On Three Things

After Moses received the commandments on Mount Sinai, Scripture says that he “took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people” (Exodus 24:7). Immediately, the Children of Israel responded by saying, Kol asher diber Hashem na’aseh v’nishmah — “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will hear.” They immediately resolved to submit to the voice of the Holy One and live within the parameters set forth for them as a redeemed people. However, as we know, this resolve did not have lasting results. Shortly thereafter, their Redeemer quickly took a back seat to the egel hazahav, the golden calf. It seems that within both Judaism and Christianity, this has been the struggle of our spiritual existence ever since.

James, the brother of our Master, reminds us that even after the coming of Messiah, his followers continued to struggle with the same duplicity. He commissions the disciples of Yeshua to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22–25). Do we, as Believers, struggle with these issues even today?

James tells his audience, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). Unlike the traditional interpretation that one must keep the entire Torah perfectly or be guilty of breaking all of the commandments, we know James’s argument to be one against hypocrisy. He is reminding us that the Torah was given as a whole and we do not decide if one commandment is worth keeping or breaking because of our perceived benefit from it. To do so is hypocrisy. We must take this passage seriously and be constantly on guard against the threat of hypocrisy.

Battling Hypocrisy

One of the main purposes of Yeshua’s first coming was to address the issue of hypocrisy within the community of faith. Repeatedly within the Gospels we hear his chastisement of the Pharisees for this singular flaw. We have multiple accounts in which he spells out their hypocritical acts and rebukes them for “setting aside the [weightier] commands of God” (Mark 7:9) for things of lesser importance. Because of these things, Christianity has stereotyped the whole of Pharisees as hypocrites. In fact, it has been so common that even our English dictionaries have the word ‘Pharisee’ associated with ‘hypocrite.’ Although this is indeed a sad commentary on the reputation of the Pharisees, Christians are not too far from this designation ourselves. When many non-believers are asked why they would not consider becoming a follower of Messiah or engage with the believing community, one of the responses has been that they do not want to be hypocrites.

As disciples of Yeshua, it is our job, through the empowerment of the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit), to bring these two seemingly disparate forces — hearing and doing — together as one for the glory of our Creator. For far too long have the people of God wrestled with this ideal. Either we have fixated upon the mechanics and minutia of the biblical injunctions to the detriment of the weightier matters of the Law — justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23) — or we have had an obsession with the gnosis of saving faith, with little motivation to be transformed into the likeness of Messiah. It is the purpose of this article to help us address these chasms of faith and, God-willing, help motivate us towards reconciling our belief with our actions. As the midrash teaches us, “The wicked are under the control of their heart (i.e. the evil inclination), whereas the righteous have their heart under their control” (Genesis Rabbah 34:10). As a God who is Echad (One), the Holy One of Israel desires a people who are echad in their creed and their deed. Claiming to be born of the Spirit and having the seal of His Spirit upon us, we can live life in one of two ways. We can choose a life which is kiddush Hashem, a term that literally means “sanctification of The Name,” and refers to a life which brings glory and honor to our Heavenly Father — or we can choose that of chillul Hashem, a term that means “desecration of The Name,” and refers to a life which brings dishonor and shame upon the Holy Name of our Redeemer.

As those who hold to both the commandments of the Torah and gaze into the face of Yeshua, our Messiah, we must continually inspect our lives so that the yeast of the Pharisees — hypocrisy (Luke 12:1) — has not begun to permeate our lives. It is our job to bring our “doing” into alignment with our “hearing.” To merely “hear” the Word of Hashem brings one into accountability; whereas obedience to the Word of Faith brings one into the Divine Presence. But how do we practically do these things and why are they so important?

According to Simon the Righteous — a pious priest who faithfully served in the Beit HaMikdash for forty years — the world is supported, in the spiritual sense, by three great pillars. These three things are:

1. Torah
2. Avodah ([Temple] worship/service)
3. Gimelut chassidim (acts of lovingkindness).1

These things, functioning together, enable the world to stand like a three-legged table. If one leg is removed, the other two are unable to keep the table in balance, and it topples. However, with all three securely in place, the table is firmly supported and in no danger of collapsing.

