Our sages tell that when God descended onto Mt. Sinai with thunder and lightning, the entire world was silent—no birds flew, no oxen lowed, the seraphim did not recite Kadosh.
Yet after that great uproar, what did God proclaim?
"Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal"—matters that most of the world's cultures had already accepted.
And so, the Hasidic masters ask, "Did God descend from the highest heavens only to teach what any civilized person already knew?"
The answer is that these commandments are not important in their content but in the fact that they were spoken by God.
"Do not murder" and "Honor your father and mother" are sociologically and pedagogically sound.
But there are also a "Do not murder" and an "Honor your father and mother" that are part of the Ten Commandments.
And there is a vast difference between the former, a consensus of social behavior, and the latter, a framework in which man can connect with God.
This framework is composed of acts that one is required to do (the positive mitzvot) and others that one is required to avoid (the prohibitions).
As in any other framework—such as speech or music—the negative aspects are no less important than the positive.
The interruptions, the blank spaces between the notes or letters, are no less meaningful than the notes and letters themselves. They interweave, building one on the other, to form a single fabric of words and pauses, notes and silence, black and white, and—in the case of the Torah—positive and negative commandments.
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From Understanding the Tanya, p. 201, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz