Moses Loses Half of the Ten Commandments
Hilarity ensues when he gets some help brainstorming new ones...
Holy Wr*t! is a collection of irreverent and heartwarming short stories, reimagining the world of the Bible. (This one’s just for fun—in case you, like me, could really use some levity in your week.) Email subscribers get each new story delivered free. If you haven’t already, please sign up below!
And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.
— Exodus 31:18
Moses had lost half of the Ten Commandments.
“Which half?” hissed Miriam, his sister.
“I don’t know,” said Moses. He was reflexively patting his robe in a panic. “It’s not like they’re well numbered or anything.”
“What’s going on?” said Aaron, wandering into the tent.
“This idiot’s lost one of the two stone tablets,” said Miriam. “Of the Ten Commandments.” She pointed with her eyes over to a single forlorn slab of stone, propped against some sacks of grain tied up with old shoelaces.
“Oh dear,” said Aaron. Aaron was Moses’ brother and High Priest, and usually a bit sleepy just after lunch. He shuffled over to look at the remaining tablet.
Miriam wheeled upon Moses. “Did you drop it? Did you smash it?”
“Why would I smash it?”
“You smashed two tablets last week,” said Miriam.
“Technically, yes,” Moses said. “Had to be done.”
“THOU SHALL NOT MAKE ANY GRAVEN IMAGE,” said Aaron. He was reading out loud. “Gosh,” he said. “That would have been really helpful to know in advance.”
They all stopped for a moment to recall the debacle with the golden calf, and the cataclysmic levels of pestilence and uproar that followed.
“I just wish I could remember those last five commandments,” Moses said. “But I got nothing. Nothing!” He threw up both hands in exasperation. The tent flaps parted.
“It’s been a tough few days for everybody,” said Miriam, yanking them closed again. She took a breath and let it out slowly. “Okay, Okay. Who else knows it’s missing?”
“Just the three of us,” said Moses.
“So nobody then?” said Miriam.
“I’d like to think that I’m not a nobody,” said Aaron. He was completely ignored.
“So what you’re saying is—” said Moses, vaguely unsure.
“I think what I’m saying is—” said Miriam, feeling her way towards a solution.
“Why don’t you just rewrite it?” asked Aaron.
They glared at him. “I was getting to that,” said Miriam.
They were brainstorming. Miriam had brought the parchment and the pens, and Aaron had run out for a platter of something he called “Yogurt Dips.” He had some in his beard even now.
“Okay. Okay,” Miriam said again. “Everybody had enough time? We need five good ones before we set it in stone. Show me what you’ve got.”
The papers came in. Miriam muttered as she picked through them.
“Here’s one. It says—” She squinted. ‘Try not to hurt anybody,’”
There was a pause.
“Not really the format we’re going for,” said Moses. “Needs to start with a ‘THOU SHALT’ and so on.” He gave Aaron a patronizing look.
“I’ll just add that in for yours going forward,” said Miriam. “Here, see: THOU SHALT TRY NOT TO HURT ANYBODY.”
“There you have it,” said Aaron.
“I think it’s still a bit—indefinite,” said Moses. “We want something more specific. Try another one.”
Miriam tried another one.
“THOU SHALT HELP LITTLE OLD LADIES ACROSS THE STREET, EXCEPTING THAT THOU ART A LITTLE OLD LADY, AND THEN THOU SHALT LOOK CAREFULLY BOTH WAYS.”
“That’s more like it,” said Moses, puffing out his chest. “If I do say so myself.”
“I think that might be too specific,” said Miriam.
She grabbed another one. “THOU SHALT NOT WEAR FRESH SOCKS AROUND THE HOUSE AND STEP IN A PUDDLE OF WATER.” She scratched her head. “Well, that just goes without saying.”
More shuffling of paper.
“THOU SHALT BETTER BE SAFE THAN SORRY.”
“I don’t get it,” said Aaron.
“Here’s one,” said Moses, reaching in. “THOU SHALT NOT GO AROUND MURDERING PEOPLE, FOR FUN OR ANY OTHER REASON.”
“That has potential,” said Miriam. “I like that one. Though I think we could shorten it a ways. How about just, ‘THOU SHALT NOT KILL’?”
“Hmm,” said Moses. “What about in the case of a naked war of aggression waged against a peaceful neighboring nation-state?”
