You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ (Matt 5: 21).
“This is a “halakhaic” formula.
By making this statement Jesus was asserting that there is more to the requirements of Torah than meets the eye.
What is halakhah?
The word “halakhah” is usually translated “Jewish Law” although it should more accurately be translated as “the path that one walks”.
Judaism is much more than a set of beliefs about God, man and the universe. It is a comprehensive way of life governed by rules and practices that affect one’s whole life from morning until night and from life to death and, more especially it is about how you treat God, man, animals and the earth. This set of rules and practices is known as the halakhah. Halakhah came from three sources; the Torah; laws instituted by the rabbi; and long-standing customs.
The ancient rabbis had made many pronouncements additional to the 613 laws of Torah in an attempt to interpret what Yahweh meant by His instructions. The result was a confusing conglomeration of rules and prohibitions which focused on external behaviour, but which often ignored the spirit of Torah or what Jesus called “the more important (or weightier) matters of Torah” (Matt. 23:23).
When an “expert” in the law asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus threw the question back at him.
‘What is written in the Law?’ He replied. ‘How do you read it?’ (Luke 10:26)
The man responded by quoting from Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18.
Love the LORD you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength . . . Love your neighbour as yourself.
Jesus commended him for his answer and counselled him to do as the Torah said. But what was Torah saying?
The essence of the Torah was threefold: to protect love; to preserve unity; and to promote contentment.
All the regulations written in the Torah were detailed instructions for working out these three principles in their everyday circumstances. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus highlighted six areas where “halakhah” pronouncements had clouded the issues and made them problems of behaviour and not of attitude.”
(Quoted from “Learning to be a Disciple” © 2104, Luella Campbell, Partridge Publishing, page 111-112)
The first area of concern was the issue of murder. According to halakhah, the commandment not to murder had only to do with the actual act. However, Jesus examined the attitude which led to the act. If the attitude of the heart was wrong, it was as though the person had already committed murder even if he had not actually done the deed.
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’, is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool,’ will be in danger of the fire of hell (Gehenna). (Matt. 5:22)
“The issue is the dignity of another person. The question is not about taking someone else’s life. It’s about stripping the dignity off of someone else, looking down on him, treating him with contempt. Jesus deals with this.
Since anger is the start of the slide towards murder, the anger must be dealt with before it goes any further. Anger, a sustained feeling of anger, is as much a reason for judgment as the act itself. To say raca replicates the sound of someone who is about to spit, indicating a feeling of contempt. To call someone a fool is to judge him as a morally corrupt person, someone whose life is completely dysfunctional and therefore not worth anything, and must be exterminated.
Jesus said that we are just as guilty if we do it in our heart as if we had done it with our hand. If something is true in your imagination it might as well as be true. Once you want someone dead, or believe they are worthless or degrade them by slander or sarcasm or make fun of them, you are guilty of murder.
The antidote to murder is to apply the “weightier matters of the law” – justice, mercy and faithfulness. The answer is to keep on the path, with our eyes fastened on the “landmark” – Jesus, whom we are to follow because He is God’s light, the shining of the star that shows us the path. He is the words of Elohim.
By applying His yoke of mercy, Jesus swept aside all the irrelevant provisions of halakhah, and revealed the spirit of Torah. In Him, we see mercy in action. There is no need to clutter God’s Torah with intricate details of interpretation because Jesus is the model of mercy and, by imitating Him, we will fulfil His requirements.”
(“Learning to be a Disciple,” page123-124)
Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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