Yeshua Teacher of the Torah & Tzedaqah
by Jim Myers
This is the first of a special series of articles devoted to helping readers understand the teachings of Yeshua in light of his Jewish culture and time period. It is my opinion, in light of our culture and time period, if Christians understood the teachings of Yeshua and followed them – America would be transformed in ways that would make it a much better and safer place to live.
Yeshua uses specific forms to present his teachings and I will layout his words in those forms to help you get a feel for his patterns. For me, it not only makes his words easier to understand, it gives me a feel for what his personality may have been like. In this lesson he reveals a very important insight about the way he taught and acted throughout his life in Galilee and Judea.
This teaching is found in the context of the famous “Sermon on the Mount” passages of Matthew 5. Keep in mind that Yeshua is surrounded by his disciples – students & followers – as well as others, most of whom were Jews. His teachings are linked to Jewish Scriptures that his audiences were familiar with through the scheduled weekly portions of Scriptures read in the synagogues they attended every Shabbat (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday). The keys to unlocking the meanings of his words are the Scriptures to which he refers without quoting, as well as his Jewish culture. This is a very important lesson because it introduces a method he uses many times. Now let’s take a closer look at this lesson.
You are the light of the world.
A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:14)
Yeshua begins this lesson with words his Jewish audience would have clearly understood because the phrase “light of world” hinted at the words of the prophet Isaiah, the source of many of Yeshua’s teachings. But, during the time they were sitting on the side of the mountain that day, Isaiah’s words might have been considered very dangerous for Jews to be discussing in public.
Arise, shine; for your light is come, and the glory of Yahweh is risen upon you for, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but Yahweh shall arise upon you, and His glory shall be seen upon you. And the Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)
Yeshua placed the words “you” and “a city set on a hill” in parallel to each other, which means the “you” is “the city on a hill.” It is also a reference to Jerusalem. Isaiah was prophesying about a time that will come when the presence of Yahweh will be so “bright” on his people in Jerusalem that foreign nations and their kings will be attracted to Him.
The thing that would have grabbed the audience’s attention on the mountain that day was Yeshua’s declaration – you are the generation Isaiah prophesied about! Don’t forget they were occupied by the Roman army which might not have liked the idea of a Jewish teacher proclaiming that Romans and their emperor would be in a subservient position to the Jews. About thirty years earlier, following the death of Herod, there were outbreaks of revolt throughout Judea. Two Roman legions were sent into the nation, particularly in Galilee. According to Josephus, Varus, the Roman legate, punished the most guilty and dismissed some, but he crucified about two thousand.[i] The question in the minds of the people sitting on the mountain had to be – How much Roman attention do we really want to attract to Jerusalem and ourselves?
But now, let’s consider what he said next to them (Matthew 5:15-16):
Do people light a lamp and put it under a basket?
No, they put it on a lampstand so it will give light to everyone in the house.
Let your light shine before men, so they will see your works of TOV
and glorify your Father in the Heavens.
Yeshua’s lesson opened with a message to the people of Jerusalem and all Jews -- “let the brightness of Yahweh shine so brightly upon you that you will attract the attention of all the nations of the Earth.”
Do not think that I came to destroy the Torah or the Prophets.
The above words of Yeshua are recorded in Matthew 5:17a. The two underlined words – destroy & fulfill – became cornerstones of a later theology – Christians are not under the law – and it played a major role in separating Christianity from the Jewish movement of Yeshua and the ability of Christians to understand his teachings. What does the above verse mean to you?
Now let’s discover what destroy meant to Yeshua and the Jews listening to him. Gamaliel was a very famous rabbi and president of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE. Gamaliel holds a reputation in the Mishnah (Oral Law) for being one of the greatest teachers in all the annals of Judaism. He used the same phrase as Yeshua to make the same point:
R. Gamaliel said) to them, “Look at the end of the book, wherein it is written, I came not to destroy the Law of Moses nor to add to the Torah of Moses. . .”
The point Gamaliel made was that “his interpretation” of a specific Law of Moses did not “take way from” or “add to” the words of the Torah, which meant that “he interpreted the law correctly.” Now let’s update the words of Yeshua to make the translation more culturally correct:
Do not think that I came to take away from or add to the Law of Moses or the Prophets.
Keep in mind that Yeshua began by hinting at words from Isaiah the Prophet. After grabbing the audience’s attention, it appears that he surprised them and he responded with – “Don’t think I came here to misinterpret the Scriptures!” Now he reinforces what he just said (Matthew 5: 17b):
I did not come to destroy the Torah or the prophets.
