Jesus was approached by a teacher of the law who noticed he gave good answers, and asked him about the greatest commandment. “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” he enquired.
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Matthew 12:28-29
In response to this question, Jesus pointed towards the Shema, a fundamental Jewish prayer found in the Torah, the five books of Moses. This raises the intriguing question: Does Jesus imply that the entirety of the Torah serves as a reference guide for the Shema? To understand this connection, let’s explore the significance of the Shema and its relationship to the broader teachings of the Torah.
The Shema, originating from the book of Deuteronomy, begins with the declaration, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) This statement encapsulates the central belief of monotheism and declares the Jewish people’s unwavering commitment to the one true God. The Shema continues with instructions to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and might, and to pass down these teachings to future generations.
The Torah, often referred to as the Law, holds significant importance in Jewish tradition. It consists of the first five books of the Bible and provides a framework for ethical conduct, religious observances, and the cultivation of a harmonious relationship with God. Jesus’ reference to the Shema can be seen as highlighting the divine instruction found within the Torah, which serves as a reference guide for understanding and living out the Shema.
While the Shema emphasizes love and devotion to God, the Torah provides a comprehensive guide on how to manifest this love through daily actions. The teachings found within the Torah encompass various aspects of life, including moral and ethical responsibilities towards oneself, others, and the world. Therefore, it can be argued that Jesus’ citation of the Shema suggests that the entire Torah serves as a reference guide for living out the commandments expressed within the prayer.
Jesus’ affirmation of the Shema implies that the teachings of the Torah are not only relevant but also essential for those seeking to fulfill the greatest commandment. By understanding and applying the lessons contained within the Torah, believers in Jesus can cultivate a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God, not only in theory but in practice as well.
Moreover, Jesus also emphasized the importance of love towards others, instructing his followers to “love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:39) This teaching, itself a quote from Leviticus 19:18, echoes the broader principles outlined in the five books of Moses, which guide believers in treating others with compassion, justice, and respect.
In response to the question about the greatest commandment, Jesus’ reference to the Shema indicates that the Torah serves as a comprehensive reference guide for believers seeking to fulfill this commandment. The Shema, with its call for love, devotion, and the oneness of God, encapsulates the essence of Jewish faith. By recognizing the holistic nature of the Torah and its relevance to daily life, believers can strive to live out the Shema, embodying the teachings found within the Torah and deepening their relationship with God and their fellow human beings.
Terri Starcher attends Church of the Messiah in Xenia, is on the worship team, and teaches in various formats.