking for in what was sitting there all along. Okay, folks. Let’s do it. Let’s get in the boat.

You can find this video on our YouTube channel Unpacked.
You can find this video on our YouTube channel Today Unpacked.

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