Mishpatim - משפטים - "Judgments"
Torah: Exodus 21:1-24:18
Prophets: 2 Kings 11:17-12:17
Gospel: Luke 7:1-8:3
If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. 26 If ever you take your neighbor's cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, 27 for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate. (Exodus 22:25-27)
What is Torah? As Messianic believers, this should be a very important question since Torah is referenced at least 1,050 times in the Brit Hadashah. Now that we are diving deep into the writings of Moses, this question will come up a lot. In an effort to try and analyze Torah, Christain theologians have made two categories for every command; there are "Moral Laws" and there are "Ceremonial Laws." As we explore Torah we can determine which command falls into which category, but before we do that, let us look at what the words Moral and Ceremonial mean.
The word Moral means;
Of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical: moral attitudes. 2. Expressing or conveying truths or counsel as to right conduct, as a speaker or a literary work. 3. Founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities, enactment, or custom: moral obligations. 4. capable of conforming to the rules of right conduct: a moral being. 5. Conforming to the rules of right conduct (opposed to immoral): a moral man.
As we look at the definitions of the word moral we can see that it pertains to relationships with individuals. The word moral is a relationship based word which dictates how we should deal with other people and with any living being.
The word Ceremony means;
The formal activities conducted on some solemn or important public or state occasion: the coronation ceremony. 2. a formal religious or sacred observance; a solemn rite: a marriage ceremony. 3. Formal observances or gestures collectively; ceremonial observances: The breathless messenger had no time for ceremony. 4. any formal act or observance, especially a meaningless one: His low bow was mere ceremony. 5. a gesture or act of politeness or civility: the ceremony of a handshake.
Looking at the word ceremony, we can see that it is action oriented; it involves taking action for certain events, times and/or places. Things that are ceremonial are visual because people can see them in action like in weddings, funerals, graduations, birthday parties and so on.
Within Torah, there are commands that are clearly moral and there are commands that are clearly ceremonial, but if you try to correctly categorize every command found in Torah as moral or ceremonial, by definition, you will eventually run into a problem: Let us examine the Ten Commandments for example.
1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me
2. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below
3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy
5. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you
6. You shall not murder
7. You shall not commit adultery
8. You shall not steal
9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor
As we examine the Ten Commandments we can clearly see that commands 5-10 are moral commands. Command 4 can be debated as a ceremonial command, but what about the first 3 commands? By definition, can they honestly fit into the categories of moral or ceremonial? It is very important that we do not take this lightly. If we blindly accept the doctrine that every command of God found in Torah is categorized as moral and ceremonial, it becomes easy for us to rationalize ignoring some commands of God because our salvation has no need for ceremonies.
But what if there were some other category out there, some Biblical ways that we can properly define each command found in the Law? The answer must be in the bible somewhere. Since the Law is a form of Yeshua (The Living Word), let us see if He can give us some categories for every command found in the Law.
Hearing that Yeshua had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Yeshua replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
According to Yeshua, all of Torah and the prophets can be summed up into the two commands of loving God with all your heart, soul and mind (Deut. 6:5) and to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18). I don’t know about you, but that sounds like two categories to me. Loving God and loving your neighbor, if we go back to the Ten Commandments you’ll see that these two categories perfectly accommodate every command. The first 4 commands found in the Ten Commandments are about God and loving Him, all the rest of the commandments focus on us loving one another.
Every command found in the Torah is about loving God and/or love people. Every command that we see in Torah leads us to doing one of those two things. This is a foundational understanding that we must have going forward if we are to seek and find God’s truth throughout these Torah portion commentaries. After all, this is what it’s all about; seeking a better understanding of God and drawing closer to Him.
Within Judaism there is another set of categories that perfectly fits for every command, negative or positive. Every command found within Torah is either a negative command, something not to do, or a positive command, something to do. Torah has 613 commands. These 613 commands are a combination of 248 positive commands and 365 negative commands. Each command numbered from most important to least important. Although there are various opinions about the numbering, what each command means is never in debate within the Jewish community.
In this week’s Torah portion we begin to dive into these 613 commands. As we read through these commands, examine each of them to see if Yeshua told the truth about Torah being summed up into loving God and loving people. Do all the commands found in the Law fall into loving God and loving your neighbor? If you are serious about loving God, do not take that question lightly because it can be a game changer.