“I’m pretty sure that’s covered,” said Miriam.
“I suppose it is,” said Moses. “But I don’t know if anyone will really go for it all the same. Seems a bit impractical.” He pointed out that people really liked killing. “Makes us look kind of naïve, with a commandment like ‘THOU SHALT NOT KILL’ on the books.”
“I don’t think that’s how commandments are supposed to work,” said Aaron.
“We need to start moving through these a little faster,” said Miriam. “My stone chiseling guy closes at five.”
“Five what?” asked Aaron. But the conversation moved on before he could find out.
A great many commandments were considered and discussed: THOU SHALT MAKE SURE TO LEAVE ENOUGH FOR EVERYBODY (which they all thought was pretty good), THOU SHALT REMOVE A FLY FROM THY SOUP WITH THY SPOON, NOT THY FINGERS (which was not as good). Moses was worried that THOU SHALT NOT GIVE UNSOLICITED ADVICE would undermine the integrity of the entire enterprise, and Miriam thought that THOU SHALT NOT PISS INTO FIRES, while certainly a good idea, was also vulgar, male-oriented, and would give unimaginative idiots just enough impetus to try it. (Aaron, however, wondered if maybe they should keep it, on the grounds that it would make such a ponderous metaphor.) Then there were commandments no one was willing to take credit for (THOU SHALT PICK UP EACH ITEM AND ASK THYSELF, DOES THIS SPARK JOY?) nor could even explain (THOU SHALT NOT BUNT TO BREAK UP A NO-HITTER).
In the end, they could only agree on two unanimously: the one about not hurting anybody, and a related commandment about always trying your best, which was banal but unoffensive. They voted to give everybody one additional selection each, which would bring the total up to five. Aaron chose THOU SHALT VISIT THY MOTHER TWICE A WEEK (OR MORE), which made the other two roll their eyes; Miriam looked embarrassed but very certain when she selected THOU SHALT RELAX A BIT AND BE THYSELF; and Moses went back and forth on something he called “The Categorical Imperative,” before finally deciding to go with the one about socks.
“Quite the afternoon,” said Moses, when it was all over.
“Hang on, here’s one more,” said Miriam. She unfolded a scrap of paper that had been stuck to one of the others. “THOU SHALT DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE OTHERS DO UNTO YOU.”
“Pretty good, actually,” said Moses, folding his hands behind his head. “But I suppose you have to save some material away for later on.”
“Yogurt dip?” said Aaron, who had refilled the tray.
“Good Lord, Aaron, what are you serving those on?”
They all looked down. Faint etchings of Paleo-Hebrew peeked out from amidst the clutter on the stone platter. Miriam plucked away little bowls of yogurt with a fury. Staring back at them was the lost half of the Ten Commandments.
“I was wondering why it was so heavy,” said Aaron.
“You are a complete and total idiot,” said Miriam.
“Just relax,” said Moses. “But yes, Aaron, you’re an idiot.”
“That’s not a very nice thing to say,” said Aaron, in his own defense. Miriam snatched the tablet and began cleaning dried yogurt from the grooves of the letters.
“I think perhaps that goes against the first commandment,” continued Aaron. “Or is it the sixth, since ours would come after—”
“Not a commandment anymore, is it?” said Miriam. She rapped her knuckles on the slab. “Now that we’ve got this.”
Moses peered over her shoulder. “Arguably, we could be bearing false witness against him,” he said, pointing to the appropriate section, carved in stone.
“That’s clearly debatable in this instance,” said Miriam. She set the tablet—now mostly clean—next to the other one, and left the tent with Moses, the two of them arguing about ethics all the way out.
Aaron yawned and stretched. He collected the yogurt dishes and then the little scraps of paper. All in all, it hadn’t been a bad afternoon. It was nice to spend some time with his brother and sister. And he decided, since it didn’t seem like too much extra trouble, that he would keep all the additional commandments—just in case.
👋 Hang on! If you read this story all the way to the end, please do me a favor: tap or click the ❤️ icon below. It takes mere seconds of your time, but it really does spark joy for me. Also, feel free to drop an alternative commandment of your own in the comments. Thanks for reading!
Apologies to the hilarious Avery Corman, from whom I shamelessly stole the bit about little old ladies crossing the street.