The Greatest Commandments, Part 7

This is part of a series of posts that studies each of the commandments in the Torah (law), then maps them in a massive visual hierarchy that details their interconnected nature.

Have a look at:

That said, let’s kick this week off with a big commandment:

No Slandering

Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

-Leviticus 19:16, part a

We may think of slandering as defaming a person in public, or speaking ill of a person, but Judaism has traditionally seen this commandment as something different: lashon hara (literally “evil tongue”).

Lashon hara is said to be different than defamation. While defamation may be summarized as speaking falsehood about a person in order to dirty their name, by contrast, lashon hara is said to be speaking a negative truth about someone with an evil intent. Defamation, lies, and exaggerations are considered even worse, and fall under a separate category.

Much could be said about the serious nature of lashon hara: rabbis claim Israel was punished in the wilderness due to lashon hara. Solomon devoted much of the the Book of Proverbs underlining the serious nature of evil speech:

He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.

To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

A scoundrel plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.

A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue.

…just to name a few blurbs from Israel’s Wise Man.

Even the psalmist joins in, claiming only those who refrain from evil speech may enter God’s holy place,

LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
       Who may live on your holy hill?

He whose walk is blameless
       and who does what is righteous,
       who speaks the truth from his heart

and has no slander on his tongue,
       who does his neighbor no wrong
       and casts no slur on his fellowman

And numerous times, this psalmist cries out for shelter from evil speech:

How great is your goodness,
       which you have stored up for those who fear you,
       which you bestow in the sight of men
       on those who take refuge in you.

In the shelter of your presence you hide them
       from the intrigues of men;
       in your dwelling you keep them safe
       from accusing tongues.

It cannot be understated how important this commandment was to the patriarchs of the faith. One wonders what full, unseen ramifications this has in our modern culture, with its unrestrained lashon hara against public figures, celebrities, friends, and even family members.

Kineti reader and Greatest Commandments Project contributor Nathan Tuggy has mapped this commandment as deriving from “no hating your brother” commandment. I agree with him:


No Revenge and No Grudges

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

-Leviticus 19:18

The commandment preceding the golden “love your neighbor” commandment is to refrain from seeking revenge, and from bearing a grudge, against one of your people.

This highlights again the question “does this apply to everyone, or just Jews?”

Last week we saw how Maimonides interpreted “no hating your brother” commandment as “no hating other Jews”. It is certainly an arguable point, as brother implies kinship and blood relation. Even the “love your neighbor” commandment here is preceded with “one of your people” indicating that, yes, this commandment was intended to apply to Israelites alone.

Thus, the importance of the question “Who is an Israelite?” comes to the fore. As a firm believer in the restoration of the two houses of Israel, and also as someone who sees gentiles in Messiah as being grafted into the commonwealth of Israel, brought near to the the covenants with Israel, made first-class citizens of the commonwealth of Israel, I say this commandment applies to Jews and gentiles. When Messiah restated this commandment to love your neighbor, I argue he intended for future generations of his gentiles followers to honor and obey this commandment just as Israel was to obey it.

Messiah reiterated this commandment to love one another. And I believe that applies to all of us, Jew or gentile, who call him Master and Lord. Not only this commandment, but each of the commandments in the Torah applying to the whole assembly of Israel.

We deem both of these commandments as deriving from the “no hating your brother” commandment:


No Oppressing the Weak

Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.

Exodus 22:22 (22:21 in Jewish Bibles)

Though the text explicitly cites widows and orphans, Maimonides summarizes this commandment as the more general “do not oppress the weak”.

I think he does well in this generalization, as the spirit of the commandment could arguably be applied to numerous groups: the sick, injured, mentally ill, children, etc. Don’t take advantage of them! Common sense, and I think religious people today do well to this end, barring the occasional religious scam artists.

We deem this commandment as deriving directly from the golden “love your neighbor as yourself” commandment. In time, I suspect this commandment will have numerous child commandments deriving from it, as the Torah contains several pertaining to widows and orphans (and arguably, by extension, the weak):


No Idolatry

Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.

-Leviticus 19:4

This simple commandment to refrain from idolatry, specifically, gods fashioned by human hands, is arguably less relevant today, as most in our modern culture do not worship gods made with human hands.

However, even in the first century during Messiah’s time and the lifetime of his disciples, idolatry was a huge issue among gentiles in Messiah, so much that, in Acts 15, the apostles ruled this matter was of utmost importance in terms of salvation:

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."

-Apostles’ ruling in Acts 15 on gentiles, Torah, and salvation

But today, idolatry and food sacrificed to idols is a non-issue. Of course, some may argue we have idols in different forms: anything that takes precedence over God is an idol: television, internet, entertainment, money, and so on. And indeed, there are some statements from the Apostolic Scriptures that indicate idolatry is more than just worship of hand-made gods, and thus this commandment is still relevant to today’s culture.

This commandment is a reiteration - and more explicit form – of the 2nd commandment: to have no other gods before the LORD. I’ve derived it as such:


Remember God’s Commandments Through Tassels

You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.

-Numbers 15:39

Interesting commandment. First of all, a little context: what “tassels” are being spoken of here? From the preceding verse:

Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel.

-The preceding verse, Numbers 15:38

This is quite the surprising verse to most Christians, and I think this idea of tassels, or fringes, on your garment is an idea very foreign or even silly to our modern world. I mean, why would God require us to wear a particular fragment of clothing?

The commandment makes clear the purpose is to cause us to remember all God’s commandments and turn away from evil. Clothing may have been chosen because it’s part of every day life, continually with you. I’m betting some of you fine blog readers have comments on this.

