By Rabbi Cal Goldberg
This week’s parasha takes us through a bewildering transition. Until now in Shemot we have been reading about the drama of the Exodus from Egypt; the Israelites’ enslavement, their hope for freedom, the plagues, Pharaoh’s stubbornness, their escape into the desert, the crossing of the Red Sea, the journey to Mount Sinai and the great covenant with Adonai . Suddenly, we find ourselves faced with a different type of account altogether: a code of laws covering a variety of topics, from responsibility for damages, to protection of property, to laws of justice, to Shabbat and the festivals. Why here? Why not continue the story, leading up to the next great drama, the sin of the golden calf? Why interrupt the flow? And what does this have to do with leadership as I spoke on last week with Yitro giving Moses advice on how to delegate authority. The answer is that great leaders, whether they be Rabbis, Pastors , CEOs or parents, they have the ability to connect a larger vision with specific details. A clearly defined vision and how to carry it out is crucial to the success of a vision.
There is a well-known story of three men who were employed cutting blocks of stone. When asked what they are doing, one said, “Cutting stones,” the second said, “Earning a living,” the third said, “Building a Palace.” Those who see the larger picture take more pride in their effort, and work harder and better. Great leaders communicate vision. But they are also careful, and precise when it comes to the details. Moses was a man of vision who knew how to communicate it but he was also a man of detail. Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Sweat adds character. It is attention to detail that separates the great men of God, the artists, poets, composers, film-makers, politicians and heads of corporations from the merely average. The genius of the Torah was that Adonai applied this same principle to the nation of Israel.
This week’s Parasha introduces us to the mishpatim, the legal rulings, the details to describe the big picture that Adonai gave to Moshe and the nation of Israel. Mishpatim, means “judgments’. They describe the laws, judgments and rulings instituted by Adonai. The sages counted 53 distinct commandments in this Torah portion, making it one of the longest and one of the most “legal” sections in all the Bible. This Torah portion describes Civil laws, property rights, liability laws, criminal, agricultural, financial, moral and purity laws, Sabbatical and festival laws etc..
An important way to understand the purpose of the Ten Commandments is that they represent the core values (the heart and soul) of all the commandments found in the Torah. They represent the moral laws of the universe that Adonai established to govern humanity. They are God’s vision for humanity. The general view of Judaism is that the “Ten Commandments”, or the “Ten Utterances” as they have been called are Divine but so are the details. In the 1960s the Danish architect Arne Jacobson designed a new college campus in Oxford. Not content with designing the building, he went on to design the cutlery and crockery to be used in the dining hall, and supervised the planting of every shrub in the college garden. When asked why, he replied in the words of another architect, Mies van der Rohe: “God is in the details”. The name Mishpatim in essence describes that God is in the details. Next week as we begin reading about the tabernacle we will discover how detailed God was in outlining the specific details of constructing the tabernacle and all of its furnishings.
The judgments in the Torah were intended to provide instructions and details of how Gods moral laws are to be applied. If you study each one of these 53 judgments you will discover that each one of them relate in some way to one of the Ten Commandments. You shall have no other gods before me, you shall not make any graven image and bow down to them or serve them.. You shall not take Gods name in vain, You shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not bear false witness (lie or gossip), you shall not covet. God gave moral laws but He also provided instructions and details of how to walk them out as a covenant community. In the messianic community it is called messianic halakkah. The twelve tribes of Israel were to be guided by these mishpatim to instruct them how to live as a covenant community.
One important reason why Adonai gave these laws, judgments and statutes was so that the Almighty’s righteousness could be displayed as a witness to all the nations. Exodus 19.5-6 describes Israel’s mission statement – Israel was chosen by Adonai to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. That was their mission and it still is. Deuteronomy 4:5-8 describes how the commandments, if kept by Israel, would reveal Gods holiness, His character and righteousness to the nations.
“Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. 6 Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? 8 And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?
When Adonai gave the Torah to Israel He divided His moral laws into into four basic categories: Commandments, Statutes or Decrees, Judgments and Ordinances. Have you ever wondered what is the difference between commandments, statutes, judgements and ordinances? I have taught this in the past but it is worth repeating again. Let me first review the meaning of the word Torah. Torah means “law”, but it also means “teaching, instruction, guidance,” or more generally, “direction.” It is also the generic name for the first five books. The Torah contain both narrative and laws.
In general, laws or commandments and narratives are two distinct literary types that have very little overlap. Most books of law do not contain narratives, and most narratives do not contain laws. The Torah is a unique combination of both narrative (which is a record of history and events) and laws. The Torah brings narrative and laws together in a way that has never been surpassed. Let me share how the Torah divides the commandments into four categories:
- Deuteronomy 6:1-3.”Now this is the commandment and these are the statutes and judgments which the Lord your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, that you may fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you . . . all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.
