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D'varim/Deuteronomy 5:1 ... and you shall learn them and take care to do them
The word , from the root , "to keep guard, observe", here translated "take care" is a Qal Affix 2mp form - normally translated in the past tense - with a vav-reversive to give it a future sense. In this case, it is the third command to the Israelites in the verse: listen, learn, take care to do. Friedman points out that this is yet another link back to the beginning of the Torah, when Adam and Havah are placed in the Garden of Eden "to watch over it" (B'resheet 2:15); when they disobey and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they are put out of the garden and cherubs are placed "to watch over the way to the Tree of Life" (B'resheet 3:24); Cain then uses the same word when he says, "Am I my brother's keeper" (B'resheet 4:9). But G-d redeems the word when He uses it twice in the phrase , "he kept my watch" to describe Avraham. Friedman concludes, "The word thus come to point the way to a return to harmony with The Creator."
The writers of the commentary in Ets Hayim suggest that "observance of the law is seen as the purpose of its study" (page 1016) and make reference to the Talmud where Rabbi Papa says, "whosoever is engaged in observance is also regarded as engaged in study, but whosoever is not engaged in observance is not regarded as engaged in study" (b. Yevamot 109b). R. Papa's words seem to indicate that observance is seen as the proof or outward sign of study, rather than the purpose of study. If you are seen to be observing the carrying out the commandments, then it shows that you have previously studied them in order to know what they mean and how to carry them out properly; contrariwise, if you make no attempt to observe the commandments, it is assumed that you have not studied them so have no understanding of their importance or existence or how to observe them correctly.
The importance of 'doing' is often lost in our modern individualistic society, where intellectual assent is considered more important than physical action. Starting from Rav Sha'ul's letter to Ephesus, where he says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of G-d; not as a result of works, that no-one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB) and progressing to, "If you confess with your mouth Yeshua as L-rd and believe in your heart that G-d raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved" (Romans 10:9, NASB), a gospel is preached that requires nothing of the believer except that first step of calling on the name of the L-rd and claiming belief in Him. Using Yeshua's parable about the workers hired throughout the day to work in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) and the well-known conclusion, "the last shall be first and the first shall be last" (Matthew 20:16, NASB), deathbed conversions, where the believer has - of course - no opportunity to 'do' anything, are taught as normative. Without denying the truth of people who come to know and accept Yeshua in the closing stages of their lives - which we firmly believe is a valid part of the gospel - this emphasis effectively robs believers of the incentive and motivation - not to mention joy and privilege - of working for and serving the L-rd in their lives. Neither is it an accurate reflection of the gospel that the Scripture teaches to those - the vast majority - who find the L-rd at an earlier point in our lives.
James is quite blunt about it: "Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves" (James 1:22, NASB). It is by 'doing', James says, that we prove that our faith is real, that we really have connected with G-d, rather than just hearing some nice ideas and latching on to them without making any real investment in what we have heard. "Talk is cheap" or "Put your money where your mouth is", the world would say; James agrees: "For just as the body with the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead" (James 2:25, NASB). Lest you should think that James always was a bit strict and that Yeshua wouldn't have been so hard, check out His conversation with the disciples at the Last Supper: "If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it; if you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:14-15, NASB). Yeshua expresses His relationship with us by 'doing' - ultimately, of course, by dying for us - and calls us to do the same: to obey His commandments.
Further Study: Romans 2:13; James 1:22-25
Application: What will you do today? How can you express your faith in a tangible way that will both encourage you and serve G-d in the body of Messiah? What new command can you learn and then put into practice?
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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