Tag Archives: commandments

Orchards

Now, O Israel, what does Hashem, your God, ask of you? Only to fear Hashem, your God, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve Hashem, your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to observe the commandments of Hashem and His decrees, which I command you today, for your benefit. Behold! To Hashem, your God, are the heavens and higheset heavens, the earth and everything that is in it. Only your forefathers did Hashem cherish to love them, and He chose their offspring after them – you – from among all the peoples, as this day.

-Deuteronomy 10:12-15 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

If you love me, you will keep my mitzvot.

-John 14:15 (DHE Gospels)

For the Christian, it might seem strange to try to compare these two verses. Contextually, the passage from Deuteronomy is being addressed to the Children of Israel as they are preparing to cross the Jordan and take possession of the Land of Israel, as promised by God to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Moses says to “observe the commandments of Hashem and His decrees, which I command you today,” we generally understand that he (and God) mean the Israelites are to observe and obey all of the Torah commandments given to them at Sinai. The majority of those commandments are not typically observed by the modern church, at least as we understand them in traditional Christian doctrine. But we do grasp the need to, as a holy people, obey our God.

Then we have the commandment of Christ to “keep my mitzvot.” What does that mean?

The NIV translation of this verse states, “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” while the ESV translation renders it similarly as “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Mitzvot (singular: “mitzvah”) is a series or collection of commandments typically associated with the Torah, but in a more expansive sense, “mitzvot” carries the meaning of a group of charitable acts performed for the benefit of others. For a modern observant Jew, even studying the Torah commandments fulfills a mitzvah, and the Jewish concept of mitzvot is far more involved than simply obeying a list of “dos” and “don’ts,” extending into an extremely rich and robust way of life referred to as halachah.

Jesus was and is a Jew and as translated by the DHE Gospels, the word he used that we normally read in English as “commandments” is rendered “mitzvot” in order to capture the truer meaning of his likely intent. Jesus was a Jewish teacher talking to his Jewish disciples and within the historical, national, and linguistic context, his audience would have had a perfect understanding of his meaning.

But do we? What were Christ’s mitzvot that he expected his disciples to obey as a sign of their love for him?

Before trying to answer that question, let me point out something. As Moses is speaking to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 10, he knows his time is short. This is the last time he will be able to speak to the people of Israel. Shortly after he finishes, he will pass his authority to Joshua, who will lead the Israelites across the Jordan, and then Moses will die, his mission completed, at least as deemed necessary by God if not Moses himself.

Jesus, in John 13 and beyond, is also speaking to his disciples as he is preparing to die. Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the cross were only hours away.

Now the son of man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. Yes, God is glorified in Him and God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him immediately. My sons, I will be with you for a little while longer. You will seek me, and what I have said to the Yehudim – “where I am going you will not be able to come.” -John 13:31-33 (DHE Gospels)

Moses and Jesus, both men on the cusp, both desperately in love with their people, knowing they will be leaving them soon, knowing that their last words are vital, knowing that everything is at stake, and everything will be lost should their followers not heed those words.

Moses and Jesus, both men who have commanded their followers to obey the mitzvot. We have a substantially established idea of the nature of the mitzvot that Moses expected the Israelites to obey. But what are the mitzvot of Jesus Christ?

I am giving you a new mitzvah: that you love one another. With this all will know that you are my disciples: if love dwells among you. -John 13:34-35 (DHE Gospels)

This is my mitzvah: that you love one another as I have loved you. There is no love greater than the love of one who gives his life on behalf of his companions. As for you, if you do what I command you, you are my companions because I have made known to you all that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me; rather, it is I who chose you. I have charged you to go and produce fruit, and your fruit will endure. All that you ask from my Father in my name he will give you. I command you these things so that you will love one another. -John 15:12-17 (DHE Gospels)

However else you choose to consider the commandments of Jesus and of God as they apply to your life as a Christian or a Jew, the mitzvah of the Master has been laid at our feet. We are to love one another as he has loved us. How has Jesus loved us? He gave his life for his companions; his friends. How do you become a companion of the King of the Jews? By obeying his mitzvah, to love. If you love as he has loved, you become his friend and you will produce fruit. What is this fruit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. -Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

No law, no mitzvah opposes such fruit.

