The Relevance of the Ten Commandments: A Shavuot Family Guidebook


This Shavuot, explore the relevance of the Ten Commandments with your children.

On Shavuot we have an opportunity to re-connect to the Ten Commandments and discover their relevant message for us and our families. The following are discussion questions and family activities centered around the Ten Commandments.

10. Do not be envious.

Be happy with what you have, don’t compare yourself to, and be jealous of, others; happiness is found within.

“Envy, lust, and the seeking of honor, drive a person out of the world” (Pirkei Avot)

Instead of being envious, we need to learn to be happy when others find success.

Question for discussion: What makes the commandment “Do not be envious” so difficult? How can social media like Facebook and Instagram influence our sense of jealousy?

Family activity: “Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion” (Pirkei Avot). Share five things in your life that you are happy with.

9. Do not testify as a false witness against your neighbor.

Giving false testimony is forbidden, as is any form of lying, mocking, insulting and gossiping. We must only use words that bring goodness, healing, and positivity to others.

Question for discussion: Why are people so tempted to speak badly about others?

Family activity: Play the game ‘True or False. Each person says one sentence about themselves which is true and another which is false. Others have to guess which is true and which is false. The more complicated the sentence, and the more interesting the story, the better!

8. Do not steal.

Even cheating on an exam, avoiding paying taxes and cutting the line are all forms of stealing.

Story Time:

There once was a rich person, whose son was talented – but also very lazy. When the son wanted to get married, his father agreed, but on the condition that he would work for a while and earn a living for himself. The lazy son was disappointed and complained that he had no energy to work. His mother took pity on him and gave him a gold coin – an average working day’s wage – which he presented to his father as if he had earned it.

His father threw the coin into the fire. When the son questioned why he had done this, his father replied, “This is not money that you have earned.”

This repeated itself for several days. After a while, his mother decided to probe the matter. “Go out and work in the market and see what your father says then,” she told him.

Out of curiosity, the son went and worked hard in the market and brought home money at the end of the day. Like every other day, his father began to throw the coin into the fire. However, as he was throwing it, the son reached for his father’s hand and shouted, “No father! Don’t throw away my coin!”

His father’s face lit up and he returned the money, saying, “Now I know that you have earned this coin.”

“But how did you know?” asked the mother.

“I saw how he cried out for the money he had earned, and how it was so precious to him since he had worked so hard to achieve it. Now he will be able to appreciate his money!” (Adapted from a Georgian folk story)

Family activity: Each person takes a turn in sharing an achievement in life that they worked particularly hard for.

7. Do not commit adultery.

Be loyal in all relationships: to my spouse, my friends, my country and to myself.

Family activity: Who is a trustworthy person? Someone to whom you can rely on to catch you when you fall backwards with your eyes closed.

Trust falls: A volunteer falls backwards with his eyes closed and another volunteer stands behind him and catches him. Good luck!

6. Do not murder.

Character assassination, violence, intimidation, shaming: these are all types of murder, as the Talmud teaches, "Anyone who humiliates another in public it is as though he were spilling blood… since we see that after he blushes, he turns pale (the blood runs from his face). (Bava Metzia)

Question for discussion: Even the negative commandments have core values which can be expressed in positive ways. How can we fulfil the core value of Do not murder in positive ways?

5. Honor your father and mother, so that your days will be lengthened.

Honoring one’s parents is both a responsibility and a privilege. To be grateful to our parents for all their care for us and our needs, and for giving us the gift of life.

Family activity: Each child takes a turn in thanking their parents for a specific thing that they have given them, such as a character trait, talent, or insight. Then, the parents themselves share with the family the main things that they received from their parents, and for which they are full of gratitude.

4. Remember Shabbat to sanctify it.

Shabbat is like a gas station, giving fuel to the body and the soul. It is a golden opportunity to pause from our busy lives and to connect to the important things in life: to ourselves, our families, and our Jewish tradition.

Family Activity: Shabbat is a day that allows us to make a shift in the way we relate to ourselves and our world. For six days of the week, we are engaged in the world of accomplishment, of doing, of becoming. On Shabbat we choose to stop “doing” and rest into a conscious state of “being”. This is the essence of Yishuv HaDaat (reconnecting ourselves to our state of consciousness) or what today is called mindfulness. Shabbat is a day devoted to mindfulness, a day to remind ourselves who we are.

Invite a participant to lead the following guided meditation by slowly reading out the following:

Let us all take one minute now, close our eyes, and relax our bodies, emotions, and minds. Watch the flow of your breath and from that quiet and still place of awareness within us, remember who we are. Identify yourself with your soul. We are not our thoughts, our emotions, our bodies, or even what we do. We are eternal souls. Remembering Shabbat means to remember that God created this universe and us in it with higher purpose. Let us together reflect in peaceful awareness on the expansive, timeless quality of our souls. This is a taste of the Gift called Shabbat.

3. Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

Do not use God’s name in vain, and do not behave in ways that brings shame to the Jewish people.

Family activity: Who am I and what is my name? This commandment teaches us about the importance of names and how we relate to them.

Share with everyone how you relate to the name you were given by your parents, and if and how it influences you in life.

Now ask your parents about your surname, what does it mean? Where did it come from, etc.

2. Have no other gods beside Me.

Do not be enslaved to idols, in all their forms: including money, people, success, status, ego, honor, or “what will others say?”

Family activity: Discuss how each of the following can become forms of idol worship: Money, career, winning, food, beauty, honor, sports, love, social media, computer games, news obsession...

Give examples of how each of these areas of life can turn into idol worship. What is the common denominator of the examples you have given? In light of this, try to create a definition of idol worship. Discuss how to avoid being enslaved to them.

1. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

This is God’s business card – and ours too.

In the first Commandment God introduces Himself not as the creator of the world, but rather as the helper of the weak (bringing us out of Egypt). This is the business card that He chose to present. And we should take inspiration from this to learn a basic principle – help others! This should also be our business card, throughout all of our lives, and in this way we will be partners in perfecting the world.

Question for discussion: Share a time you felt God helped you.

Adapted from The Haggada of Shavuot, by Project Aseret - The Ten Commandments Project, that was distributed by the World Zionist Organization to shuls and schools in US, Canada, Russia, Israel, England and South Afirca. Click here for full version.

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