When Peter asked the Pharisees, “Why do you tempt God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples, a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear,” he was not talking about God’s Torah as written by Moses. He was talking about the traditions, the rules of the so-called Oral Torah, which the rabbis had built up around the written Torah. Moses told the Israelites, “The secret things belong to YHWH our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our sons forever, so that we may do all the words of this Law….For this commandment which I command you today is not hidden from you, neither is it far off. It is not in Heaven, that you should say, Who shall go up for us to Heaven, and bring it to us, so that we may hear it and do it? Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, Who shall go over the sea for us to the region beyond the sea, and bring it to us, so that we may hear it and do it? But the Word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it. Behold! I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil, in that I command you today to love YHWH your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, so that you may live and multiply. And YHWH your God shall bless you in the land where you go to possess it.” To keep His commandments, including remedies for failures, is not beyond our reach. Peter did not call Moses a liar.
Most of the Torah is very simple. It can be summed up in two commands or in ten. This week’s Torah portion begins with another summary of the law: Be holy for I am holy. “Holy” means separate or different. Moses followed that summary with another summary:
- Be respectful of your parents.
- Do not employ idols.
- Express your gratitude. Don’t fake it. Don’t make a show of it.
- Leave a little extra for the poor and the traveler.
- Don’t steal, cheat, or lie.
- Don’t take unfair advantage of others.
- Don’t punish the rich for being rich.
- Don’t gossip.
- Don’t retaliate, and don’t hold a grudge.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
These rules aren’t entirely unique to the Torah. Except for the part about idols, they are pretty standard religious fare. (As far as I know, only the religious traditions that grew out of Judaism prohibit the making and use of idols.) Other than the rules themselves, there are two vitally important things to understand about being k’doshim to God.
- God doesn’t care all that much about ritual or prayer or self denial. All those things have their place, but what’s really important is love. Not feelings, but real, active love.
- It isn’t the content of our rules that separates us from the world; it is their source and our obedience to them.