When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the original Torah of God in his hands, he found out that his people had broken one of its commandments. For the Torah he held in his hands said, Thou shalt not make unto thee…any manner of likeness, of any thing that is…in the earth…Thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them…” Our people transgressed this command and, as a result, there was no need for the whole Torah, for we have the record which says, “And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing; and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and broke them beneath the mount.” (Shemot—Exodus 32:19.) One command was broken and, therefore, there was no need for the rest of the commandments, for the Torah is one. The Torah was transcribed again but only after full repentance, punishment and restitution was fellowship with God restored.
The Torah Is One
According to rabbinic reckoning, there are 613 commandments in the Torah: 248 positive commands, i.e., what we should do; and 365 negative commands, what we should not do. The positive commands correspond to the number of separate parts in our body and the 365 negative commands correspond to the days of the year, so that, throughout the year, we are commanded to do all the commands with all the joints and parts of our body.
Yet we are told that all these commands can be reduced down to one. This was done already by the famous Hillel (a contemporary of Jesus) of whom we are told that, when a Gentile came to him and asked for conversion to Judaism on condition that Hillel would teach him all the Torah while he stood on one foot, Hillel agreed and told him the whole Torah is summarized in one command. “What is hateful to you do not unto others. The rest is commentary.” A fuller exposition is found in the Babylonian Talmud (Makkot 23-24):
Rabbi Salmai gave the following exposition: 613 commandments were given to Moses; 365 negative commands to correspond with the days of the year and 248 positive commands to correspond with separate pieces of man’s body…Then came David and made them compact into 11 commands as it is written in Psalm 15, “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? (1) He that walketh uprightly, and (2) worketh righteousness, and (3) speaketh the truth in his heart. (4) He that backbiteth not with his tongue, (5) nor doeth evil to his neighbor, (6) nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor. (7) In whose eyes a vile person is condemned, (8) but he honoreth them that fear the Lord. (9) He that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not. (10) He that putteth not out his money to usury, (11) nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved. “…Then came Isaiah and reduced them to six commands (Isaiah 33:15)…Then came Micah the prophet and reduced them to a compact three (Micah 6:8): “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, (1) but to do justly, and (2) to love mercy, and (3) to walk humbly with thy God.”…Then came the prophet Habbakuk and reduced all the commands to one, as it is written (Habbakuk 2:4), “The just shall live by his faith. ”
One Mitzvah* Equals the Whole Torah
Clearly it was the official teaching of the rabbis that one mitzvah equals the whole Torah. Thus we have it in Midrash Rabbah Exodus 25:16. “Rabbi Levi taught, ‘If Israel should keep the Sabbath as it ought to be kept, even for once, then the Son of David (Messiah) would come. Why? Because it is as they would have kept the whole Torah.’ ” Rabbi Elazar, son of Abina, goes on to explain in the same context that this can be proved in a threefold way from the Torah, the prophets and the writings.
In the same Midrash we have the exposition on Exodus 22:24, “Come and see: he that is well to do and gives charity and does not take usury on his loans, it is as he would have kept all the commands of the Torah.”
Should the objection be made that these are extra-important commands and therefore one of them is equal to the whole, the highest talmudical authority warns us saying, “Be careful to perform a minor mitzvah just as well as a major one, for you do not know the reward for each mitzvah.” (Aboth 2:1, printed in Daily Prayer Book, Birnbaum’s translation.)
God, Torah and Israel
The Hassidic saying that, “God, Torah and Israel are one,” has its origin in hoary antiquity. Right in the first book of the Torah we are told how our ancestor Jacob became Israel, taking on the name of one God, El, and receiving the blessing of the mysterious Person who struggled with him. After it, Jacob said, “…I have seen God face to face…” (Genesis 32:31.) Our ancestor Jacob is joined to God by rulership and by struggle and now carries the name El, God, in his own name. Possibly the best summary is given by Moses in Devarim—Deuteronomy 30:19,20. He had told his people that the command (singular 30:11) is nigh to the Jewish people in their mouth and heart to do them. Summarizing the covenant, he warns us saying:
I call heaven and earth to witness this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thee and thy seed may live: that thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him, for he is thy life, and the length of thy days…
The situation we have before us can be summarized as follows: God is one. Rebellion against the angel of the Lord is rebellion against God. “Behold, I send an angel…Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not…for my name is in him.” (Exodus 23:20-21.) Rebellion against God’s prophet is again rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). The same is the case with rebellion against the Holy Spirit, as is seen in the inspired record, “But they rebelled, and vexed his holy spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and fought against them.” (Isaiah 63:10.) All aspects of God’s manifestation are One.