- Deut. 7:11- “Therefore you shall keep the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them.”
- Deut. 4:8 What great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgements as are in all this law which I have set before you today
- Leviticus 18:4 Adonai said, yoshall observe my judgments and keep my ordinances to walk in them. I am the Lord your God.
This fourfold division of the commandments are mentioned at least 14 times in the Scriptures. Their meaning often overlaps to some degree. In Genesis 26:5, Adonai said that He blessed Abraham because he: “obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments my statutes, and my laws.
First of all, What are the commandments? In Mt 19: “A young man came to Yeshua and said, what good things shall I do that I may have eternal life. Yeshua told the young man to keep the commandments – You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not lie (bear false witness), honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself. The young man said, All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack? “ Yeshua did not mention the sixth commandment, do not covet, because this was the issue in the rich man’s heart. Yeshua said, go and sell all that you have and follow me. He had a love for his possessions.
The Ten Commandments are the moral laws, the core values, of what we have been commanded by Adonai to love Him and our neighbor as our self. Statutes are rulings, decrees, edicts. The Lord calls His Appointment Times, statutes to be observed throughout your generations. Gods Appointed Times are statutes, Leviticus 23:31 Yom Kippur “You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings as an everlasting ordinance.” The dietary laws in Lev. 11 are considered statutes, wearing tzizit, tefillin, putting a mezuzah on the door are all considered statutes. The Lord commanded Israel to observe and obey my statutes throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance. Mishpatim are judgments (rulings, decisions, verdicts). They are the rule of law of how to carry it out. They are the legality of the law enforced by a judge, ruler, a parent or even in a congregation (disciplining a member because of some sin). Judgments are based upon the moral laws established by Adonai to know how to apply them, Ex.21:1 -4, 33-36/ 22:16,17, 25,26,28. Ordinances are like procedures, rules attached to a commandment and or law. For example, Passover is a statute that we are commanded to observe but there are also ordinances within this statute ( feast) of how we are to observe it. For example, we are commanded to remove all leaven from our homes, to eat bitter herbs, roasted lamb, and unleavened bread. These are ordinances. Exodus 12 describes the instructions, the ordinances, of how we are to observe Passover. There are three ordinances mentioned in the New Covenant. Water immersion, the Mikvah, partaking of the bread and the cup. Marriage is also an ordinance.
In Psalm 19: 7-11 King David describes the multifaceted nature of Gods commandments and how precious they are; For the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward. Joshua 1: 8 This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth….
Many Jewish sages have taught that when Adonai gave the commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai He also gave the Oral law. In Jewish thought the word Torah implies a wide range of ideas and concepts. There is a primary distinction between the written Torah and the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah refers to the legal and interpretive traditions handed down by word of mouth until they were eventually put into written form in what is known as the Mishnah and Gemara (Talmud) around the 3rd century. Just as the commandments in the written Torah are divided into divisions: commandments, statutes and ordinances or decrees so also the oral law is divided into divisions : laws, decrees and customs but they are based on oral interpretation. Jewish sages attempted to compile and count the various mitzvoth’s (commandments) listed in the Torah. We have been told that there are 613 commandments in the Torah but did you know that there is not one biblical reference found anywhere in the Torah stating there are 613 commandments . This is a rabbinical interpretation based on the Oral Torah. The only reference to 613 commandments is found in a Talmudic passage by Rabbi Simlai of the third century:
He said: Six hundred and thirteen precepts were communicated to Moses, three hundred and sixty- five negative precepts, corresponding to the number of solar days in the year, and two hundred and forty-eight positive precepts corresponding to the number of the members of the human body (Makkot 23b-24a). Based on this one statement, medieval Jewish scholars sought to come to agreement as to the exact number of commandments, since there was a great deal of ambiguity in counting how many there are. For example would you count – Be fruitful and multiply spoken of in Genesis 1:28 and repeated in Gen. 9:1 to be one of the 613 commandments? The rabbis concluded that this was a commandment and so it was included.
What about other commandments that overlap each other and are repeated more than once? Questions such as these among many others, caused Jewish scholars to debate and come up with different conclusions. For example, Maimonides in his Book of the Commandments, counted 606 Torah commandments. They added seven rabbinic commandments.