I know what you’re thinking. Could it be that simple?

Probably not. I’m sure it’s far more complicated than I’m making it. After all, the blogosphere burns up with discussions of what Jesus meant when he said “such and thus” or how to apply the dynamic interactions of law and grace. But Jesus commanded his disciples to “go and produce fruit.” Paul in his letter to the Galatians gives us one definition of “fruit,” which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” I can’t say that I’m such an expert at flawlessly producing this fruit, especially on a consistent basis, but it seems clear that I should.

It also seems clear that we all, as disciples of Jesus; as Christians, should produce this fruit as a consequence of him loving us and us loving him. Like latter-day Johnny Appleseeds, we should go about planting fruit trees, promoting kindness and generosity, and watching the fruits of our labors grow.

We should love. We must love. I know I struggle in this as much or more than most of you. It may seem strange for someone as flawed as I am to invoke and promote the love of Christ among Christians and everyone else. But if we don’t say it out loud, if we don’t declare the mitzvah in public, how will we, will I be able to take the next step and express such a love?

We must learn to bear fruit by loving; I must learn to bear such fruit. We must all plant orchards.

Love is a Commandment

Today’s daf discusses the halachos of one who gives a gift. The great importance of gratitude cannot be overemphasized. Rabbeinu Bachaya famously writes that one who fails to appreciate what others have done for him—using some trite excuse to explain away this lapse—will also lose appreciation for all the gifts that God bestows on us at all times. In Kelm people knew how to show their gratitude. It was normal to show one’s appreciation to the children of one who had been of assistance. Some had developed their hakaras hatov to such an extent that they even expressed their gratitude to the grandchildren of the one who had helped them.

An interesting question arose regarding such demonstrations. A certain Jew was in a far-flung town during the terrible years of the Holocaust. He knew that he had no chance alone, so he begged a non- Jewish friend to hide him. His friend did not let him down despite the danger of hiding a Jew, and that could lead to an immediate death sentence for interfering with the Nazi war effort.

After the war, this Jew went to Israel and was very successful in business. He always sent a large amount of money back to Europe to help his non-Jewish friend, who was not very well off. After some time, this man passed away, and the Jew wondered whether he was permitted to continue sending money to the non-Jew’s children. After all, although they hadn’t really helped him they were the progeny of the man who had saved his life. Don’t we find in the Torah that the descendants of Amon and Moav should have given Yisrael bread and water as an expression of kindness to Avraham through whose merits Lot’s life was sav? Yet, in general, it is forbidden to give a non-Jew a gift due to the prohibition…It was not as though the children would have a claim against him, since he had always helped their father. Yet he wished to continue giving to them if he could.

When this question reached Rav Nissin Karelitz, shlit”a, he ruled decisively.
“When a person feels gratitude to someone—or his descendants—there is no problem…it is only if he wished to give a gift not due to hakaras hatov that this prohibition applies.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Gift of Gratitude”
Kereisos 24

This is a strange story from a Christian (or a secular Gentile) point of view. Of course, we can understand that the Jewish person whose life had been saved by the non-Jew, should want to show gratitude toward the person who helped him at the risk of his own life. We can see that it was incredibly generous of the Jewish person to continue to provide financial gifts to his benefactor years and even decades after the end of the Holocaust. We might even be able to understand the desire to do something good for the children of the Gentile benefactor as a further act of gratitude and compassion for what their father did.

But is it an obligation?

Most Christians are well versed in the concept that the Law of the Jews was replaced by the Grace of Christ, to the degree that Christians have virtually none of the obligations that God assigned the Children of Israel at Mt. Sinai. However, a careful study of the teachings of Jesus will reveal that every lesson he taught to his disciples and the multitudes that followed him was based in the Torah and the Prophets.

