A Closer Look:
#12 The Most Violated Commandment

By Joel Heller

We are instructed not to add to nor diminish from the commandments that Moses delivered to us from God.1 This is not as easy as it looks. Humans are seemingly hard-wired to make rules.

One day at the organization I worked for, we had a “team-building” day. There was no business transacted that day. We went through training activities designed to build esprit de corps. One of the exercises had us divided into groups of ten people. Each group had to find a way to cross a hypothetical toxic river in the parking lot. Touching the “water” meant instant death. We had carpet pieces which we could place as “stepping stones.” We were told to discuss and plan and come to a consensus on a plan, and then execute the plan. 

There were only three rules in the instructions, one of which was that the whole group must step onto the far “shore” at the same time. As we discussed ideas, many suggestions were shot down by someone saying, “No, we can’t do that. We have to do it this way.” To that I would push back saying, “That’s not in the givens.” People didn’t realize that they were making up new rules.

One of our group had an idea, but rather than describe it for discussion, he demonstrated it. Everybody saw that it would work. We did that plan and were finished with the exercise in under ten minutes. The groups who kept planning and discussing and discussing and planning eventually had time called without ever even beginning to execute. They could not accomplish the task with all the new rules they made up.

In Jewish tradition, there are myriad rules and regulations which Moses never heard of. When Jeramiah said:

Thus said the Lord to me: Go and stand in the People’s Gate, by which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go forth, and in all the gates of Jerusalem, and say to them: Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem who enter by these gates! Thus said the Lord: Guard yourselves for your own sake against carrying burdens on the sabbath day, and bringing them through the gates of Jerusalem. Nor shall you carry out burdens from your houses on the sabbath day, or do any work, but you shall hallow the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. (But they would not listen or turn their ear; they stiffened their necks and would not pay heed or accept discipline.)2

He was not issuing new legislation; he was dealing with a particular situation in his capacity as a prophet. The problem was that vendors were setting up the marketplace on Shabbat.

The sages not only adopted this prophetic correction as halakha, Jewish law, but expanded it to include carrying from public to private domains. The rules about carrying on the Sabbath got so burdensome that the Rabbis invented the eruv, a legal fiction which makes public space private on Shabbat.

At the other end of the Jewish spectrum, the Reform movement, in its 1885 Pittsburgh Platform, declared kashrut to be superseded by modernity.

 We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet . . . originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.3 

Most Christians claim that the Torah was abolished by Yeshua’s death and resurrection. Though he himself said “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil,”4 and “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”5 and “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”6 “All” will not be fulfilled until Messiah returns his kingdom to the Father at the end of the ages.7

Many believe that abolishing Torah is a good thing. They say that it is impossible to keep correctly. They allege that people who live by Torah are “trying to earn salvation.” This is erroneous. Salvation is and has always been “by grace through faith (trust).”8 In the vacuum generated by removing Moses’ instruction, most denominations invent their own rules.

Moses tells us, “Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.”9 We show our faith love and gratitude to God by keeping his commandments. And His commandments are not a burden.10

Not only can we follow God’s instructions. David even calls it a delight to do so.11 If we aren’t finding delight, maybe we’re doing it wrong.


1 Deut. 4:2, 12:32.  
Jer. 17:19–23.
Matt 5:17.

5 Matt 5:18.

6 Luke 16:17.

7 1 Cor 15:24.

8 Eph 2:8.

9 Deut. 30:11–14.

10 1John 5:3

11 Ps. 40:8, 119:35.

Joel Heller Profile Picture

Joel Heller is the author of Neither Yavne nor Antioch: Recovering Nazarean Judaism. He is a retired member of the Kansas Bar. In place of traditional Protestant presuppositions, he brings the common-law principles of legal interpretation to the interpretation of God’s Law, called the Torah or Nomos. You can reach him by email.