Becoming familiar with the teachings of our forefathers regarding the laws in the Torah, not only that it does not contradict the principles of faith of believers regarding the law, can further deepen our understanding of the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith.
There are 613 laws in the Torah, out of which, 248 are “do” laws and 365 are “don’t do” laws. The sages of the Mishna and the Talmud noted that 248 is also the number of the organs in the human body, and 365, besides being the number of days in a year, is the number of the tendons in the human body. The Bible laws are also called “commandments,” “mitz-vot.” The singular word for law or commandment is “mitz-vah.”
The sages distinguished between different aspects of the laws in the Torah. In addition to the “do” and “don’t do” rules (the biblical Omission and Commission laws), they pointed out two major kinds of rules: 1. the laws between a person to another fellow human being, (will be discussed soon in a separate “Hebrew Word of the Day”) and 2. The laws between a person to God. The second set is actually called: “the laws between a ‘person to the Place.’” The word “Place” is a reference to the place of the “Shekhinah,” or in other words, God. The substitution of the name reflects reverence to the Creator.
To clarify this distinction, look, for example, at the Ten Commandments: “You shall not kill, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” and “You shall not covet” are all person-to-person laws and were characterized as “Light Laws.”
“You shall have no other gods before me,” “You shall not make for you any engraved image,” “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” and “Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it” are all person-to-God laws and were characterized as “Severe Laws.”
Throughout history, religious leaders, scholars and clergy have viewed the person-to-God category as paramount. That is to say that the person-to-person laws were viewed as secondary in importance. Notice what they called “Light” versus “Severe.”
In Matthew 23:23, Jesus makes an earth-shattering equation and even reverses the importance of these two categories by calling the “Light” laws: “weightier matters of the law.” Making such a statement at that time in history was nothing short of shocking. The reason why Jesus downplayed the role of person-to-person laws held as so important by the Pharisees was to characterize them as hypocrites. There is no way to fully understand the meaning of the repeating reference to the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites other than to be familiar with our subject today: the Laws – mitz-vot.