As Christians, we understand that we should show our gratitude to others, sometimes in a tangible way, but for us, it’s a “nice thing to do” rather than a commandment or an obligation. But given everything I’ve just said, are we seeing this picture correctly?

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. -Mark 12:28-34 (ESV)

In the two greatest commandments, we see a couple of things and they may not be apparent to you. The first, which I hope is obvious, is that we are indeed commanded to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Jesus is directly quoting from Leviticus 19:18 in this part of his teaching:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

So we understand in this instance that because the Master included this portion of Torah in what he taught and because he gave a mandate that all of the Gentile disciples should be taught to obey his teachings (Matthew 28:18-20), that this is a part of Torah (the Law) that translates into a commandment for Christians.

When you love your neighbor, you express it. When your neighbor (Jew or Gentile) does something outstandingly good to you, you return that goodness in kind, not just because it’s polite, or nice, or the right thing to do, but because God expects it of us.

The other thing we see in Christ’s teaching is that he directly links loving your neighbor as yourself with “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” which is we also find in the Torah. (Deuteronomy 6:5 - ESV)

We Christians aren’t just supposed to love God, we are commanded to do so. Not only that, but we are commanded to love our neighbor. It’s an obligation. And on top of all of that, the two commandments are so linked that if you don’t love your neighbor as yourself, then you cannot possibly love God.

Did everyone get that?

I’m not dumping the entire body of the 613 commandments onto the Christian church and the body of non-Jewish believers in Jesus, but I am saying what seems to be self evident. Once you accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior and Master, what happens next isn’t optional. Once you get your train ticket to Heaven punched by the conductor, your journey isn’t over. Being “saved” isn’t the end, it’s barely the beginning.

I know that living a moral and ethical Christian life, especially in terms of actual behavior (as opposed to an abstract and completely internal “belief” in Christ) doesn’t sound like the “grace” we’re taught in Sunday school or from the pulpit, but I can’t read the Bible any other way.

Once you realize that God expects that you love your neighbor, you’re supposed to do something about it. Otherwise, it isn’t love. Otherwise it isn’t love that you “feel” for God. If you have gratitude to God for saving your life and sparing you the consequences of your sins, show that gratitude to others and even to their children and grandchildren.

Love is an obligation. The struggle, not to feel love but to do love, is a battle. And you dare not fail to win the battle. If you do, how can you say that you love God? How can you win the war, not only for all those souls created in God’s image, but for your very own? How can you say you contain the light of God and that your soul cleaves to Him?

The Alter Rebbe had stated earlier that a person’s intention while performing Torah and mitzvot should be that his soul cleave to G-d.

He now goes on to say that a Jew’s spiritual service also includes the goal of becoming one with all the Jewish people. For this reason his intentions should not be limited to having his own soul cleave to G-d, but also that the source of his soul and the source of all the souls of Israel cleave to Him.

By doing so the individual brings about the union (yichud) of the higher and lower levels of G-dliness known respectively as Kudsha Brich Hu (“the Holy One, blessed be He”) and His Shechinah (“the Divine Presence”), for the former is the source of Torah and mitzvot and the latter is the source of all Jewish souls.

This explains the concluding phrase of the formula recited before the performance of certain mitzvot: “For the sake of the union of Kudsha Brich Hu with His Shechinah…in the name of all Israel.” As the Rebbe notes: “In the name of all Israel” implies that the union achieved through the performance of the mitzvah is for the sake of, and in the name of, all of Israel. For it is with the Shechinah that Kudsha Brich Hu is united and the Shechinah is the source of all Jewish souls.

Likutei Amarim, middle of Chapter 41
from Today’s Tanya Lesson
By Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of Chabad Chassidism
Elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg. Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg. Edited by Uri Kaploun.
Listen online at Chabad.org

To extend this particular lesson somewhat, in performing the mitzvot or the commandments of God as Christians, our souls are also cleaving to God and to all of His other creations.