Yesterday, for my drash, I spoke on what I called, “The Divine Disconnect.” To me it is the crux of Yeshua’s ministry, and all of Scripture for that matter. The focus of my discussion revolved around Yeshua’s teaching in Matthew 5:20, which says,
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Traditionally, this has been interpreted as meaning that the righteousness of the scribes & Pharisees was based on keeping the Law, but our righteousness must be based on faith in Yeshua, and this latter righteousness surpasses the previous. However, this interpretation doesn’t hold any water, particularly in relationship to the context of Yeshua’s teaching, either broadly throughout the Gospels or more narrowly within the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The immediate context of this statement seems to make a clear case for the way it was to be understood. The statements that immediately precede this are:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 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.” (Matthew 5:17-19, ESV)
From this we see that Yeshua’s topic was the importance of the mitzvot. However, his emphasis was not on the mere adherence to the external strictures of mitzvot. His point, I believe, was well taken when he contrasted his expectations in regard to Torah against the known practices of some of his contemporaries within Pharisaic leadership. What is the heart of this warning against? In a nutshell, hypocrisy. There were many in the day of the Master who believed what we believe today: That it is fair to judge others by their actions, while judging ourselves by our hearts. But Yeshua calls us to a higher standard. He calls for both our hearts & actions to be joined together in the service of the Creator. Whereas the Pharisees of which Yeshua spoke had either the heart or the actions, there remained a disconnect between the two. How many of us have fallen into this trap?
We are quick to decry any kind of “works” based on our misunderstanding of Paul’s polemic against the topic. However, how many of us can truly say that we haven’t tasted the “leaven of the Pharisees?” It seems that as human beings, we are caught in the middle of a juggling act, constantly trying to find a balance between our love and our response to that love. It seems we are constantly settling for one or the other. There are those who are holed into the polar extremes of this, but most of us are somewhere right in the middle. On one extreme, there are those of us who smugly assert our theological creedos of how much we can’t “earn grace,” and therefore are completely devoid of any righteous fruit in our lives. On the other, there are those of us who are so focused on bringing back the mitzvot (commandments) which have been all but lost over the last two millennia that we tend to forget the weightier matters of Torah—love, mercy, compassion, etc. But most of us fall somewhere in between. We tend to struggle with maintaining a balance between what we know and feel, verses how we respond to that. There is somehow a “disconnect” between our flesh and spirit, and we are inevitably making corrections & adjustments along the way.
But such is life. If we ever get to the point that we are settled in our relationship to the Almighty, something has grown cool. Until we shed this mortal coil, I believe we will constantly battle to serve the King of the Universe “בכל לבבך” (b’chol levav’ka)—”with all your heart.” Because in order to serve Him whole heartedly, it requires a death—the death of the one giving service. For unless we die, our service will ever be tainted. But a one-time death will not suffice. Thus, we hear the message of the Master echo in our ears: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Therefore, let us repent and die today, in order that we will live tomorrow as a whole person.
“Repent one day before your death.” (Rabbi Eliezer, Avot 2:15)
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Yeshua, Matthew 4:17)