- The commandment to wash the hands before eating is viewed as a commandment
- Certain Laws regarding Erev Shabbat
- Reciting a blessing before and after eating or partaking of any kind of pleasure
- Lighting candles on the Shabbat is viewed as a commandment
- Celebrating the holiday of Purim
- Celebrating the Feast of Hanukkah
- Reading the Hallel prayer on certain occasions.
Surprisingly, all traditional Jews today recognize these seven, as commandments divinely given through the authority of the rabbis and they are part of the 613. Therefore when a Jewish woman lights the Shabbat candles and blesses Adonai, rabbis teach that we have been commanded in the Torah to kindle the Sabbath candles even though there is no such commandment found in the Torah. Many of the 39 categories of what not to do on the Sabbath are all rabbinic commandments that have been added on to the commandments but have no basis in the scriptures. It was these 39 categories that Yeshua often challenged regarding the Shabbat.
Hebrew letters are often used to express numbers. The number 613 can be represented using the word Taryag Mitzvoth – Divine Commandments. The Hebrew word Taryag is a numerical acronym. The Hebrew letter for tav equals 400, resh equals 200, yod equals 10 and gimel equals 3. Collectively, the 613 commandments are known in Hebrew as taryag mitzvoth. Because of the destruction of the temple and the inability for the priesthood to function, Jewish people today can only observe 77 out of the 365 negative commandments and 194 out of the 248 positive commandments. This leaves 271 commandments in the Torah. This means that there are 342 commandments in the Torah related to the temple and the priesthood that can no longer be observed. This is one of the major reasons that religious Jews pray three times daily for the rebuilding of the temple and the redemption of our people. They are eager to perform the rest of the commandments.
Rabbinic law has added a large body of rulings that are claimed to be just as binding as the divine laws. Gezeirah is a fence instituted by rabbis to prevent inadvertent violation of the commandments. For example it is a mitzvah to refrain from work on the Sabbath, so the rabbis built a fence around the commandment to make it difficult to dishonor the day. 39 Categories were added. Customs were added i.e. apples, honey and round challah is a custom. When Believers discuss the laws, commandments and statutes there a lot of confusion regarding which ones we are to observe. It may surprise you but there is a lengthy passage from the Talmud that also addresses this very question. It is far too long for me to read but let me share the essence of what it is saying.
Rabbi Simlai when preaching said, Six hundred and thirteen precepts were communicated to Moses, 365 negative precepts, corresponding to the number of solar days and 248 corresponding to the members of the human body .
King David came and reduced them to eleven principles as it is written in Psalm 15 : 1-5 READ
Isaiah came and reduced them to six principles as it is written:, [i]. Those who walk righteously
(ii) and speak what is right, (iii) who reject gain from extortion and(iv) keep their hands from accepting bribes, (v)who stop their ears against plots of murder and(vi) shut their eyes against contemplating evil—they are the ones who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress. Their bread will be supplied, and water will not fail them (Is 33:15-16)
Micah came and reduced them to three, as it is written, He has shown you, O man what is good: and what does the Lord require of you [i] To do justly, [ii] to love mercy and [iii] to walk humbly before your God. (Micah 6:8) Again came Isaiah and reduced them to two, as it is said: Thus says the Lord, keep justice and do righteousness for my salvation is about to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this and the son of man who lays hold on it who keeps from defiling the Sabbath and keeps his hands from doing evil. Amos came and reduced them to one, as it is said, For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye Me and live. (Amos 5:4) But it is Habakkuk who came and based them all on one [principle], as it is said, But the righteous shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4) . And so many rabbis have taught that the 613 commandments can be reduced to one as expressed by Habbakuk 2:4 The Just shall live by faith. This was a favorite text of the Apostle Paul who said in Romans 1:16, 17 and Galatians 3:11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of Adonai is evident, for the just shall live by faith.
Yeshua of course summarized all the Torah into two commandments. Matthew 22: 34-40 A lawyer came to Yeshua and asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Torah?” Yeshua said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Believers who ask this question are missing the whole purpose of the commandments. The bottom line is not what commandments we are to observe and not observe but what is our relationship with Adonai and one another. If you love God with all your heart, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself and are walking in the fruit of the Spirit you will naturally obey. What does 1 Timothy 1:5-11 say? Now the purpose of the commandment ( the goal of our instruction- the Torah) is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm. But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.
Paul is saying the law is holy, righteous and good. It was not made for the righteous but for the unrighteous to point man to his sin and point them to the Messiah in order to leavead them to the Messiah. As children of God we have been declared righteous,
2 Peter 3-11 “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Yeshua Ha Mashiach. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.
Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Yeshua the Messiah will be abundantly supplied to you.”