Keeping the commandments – what’s the point? (spoiler: there is one!)

Do you keep kosher? Now there’s a question Jewish people can get into long and detailed discussions about – how far do you go? How long do you wait after a meat meal before allowing yourself to enjoy a latte? Do you have separate sinks in your kitchen, or are you laid back like my mother was, and wash meat and dairy dishes in the same one?

And then there’s all the myriad rules about what you can’t do on Shabbat. My mother kept some of those – not writing, for example – but had no qualms about cooking, or doing the washing up.

Me? I rebelled against the whole thing in my teens – didn’t see the point in any of it. And now? Now I do see the point, and that’s what I want to talk about today. Because the point of it all is not what most Jewish people think it is…

In Hebrew we talk about religious people as “shomrei mitzvot” – people who keep the commandments. An interesting term, considering that nobody really can fully keep them all! Sure, you may be really good at strictly observing all the Shabbat do’s and don’ts, and your kitchen may be the height of kosherness… You may say all the prayers perfectly… You may be a shining example in your synagogue… But tell me, just between you and me, how much do you actually love everybody else in the whole world?

Love your fellow human being as you love yourself, the Bible says. Yes, in English it’s traditionally translated as “neighbour”, but we all know it’s nothing to do with whether or not they live nearby. And the traditional Jewish interpretation of this verse takes it as referring to all our fellow Jews – I disagree, but even if we look at it through that narrow lens, it’s a bit of a tall order, wouldn’t you say?

Even if you narrow it down to the people closest to you, can you really say you love them as you love yourself?

Not to mention that annoying work colleague, or that meddling gossip next door, or your cousin who is always putting you down…

Can any of us really claim we love all those people as we love ourselves?

Yes, well, I hear you say, I do my best…

That’s nice, but when your time comes to stand before the Almighty for judgement, is that what you’ll say? I’m sorry, Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, I know you commanded us to love others as we love ourselves but I really couldn’t live up to that, not all the time, not when that person kept doing that really annoying thing that I hate, not when that other person hurt my feelings really badly, not when this other person hurt someone I love, not when… yeah, quite a lot of the time really now that I think of it… and yes, you did command us…

Do you really think your strictly kosher kitchen and your refraining from walking too far on Shabbat and your regular synagogue attendance will save you from God’s wrath when you stand before him and confess that you have never kept his command to love your neighbour as yourself?

But I did say there was a point to all this – a point to the rules of behaviour God gave us. It’s just not the point most of us were brought up on.

The point is this: we need to realise we can’t do it, and turn to God for help. God’s commands are clues, pointing us to the painful but essential truth: human beings are sinful and not capable of living up to God’s standards completely. So when God gave us Torah, he included instructions about what to do when we sin – he knows our fallen nature, and in his love he offers us a way back from the deep pit we’re so good at digging ourselves into.

But wait, I hear you say, those instructions were about making atoning sacrifices in the place God designated, and that place doesn’t exist any more, so what are we supposed to do?

Yes, I know, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed – it was destroyed about 40 years after a man was killed in Jerusalem as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all mankind, once and for all. This man was the promised Messiah – who came to take our sins, as prophesied in Isaiah 53, and who God raised from the dead on the third day and then, after 40 days, he went up to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, awaiting the day of his glorious return when he will finally usher in the promised Messianic age.

That man’s name in Hebrew is Yeshua – salvation! He came at the time God had promised in Daniel 9, born in Bethlehem of the tribe of Judah, a descendant of King David – all according to the prophecies in the Tanach, and some of our people recognised him as Messiah there and then. Sadly our religious authorities took a different view, and ever since then they’ve been leading our people astray. But you, reading this – God has given you a mind of your own, and you need to know for yourself how you can be saved from the wrath of the Almighty!

Jesus is the Messiah promised to our people – don’t let the rabbis deprive you from the true atonement you can receive through him!

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