On the Torah

For those of us who are Messianic, these three things should be dear to our hearts as well, shaping our daily lives. Because we believe in the perpetual nature of the Holy Torah, we should be allowing it to inform our daily decisions. We should be asking ourselves, “What does the Torah say about my marriage? What does the Torah say about my family? What does the Torah say about my job, my finances, my relationships?” etc. The Torah should be at the heart of everything we do. It is the bedrock upon which the rest of the Scriptures are built and the foundation of what we believe. Therefore, following Torah must be more than shofars, dancing and donning tallits. It must become the soul of who we are as followers of this Jewish Messiah in our day to day lives. The Torah is a leg which must remain in tact for the support of the world, but one which requires our engagement with it.

On Avodah

Yeshua said the greatest commandments are to 1) love Hashem with all of your being (Deut. 6:5), and 2) to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18). He says these two requirements, found in the Torah, are the foundation upon which all of the other commandments are set. We can equate avodah to loving Hashem, and gimelut chassidim to loving our neighbor since avodah is our divine service and gimelut chassidim is the service rendered to our brothers and sisters.

In regard to avodah, we are commissioned by the author of Hebrews, “Through him [Yeshua] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15–16). The author is alluding to Hosea 13:2 in which the prophet literally says, “Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, ‘Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will offer bulls of our lips.’” In Hebrew, the word “bulls” and “fruit” are spelled identically (פרים), and Hosea uses this play on words to make his point: “Let the fruit of my lips (i.e. “praise”) be as a substitute and considered as worthy as if I had offered you bulls (פרים — i.e. whole burnt offerings).” The author of Hebrews reminds his audience, who was in distress over their being excluded from participation in the Temple services,2that they still had a service they could render to God — that of sincere praise and prayer. When we participate in the daily moedim — the set times of prayer, thrice daily — we are joining with the whole of Israel in offering up the “bulls of our lips,” the best we can do outside of a Temple context. When we follow Paul’s exhortation to be people who are “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18), we also fulfill this mitzvah (commandment). But when we live moment by moment in silence, without thoughts of gratitude and without expressing this rightful praise to our Creator, we are handing over to rocks and stones the responsibility of the sons of Abraham (cf. Luke 19:40). Avodah is a leg which must remain in tact for the support of the world. However, we must be active participants in rendering this service to our King for this to take place.

On Gimelut Chassidim

Gimelut chassidim, or acts of lovingkindness, is the third pillar/leg upon which the world stands. As we stated previously, this is equivalent to the Torah’s instruction to “love your neighbor.” But how is this done? If we truly buy into the metaphor in which Paul says that we are the “body of Messiah” (1 Corinthians 12), then we need to realize we are not only members of a single unit and work to benefit one another, but we are collectively his physical representation to the world as well. Although we must first serve the brethren, we are also obligated to reach out to those who are “outside” of our faith communities in order that his love may be made known in this world. This is precisely why Yeshua told the parable of the Good Samaritan. It was to remind his brothers that the Torah’s prescription to “love your neighbor” extended beyond ethnic and social boundaries. Of all the issues that Yeshua worked to correct among his brethren during his earthly ministry, this is one of the very few which was not received. Although the Mishnah and the Talmud came to agree with the large majority of Yeshua’s teachings, unfortunately, the sages continued to limit “loving your neighbor” to one’s fellow Jew.3We, as representatives of the Messiah in this world, must not limit our scope to our religious and social spheres. We must reach out to “the least of these” with the kindness of Messiah at every opportunity.

Most of Christianity limits this concept of lovingkindness to either evangelism or social action. However, we must not limit our actions to one or the other, but be able to share the good news of our Messiah while also caring for the physical needs of those around us. We must bridge the gap between “hearing and doing.” Gimelut chassidim is the final leg which must remain in tact for the support of the world, but one only which can be realized when we act as the hands and feet of our Messiah.

  • 1. m.Avot 1:2
  • 2. A highly probable hypothesis proposed by D.T. Lancaster.
  • 3. Cf. b. Bava Kama 38a; b.Bava Metzia 59a and 111b. On a positive note, Rabbi J. H. Hertz offers a more broad definition in his commentary on the Torah.