I have come to fulfill them.
Fulfill is the opposite of destroy, so let’s update our translation again:
I did not come here to misinterpret the Torah or the Prophets.
I am here to correctly interpret them.
Now he uses an example (v. 18) everyone in the audience clearly understood because they understood the language Yeshua taught in – Hebrew.
Until the Heavens and Earth pass away,
not one YOD or one QOTZ will be taken from the Torah until it is all correctly interpreted.
Yeshua’s audience would have heard something like this:
Not only will I not take away from the Torah and the Prophets;
I will not even take away the tip of the smallest letter in them!
I am here to correctly interpret the Torah and the Prophets.
This set the stage for the next part of this lesson (v. 19):
Whoever breaks one of the least commandments and teaches men to do so
shall be called “Least” in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Whoever does the least commandments and teaches men to do so
shall be called “Great” in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Keeping things in context is absolutely essential for understanding many things, especially the teachings of Yeshua. Above he used the terms destroy and fulfill in parallel. Here he uses breaks and does in parallel, not only to each other, but also with the destroy and fulfill parallel above.
Whoever misinterprets one of the least commandments and teaches men to do so
shall be called “Least” in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Whoever correctly interprets the least commandments and teaches men to do so
shall be called “Great” in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Make sure to clearly understand that Yeshua said both -- the one who misinterprets and the one who correctly interprets -- will be in the Kingdom of Heaven (group led by the promised mashiach [Anointed King] at the End of Days), which Yeshua felt would take place soon. The point that must be clearly understood is that “INTERPRETATIONS ARE BELIEFS” and people with conflicting beliefs will co-exist in Yeshua’s Kingdom.
But, unless your TZEDAQAH exceeds the TZEDAQAH of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven by any means. (Matthew 5:20)
Beliefs will not allow one to enter or keep one out of the Kingdom of Heaven, but their TZEDAQAH will. TZEDAQAH is the central focus and highest priority of Yeshua and his teachings.
Do TZEDAQAH! This was the message of Yeshua that his followers heard over and over. How much TZEDAQAH? Do more than the scribes and Pharisees -- who focus on “correct interpretations.” If there is one thing every follower of Yeshua clearly understood, it was the importance of TZEDAQAH. So, now let’s turn to the central question -- what is TZEDAQAH? Yeshua provided the answer by linking light and TZEDAQAH in a way his audience would have immediately recognized. He used one of his favorite sections from Isaiah. He opened this teaching with light which was linked to Isaiah 60. In Isaiah 58, light and TZEDAQAH are linked together in a very special way (vv. 6-10):
Is this not the fast that I have chosen?
Loose the bonds of wickedness.
Undo the heavy burdens.
Let the oppressed go free.
Break every yoke.
Isn’t this the fast I have chosen?
Share your bread with the hungry.
Bring the homeless poor who have been cast out to your house.
When you see the naked cloth him.
Not hide yourself from your own people.
Then, your light shall break forth like the dawn.
Your restoration spring up quickly.
When does light break forth? It is after these things were done:
● shared bread with the hungry
● gave shelter to the homeless poor
● clothed the naked
● helped their own people
Doing these things loosened the bonds of wickedness, lifted the heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free and broke yokes from people. Now pay close attention to what will happen to those who did these things:
Your TZEDAQAH shall go before you.
This means their acts of TZEDAQAH – the things listed above – will go before them. In Yeshua’s time period, TZEDAQAH included doing acts like -- feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, etc. Today, most Americans use the word “charity” to describe such acts, but there is likewise a far cry between the meanings of TZEDAQAH, with its implications of social justice, and the English word “charity.”
● In the case of “charity” the recipient sees himself beholden to the donor, whose action is voluntary.
● TZEDAQAH must be performed as a matter of obligation. The recipient is in no way indebted to the donor. The needy have a right to TZEDAQAH, while those possessing means have a duty to give it. Even a poor person who receives TZEDAQAH must in turn give TZEDAQAH.
● Acts of TZEDAQAH results in social stability and, ultimately, SHALOM (totality, completeness & wholeness).
● Failure to perform TZEDAQAH leads indirectly to the upsetting of social stability and, ultimately, to the deliberate undermining of the social structure.
● Those who do TZEDAQAH are called “living” even after they die, whereas the wicked are called “dead” even while they are still alive.
