Matthew 5:17 Ministries

What Is The Greatest Commandment? – Matthew 22:34-40

In this passage, Matthew notes how some Pharisees got together to construct their rabbinic challenge to this rabbi from Galilee. They chose from among them one who was a Torah expert to pose his rabbinic question. Once again, It becomes evident that this group of leaders, like the others, wished to trap Yeshua into somehow incriminating himself in a vain attempt to discredit his claims of Messiahship.

Their representative brings forth a central question to Yeshua, which of all the commandments given in the Torah was the greatest? The question had no doubt been asked countless times in the, with various answers given. It is also not a coincidence that a later rabbi, Sha’ul, would answer the question with this familiar teaching (Romans 1:17). Yet, how would Yeshua answer this pressing question?

The Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:4–9)

His response focuses on the most central prayer in the Jewish liturgy—the Sh’ma. Three times daily, traditional Jews have chanted the proclamation, “Sh’ma Yis-ra-eil, A-do-nai E-lo-hei-nu, A-do-nai E-chad.” “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God; the LORD is One.” Since the first verse (6:4) is a declaration of our faith in G-d, Yeshua addresses the commandment that immediately follows: “You are to love ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Of all the possibilities, it is most beautiful that Yeshua draws our attention to the value of not just the Torah but the entirety of the Scriptures—love. G-d has revealed his love to Israel and the world most concretely. Besides our daily blessings of life, provision, and purpose, G-d demonstrated his love for us by sending the Son, the Mashiach. It is not just a command for us to love G-d but a response to G-d’s attitude toward us.

John would also echo this when he stated, “We ourselves love now because he loved us first” (I Yochanan/1 John 4:19). Not surprisingly, therefore, as Yeshua elucidates his response, the greatest commandment goes back to the Torah and Moshe—love G-d. Our personal, loving relationship with our Heavenly Father is the top priority in Yeshua’s call to discipleship, and this is to be with the entirety of our being. With all our heart (lev), which means our spiritual being. With all our soul (nefesh), indicating our humanity. With all our strength (meod), meaning with all we have.

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself (Leviticus 19:18)

Yeshua now points out that a second mitzvah is similar to it. It is not just a religious connection to G-d; there is also the call to love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). This would seem to be a clear command on the surface, but other details may arise on further examination. Most notably, the rabbis questioned the exact meaning of “neighbor” in the Torah. Is it one close to you or any fellow Jew?

Yeshua answered this issue in another discussion where he gave the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25). How beautiful that the Messiah highlighted that anyone, even someone outside our community like the Samaritan, is our neighbor in G-d’s eyes. All humanity is created in the image of G-d. Yeshua’s rabbinic answer covers our existence and the world to come. Love G-d and love all humanity, even as you have a love for yourself. Accordingly, the Torah and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.

Love Is The Foundation

It is only suitable to address a common issue in many Christian teachings in this passage. Many take this passage to mean that the only two commandments to be observed are to love G-d and others. However, in doing so, they ignore verse 40, which says all the Torah hangs from those two. The word “All” indicates that there is more to the Torah. In these verses, Yeshua states that love for G-d and others is central to understanding and keeping the Torah. Love is the foundation and nature of the Torah; therefore, without love, we cannot fully understand and follow it as it is intended to be understood and followed.