The same applies to the Torah. One cannot eliminate or change even a letter of the Torah or of the prophets without hurt to God Himself. This is clearly taught in the Talmud and Midrash:
Rabbi Levi said: Even little things which are only end of letters are actually mountains that can destroy the whole creation: It is written, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One.” If you change the letter daled in Echad so that it becomes a resh, you destroy everything. Another example, “Thou shalt not worship another God.” If you make a daled of the resh it will come out, “Thou shalt not worship the One God.” Thus you will destroy the whole creation. A third example: It is written in Leviticus 22, “And ye shall not profane my Holy Name. ” If you change the letter het in profane and make it a hey, it will say, “and ye shall not praise my Holy Name,” and so you will destroy the world. A fourth example from Isaiah 8. It is written, “And I will wait for the Lord.” But if you change the het in wait to the letter hey, it will come out, “I will smite the Lord.” Thus you destroy the world.
—Midrash Rabbah Song of Solomon 5
Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah expressed this thought a long time before in the sermon on the mount: “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Torah (Law), till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18.)
The same applies to Israel. Israel is one people. He that toucheth one Israelite toucheth all of Israel. This is well summarized in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a.
Therefore was man created alone, to teach you that he who destroys one Israelite, Scripture considers him as if he would have destroyed the whole world. But he who preserves one Israelite it is as if he would have preserved the whole world.
What Does It Mean to Me?
Yaakov (James), the apostle and brother of Yeshua, the Messiah, reminds his Jewish brethren of the well-known, sacred principle that God is One; the people of Israel are one; the Torah is one. Hence the warning, “For whosoever shall keep the whole Torah (Law), and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10.) Destroy one part of any of them and you destroy the whole. Preserve and keep one part and you keep it all.
What it comes to is simply this: man by himself constantly stands condemned before a holy and righteous God. Man has no choice but to admit with Moses (who himself was forbidden to enter Israel because of his sin at the Waters of Strife as recorded in Numbers 20:12), “‘…Oh, this people have sinned a great sin…’ And the Lord said unto Moses; ‘Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.'” (Exodus 32:31,33.)
With Isaiah we must intone saying, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…” (Isaiah 6:5.) Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:20 warns us, “For there is not a righteous man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” And Eliphaz scores a point when he says, “What is man, that he should be clean? And who is born of a woman, that he should be righteous? Behold, He putteth no trust in his holy ones; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight. How much more he that is abominable and filthy, man who drinketh iniquity like water?” (Job 15:14-16.)
The question is, are we aware of it? The answer must be a resounding YES! Books would have to be written to quote from our Jewish sources, even if we limit ourselves to the most outstanding references to human sin in general and to Israel’s sins in particular. The references in one tractate of Berakhot would be too many to quote. Rabbis one after the other admit that the sufferings they endured and/or the Jewish people endure is a result of some transgression of the Law at one time or another. Only one rabbi stands and claims that his ten fingers kept the ten commandments. But the very boastful claim shows that he is a transgressor in the matter of humility.
On the other hand we have the oft-quoted story of Yohanan ben Zakkai who was visited by his disciples while he was sick. They found him crying and weeping. When they said to him, “Rabbi, you are the light of Israel, the pillar on which we lean, the hammer that crushes all heresy. Why should you weep?” He sincerely confessed and said he was afraid to die because he was not too sure whether he would end up in heaven or hell; enjoy the light of God or be thrown into the darkness of Satan and his host (Berakhot 28, Babylonian Talmud).
Who of us is not acquainted with the Siddur and Mahzor and with the constant confessions and admissions of our guilt and sin? In the Amidah, the Shemoneh Esreh (18 benedictions), we implore God: “Forgive us, our Father, for we sinned; blot out our sins, Our King, for we transgressed.”
Who of us has not been to synagogue and constantly smitten our breasts listing all possible sins we might have committed and then summed it in the Hebrew alphabetic confession,
“Ashamnoo, Bagadnoo, Gazalnoo…We are guilty; we are unfaithful, we robbed; we spoke unseemly; we were perverse and we are guilty; we rebelled, we robbed; and we spoke lies…”
Even on the most joyous occasions of the three pilgrim festivals, we remind ourselves in the special Shemoneh Esreh prayer that it was “because of our sins that we were driven out from our country and were removed far from our land. Therefore we cannot ascend to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifices for the forgiveness of our sins…”
Yet there is a problem. Sometimes when non-Jewish believers or even when Jewish believers try to share their experience in Jesus with Jewish people and remind them of their sins, there is a strong reaction which usually goes like this: “We haven’t sinned. We haven’t killed Gentiles, but they have killed us.” This defense is justified for the Jewish person wants to say just this: “You being a Christian should identify yourself with all the wrongs Jews have suffered from the hands of so-called Christians and should come and speak softly to us. First confess your sins, the sins of Gentile Christianity; then later you will be able to tell us of what we sinned to God, but not to you.”
The whole world stands condemned by a righteous and just God. The whole world can be saved only by the Korban of Messiah Jesus!
*The literal Hebrew translation for mitzvah is command. However mitzvah has two meanings today. The common usage has to do with any act of charity performed. The more traditional meaning refers to fulfilling any of the 613 commandments according to the rabbis.