Let us open our Bible to Mark chapter 12. So far, just as the Passover lamb was identified on the 10th of Nisan and kept 4 days to make sure it had no defect until it was ready to be sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan, so Yeshua made His Triumphant entry on the 10th of Nisan, making His messiahship identifiable for all to see and here we are about 2 days before He would be crucified.
As the Jewish people kept their lamb at home for examination, so Yeshua was tested by the Pharisees and the Herodians, with a question concerning taxes due to Caesar. Then the Sadducees approached with their question on the resurrection, and now comes a third and final testing from the religious leaders. Matthew tells us that this testing comes from the Pharisees and the Scribes, but Mark focuses on that one Scribe in particular who had seen something true in Yeshua.
This is how his question is brought to us in vs.28; One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?”
The commandments of the Tanakh, that is the Hebrew Scriptures, which were in total around 613, were divided into two groups: the 248 positive ones, that is, those which they were commanded to do, and 365 negative ones, the do-not-do commandments. Some rabbis spoke of 248 positive ones corresponding to the 248 members and organs of the human body, showing that the entire body should be involved in doing mitzvahs, or good deeds. The 365 negative commandments correspond to the 365 days in the solar year, emphasizing the vanity of this world.
At that time, there were discussions as to which commandment was the most important. Hillel, from the 1st century before Yeshua, one of the founders of rabbinical Judaism said, Do not do to your neighbor what is disagreeable to you. This is the whole Torah; the rest is its interpretation. Then another major player, Rabbi Akiva who came right after Yeshua said, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is indeed a great general principle from the Torah (Leviticus 19:18).
This is a sample of the many discussions about the most important commandment; however, Yeshua’s answer covers every single one of the 613 commandments. He answers by mentioning two commandments, which otherwise could not and never be separated. His reply gives us a full definition of a believer in God’s fitting for all times. This is His answer. Vs. 29-31 “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The Apex Called Love
These two commandments represent the one eternal path of love. One vertical, the other horizontal. What links these two is the word love, and it is love from God to man. This is the first time these two commandments from Deuteronomy and Leviticus are put together and these laws join at the apex called love. And the word love that we find in this chapter and verse, is agape. This Greek word agape was taken from the secular world and given a whole new dimension in the Bible, for this is the word which describes God. God is agape. As opposed to other synonyms, this word speaks of unconditional love, like that of a mother for her newborn child. It is a self-sacrificial love which brings out the preciousness of the other person. It is a love which shares and gives without counting and it is this same love that God gives and which is required of every believer to likewise extend to their neighbors.
If this law were put into effect, the world would change drastically. The congregations of God would change its face and be a bright spot in this world. And so, the most important commandment begins with God and ends with man, and this is the unbreakable commandments of the Bible. Yeshua ends by saying, There is no other commandment greater than these.
And this truth is carried over in all the letters to the Body of the Messiah. For instance, John in his old age, sums it up for us in a very practical way when he wrote in 1John 4:10, If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar. Short, clear and simple.
By this time, John witnessed many conflicts in the different churches where he taught, and here he gives us a simple way of finding out if we are walking the eternal path of God’s love; see how we treat our neighbor, especially those of the same faith. Hatred, aversion, distaste toward another child of God has no room in the love of God. And so, from the mouth of Yeshua to us: this is the way of love, and this is the most important commandment which, when you do it, you fulfill the whole law. As Paul later says in Romans 13:8, He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this one who loves his neighbor, must first love God; this is the Torah, the Neviim and the Ketubim. So far this is not complex at all. We may find it’s application hard to apply, but the statement is clear.
However, there is so much more in what Yeshua is telling us here. Let’s look at the way He mentions these two laws.
Hear O Israel
The first one, You shall love your God, is not from the 10 commandments, but from the Shema, a prayer from Deuteronomy 6 which was prayed every day at the Temple (m.Tam. 5:1) and prayed twice a day by every religious Jew for the last 2000 years. It is that same prayer we also begin our studies with here at Beth Ariel when blessings our children. ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
See how it begins, in the heart; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart. It begins with the heart, the inner chamber, the sanctuary of the person. And when it begins in the heart, it does not and cannot remain hidden there. It will spring forth in action and in words.
In the Hebrew the word heart is lev, and in this passage the rabbis noticed that this word has a double vav, or a double v at the end. Why a double vav? This is to indicate that this means, that one must be wholehearted with God (Rashi) with his whole soul and strength.
We will also find this double vav in other passages when it comes to asking a person to pay attention to something of great importance. Our approach to God then begins by truly believing in Him for the heart is our faith’s abode; this is the first step toward God.
What Springs to Mind
Now, I don’t know if you have noticed that Yeshua added one more element, another dimension to the Shema. What did He add? He added the faculty of the mind and included, with all your mind. Why this addition and what does it mean?
The word mind in the Greek designates the intellect, the faculty of understanding, reasoning, thinking and deciding. This same word mind, which only occurs only 12 times in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) is a powerful one. It is used in 1Pet 1:13 and translated by the words: Prepare your minds for action or, therefore gird up the loins of your mind. It is word that calls us to action.
But why did Yeshua add this new dimension to the Shema at this time? Because now, the Messiah has come and His coming requires that we search Him even more, in the Scriptures, in history and all around us, seeking for how He lives and fulfills in His person every single one of the 613 laws. Because now, we have dozens and dozens of prophecies fulfilled in Him. Because now, we have a perfect living example of the Word of God.
Yeshua said in John 13:34, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. The new commandment was not to love each other, this was said before, but it is new way of loving in Him, because He came. He has become the full realization of the two ways of love: Love from GOD to man is found in Him.
The fullness of God’s love was now fulfilled through Messiah. And now this same power of love through His death and resurrection, could belong to the believer. And in that way, we too can now fulfill the Shema in our words and actions.