Book: (Jewish Spirituality) The 6 Constant Mitzvos [commands]

In the end of Mt’s gospel, Jesus gives his disciples the “great commission” – to baptize all nations, teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded.

This leaves me feeling very hallow, because I don’t know that I know all that Jesus has commanded. I’ve never heard of a book (except the Bible, I guess) that said, here it is, all that Jesus has commanded.

Many centuries after Christ, Judaism identified 613 commands in the Torah that Jews are required to obey. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about, something that at least spells out what Jesus was referring to.

I am reporting here on an Orthodox Jewish book on spirituality that discusses what its title says, “The 6 Constant Mitzvos [Commands].” Of all the 613 commands, there are six – the author states – that must be obeyed every second of every day. The book describes what these are and offers a lot of suggestions on how a devoted and dedicated Jew would approach these.

As these are based on the Jewish writings in the Christian Bible, I look at these as candidates that Christians, too, should pay attention to.

(The 6 Constant Mitzvos, by Rabbi Yehuda Heimowitz, based on a series of lectures by Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowitz. The relatively recent publication of this book suggests that these commands may not have always been recognized as the author intends. Artscroll, 2009. 259 pages)

When all the Hebrew words are translated (which takes some time, using the internet) there are many ideas that are similar if not exactly equal to Catholic teachings. By their nature, of course, a lot are purely Jewish beliefs, though.

The topics that I think are mutually interesting to Jews and Catholics are the commands to worship God alone, to avoid the worship of idols, the examination of conscience, concepts of judgment after death (including purgatory), and the necessity of avoiding sin and repenting when we do sin.

The idea repeated emphatically in the book is that we earn our way into heaven. I’m not the one that’s going to compare and contrast to that idea the early Christian heresy of Pelagius, that our salvation is solely up to the discretion of each of us. But, in its own context, it is quite persuasive. The Jews take the 613 commands as a contract from God – obey them and you earn your way into the Divine Presence after one’s life on earth is over. The New Testament teaches that the blood of goats and sheep could never atone for sin. The Jews seem to take the commandments at face value, that a deal is a deal, you might say. This is how you earn your way to heaven.

Certainly at the core of Jewish and Christian philosophies is the emphasis on avoiding sin in our earthly life. The book places very great clarity and emphasis on the fact that sin damages the soul and destroys the opportunity for eternal pleasure. The author takes great pains to emphasize the necessity to avoid deceiving oneself about that (what is an offense against God), while seeking personal perfection.

I have not read the book; however, if the main theme stated by the rabbi is that by obeying these commands, one EARNS one’s way to heaven, he is distorting the true meaning of practicing the commandments (mitzvot) and does not really understand the teaching of Judaism at all. The main reason why we are told to follow the commandments is that G-d told us to do so, period. Even if we do not understand the meaning of all of them, we are instructed to obey them. The secondary reason why we are to follow G-d’s commandments is that they are morally good and therefore enrich our lives and the lives of others. These two reasons were summarized by both Hillel the Elder and Jesus: namely, love G-d by following the Law and love thy neighbor (and enemy) as you love yourself by following the Law. Thus love of G-d, love of others (humans, animals, all of Creation), and love of self are all encapsulated in the commandments. It has very little to do with earning one’s way to heaven. The Jewish emphasis on good works is because these form a significant part of the mitzvot: moral interactions in everyday life, ethics in the business world, relief of the suffering of the sick and the indigent, respect for the elderly, and so on. One must learn to do these things without regard for reward either in this world or the World to Come, and one must learn to do them honestly and with conviction, not merely as a matter of habit. This is what G-d’s Law demands.

I agree with that point.

Please excuse and forgive if I have misrepresented the author on Jewish belief. He certainly STATED several times the idea of earning one’s way into the eternal presence of God, but I wouldn’t want to be quoted that he denied your points, as I don’t think he does, nor would he get published in so prominent a publishing house. His ideas here are certainly not, nor do I even construe them, as an explanation of everything.

Books on spirituality, whether Jewish or Christian, assert that readers would probably be better off to re-read the books periodically. I think I would have to re-read this book carefully to account for where I know now the author is taking the argument.

But, one cannot or should not question his integrity or sincerity about obeying divine law, and I’m certainly not. Rather, as I stated in the OP, that I think this is a good book for Christians to consider simply because it is so concise about mitzvos that are so interestingly connected and relevant in every context. If I am trying, however awkwardly, to make any point, it is that every moment of life is sacred, and that a devout Jewish or Christian should likewise have Baruch HaShem on his every breath. Blessed be (the Name of) God.

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