Parashat Va'etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

Shining The Light Of Torah

When most people think of “the Law of Moses,” they don’t get warm fuzzies. But God’s people shouldn’t be most people. According to this week’s Torah portion, God’s people should be the exception to the rule, and should have a connection with the Torah deep within our hearts. Through Moses, God told the Children of Israel that when they took His commandments seriously and lived them out, the nations would recognize this and praise God:

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5–8)

Yeshua alludes to this in the Sermon on the Mount when he commissioned his disciples (past, presence, and future) to live a life that exemplifies a Torah-centric life:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16)

The Hebrew Scriptures—the Scriptures Yeshua would have studied and taught—give us the key to unlocking this teaching of Yeshua. Proverbs teaches us, “For the commandment (mitzvah) is a lamp and the teaching (torah) a light” (Proverbs 6:23). The lamp Yeshua speaks of is in the context of the mitzvot, the commandments. The light that others are supposed to see is the Torah. Yeshua is bringing attention to what his Father has already said. When the people of God live out the commandments others will see the beautiful light of the Torah and glorify God. They will say, “These people are living right! They are genuine and their God is near them!”

Yeshua longs for the day that Israel will fully enter the New Covenant promised by the prophet Jeremiah:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33–34)

One of the main features of the New Covenant is that living out the Torah will be a natural part of who we are. Yeshua understood this and therefore had a low regard for anyone who would relax even the least commandment of Torah. However, he held in high esteem the one who would actually take the commandments seriously and allow them to shape his life. He taught his disciples:

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19–20)

How is our righteousness to “exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees”? Is it simply that we have confessed Yeshua and they haven’t? No. It’s that our deeds match our confession. Rather than telling others they should take care of the poor, the orphan, and the widow we should be involved ourselves. Rather than telling others to be honest in business or faithful to their spouse we should be doing the same. Rather than telling others they should be patient, kind, and full of self-control we should exhibit the fruit of these traits in our own lives. In faithful Jewish tradition, Yeshua emphasized deed over creed, knowing that the things we do far outweigh the things we profess. 

When we live out the will of God through obedience to His instructions we show forth the light of the Torah, thereby bringing glory to our Creator. But if the only thing radiating from us is a loud message of “Jesus saves!” without the fruit to back it up, then we are only radiating darkness. If the people around us aren’t seeing the light of the Torah in our life, then they probably aren’t seeing Yeshua either, no matter how loudly we speak his name.

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