Now let’s continue reading from Isaiah 58 and discover what is in store for the one whose light has broken forth and whose TZEDAQAH goes before him:
The glory of Yahweh shall gather you.
Then you shall call and Yahweh shall answer.
You shall call and Yahweh shall say, “Here I am.”
If you remove this yoke from you –
pointing of the accusing finger and speaking deception and nothingness.
If you pour out your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul.
Then your light shall rise in obscurity.
Then your darkness shall be like the noonday.
Doing TZEDAQAH like we read from Isaiah would be a level that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees -- the requirement Yeshua stated for membership in the Kingdom of Heaven. This was what made it possible for people who misinterpret and those who correctly interpret the Scriptures to both belong to the Kingdom of Heaven. Yeshua viewed TZEDAQAH as the thing that is most important to Yahweh and the way to bridge the conflicts between competing Jewish sects. Yeshua did not require the scribes or Pharisees to accept or teach his interpretations of Scriptures. Now, let’s take one more look at the opening section, because Yeshua refers to another very important text in the Torah:
Let your light shine before men,
so they will see your works of TOV
He used the term “light shine” in parallel with “works of TOV” (good works). In the first account in the Torah, the Creation Account, the Creator measured His works with a standard – And He saw that it was TOV. TOV is the standard used by the Creator to measure His work. Acts that measure up to the Creator’s standard are acts that protect life, preserve life, make life more functional and increase the quality of life. Isn’t that what happens when people share their food with the hungry, give the homeless shelter, clothe the naked, etc.? TZEDAQAH is not a social program to help the poor. It is a way of life that every Jewish person in Yeshua’s audience understood clearly.
The key to understanding the full scope of what TZEDAQAH includes is found in the Creation account in a phrase that is very well known -- “in His image.” It is found twice in Genesis 1:27. Our research indicates there is another more contextually accurate way of translating the phase (see underlined words below):
God created man with His presence;
with the presence of God He created him;
male and female He created them.
The Creator created mankind “with His spirit (presence).” What would the Creator do if He encountered a hungry person? He would measure the situation with His TOV Standard and do what is required to bring the situation in line with His standard! What would happen if He encountered a sick person? He would heal him and bring things in line with His standard. What would He do if encountered a lonely person, a poor person, an uneducated person, a rejected person, a lonely person, a threatened person, etc.?
Acts of TZEDAQAH are acts that protect life, preserve life,
make life more functional and increase the quality of life –
for all people -- not just poor people!
Yeshua said to “let your light shone so men would see your works of TOV!” when men see your light they will see your acts of TOV! What will happen when men see the light of TZEDAQAH through your acts? People from many nations will glorify your Father in the Heavens. Yahweh’s kingdom will expand.
Additional Insights About This Teaching of Yeshua
● It introduced the audience to Yeshua’s role as an “interpreter of the Scriptures.” In Matthew it is followed by his interpretations relative to well-known and controversial laws on murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, etc.
● It revealed the foundational theme of his teachings and his movement – reveal the presence of God in your life by doing works of TOV (TZEDAQAH).
●Doing works of TOV is more important and a higher priority than endless arguments about the interpretations of Scriptures.
● Understanding TZEDAQAH is the key to understanding the teachings below:
- Doing works of TOV is how one loves God and his neighbor – and fulfills the two most important commandments.
- Doing works of TOV is how one loves God instead of mammon.
- Doing works of TOV is the way to enter into life eternal at the end of days.
Relevance to Christianity Today
Today there are 223,230,000 Americans that identify themselves as “Christians.” What would America be like if those 223,230,000 Christian Citizens made doing works of TOV their highest priority?
(1) They would immediately impact lives throughout the nation in ways that would protect and preserve them, make their lives more functional and increase the quality of almost everyone’s life in America.
(2) They would make churches relevant in the lives of people in their communities.
(3) They would end unprovable theological arguments that are irrelevant in light of science.
(4) They would unyoke Christianity from “politicians who get religion every election cycle.”
Is there anyone out there that gets it? Are there any pastors out there that are willing to teach what Yeshua taught? Is there anyone out there that will share this lesson of Yeshua with others? And, is there anyone out there that understands the importance of helping us publish and distribute the Teaching of Yeshua enough -- to help us do it by contributing to the funding of this work -- online at http://biblicalheritage.org or by mail? Beliefs or Actions? – it’s up to you. WWJD? BHC
 Talmud; Shabbat 116a-b