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.