Alternate Interpretation

With this tassels commandment, I’ve diverged, again, from Maimonides’ interpretation. (Sorry, Rambam!) The way he interprets this commandment is via the negative “do not follow the lusts of your heart”. While that is certainly a part of this commandment, I dissented from this summary because the preceding and following verses indicate the commandment is given for the sake of remembering all God’s commandments. Turning from lusts is the side-effect.

Fringe Controversies

This commandment is one that some Biblical scholars deem a sign commandment. That is, a commandment given as a sign between God and the Jews, and thus, gentiles have no part in this commandment.

It’s very tempting to say this, given virtually all Christians and many Messianics do not keep this commandment about fringes. It is very convenient to say, “this commandment is special, and doesn’t apply to all God’s people.” Heck, personally I have trouble keeping this commandment daily, and tend to only wear the fringes on shabbat and the holy days.

However, as a matter of consistency, one must concede that this commandment contains no special treatment in the text, and its categorization as a sign commandment is superficial. The most one can say is, it is addressed to the Israelites. But to stay honest, we must also conceded commandments like “do not hate your brother” and “love your neighbor as yourself” are addressed to Israelites as well, at least implicitly, and indeed, the rabbis of Judaism have traditionally interpreted it this way, and the text also implies it through terms like “brother” and “neighbor”.

So where does that leave us? It brings us back to the question of whether gentiles-in-Messiah are Israelites. I am convinced that yes, gentiles in Messiah are grafted into Israel, citizens of the commonwealth of Israel, and thus are part of God’s people and ought to keep as much of the commandments as they are able, and that includes this commandment to remember the all God’s commandments through fringes, so that we might not stray.

…But Messianics do not keep it?

Sadly, yes, Messianics by and large do not keep this. Although a number of Jewish Messianics observe this commandment, it is by no means unanimous; in fact, I can think of several Jewish UMJC leaders that don’t keep this.

And due to the discouragement and controversy around Messiah’s gentiles keeping this commandment, very few Messianic gentiles honor this commandment for fear of offending Jewish Messianics.

This is the first commandment we’ve mapped where observant Judaism keeps this commandment, but largely Messianic Judaism does not: most Messianics do not remember God’s commandments via tassels on the garments, as God commanded us to. And I think it’s a shame.


Because of its focus and purpose on remembering God’s commandments, I deem this commandment deriving from “keep all God’s commandments”:



Some interesting commandments this week – and lots of controversy surrounding some of these commandments. Humans make things more complicated – and controversial – than they really are. Fortunately, I made this post so long, though, that I bet only a few will comment on the controversial matters. Neener neener neener. ;-)

For those of you keeping score at home, here’s the stats on the commandments we’ve mapped so far:

  • 33 commandments have been mapped.
  • The project is 5.4% complete.
  • 24% of the commandments have alternate text readings.
  • 15% are from Exodus.
  • 42% are from Leviticus.
  • 6% are from Numbers.
  • 36% are from Deuteronomy.
  • 93% can be carried out in modern times.
  • 54% are positive commandments.
  • 46% are negative commandments.
  • 66% are observed by Christians.
  • 87% are observed by Messianics.
  • 90% are observed by Jews.
  • The average commandment length is 128 characters.
  • The average summary length is 27 characters.

And finally, many thanks to Kineti reader Nathan Tuggy who’s really helped bring some order and consistency to this project. I expected next to zero contribution, and he’s totally commandeering this project now. He’s contributed to the mapping of the commandments, fixed my buggy code, offered insights to improvement, boatloads of good coming from him. Thumbs up, Nate. :-)

The Big Picture

Behold, in all it’s glory, the current snapshot of our work.


(Click to enlarge)

Hope you enjoyed this week’s installment, fine Kineti blog readers!


  1. I live to serve! 8-)

    Seriously, though, this is exactly the sort of project I love: lots of details, lots of tweaks, lots of enhancements -- and I can program more directly for G-d's glory than is normally the case.

    Till next time, and more commandments with it!

  2. Awesome, sir! :-) Hey, I forgot to commit my changes + the couple commandments I mapped tonight. I'll get them committed shortly.

    Thanks again, Nathan!

  3. Judah,

    The reason the way of making tassels is to make 5 knots with 8 strings (13, which is combined with the Hebrew gematria value of 'tzitzit'/"tassel" which is 600, thus 613) is for the reason that the tassel itself represents the Torah.

    During Shahharith (the morning prayers) the verses of Kriath Shma` include the passage in Numbers 15 regarding tassels; the tassels are held throughout and are kissed at each mention of them, and are held before to the eyes to be gazed at when it says "urithem otham" ("and you shall see them").

  4. Also, the text implies a number of things which also shapes the halakha of tassels. One of them is that they are only binding when one wears 4 cornered garments. That means just about never today unless someone is wearing a poncho, haha. So technically, if you don't wear 4 cornered garments, you don't need to wear tassels--but in order not to miss out on this command (and therefore miss out on the spiritual protection and other blessings/benefits to it), we continue to wear talitoth (talits).

    In fact, one of the other uses of the talit (whether qatan/small, worn under the shirt, or gadol/big worn outer) is to help keep the command of being unique ("holy") from all other nations.

  5. Aaron, excellent commentary.

    You mention the part about being peculiar, distinct from the nations. I wanted to mention that in one of the justifications for tassels. Thanks for bringing it up.

    What do you think: gentiles who love Messiah and attach themselves to Israel - should they wear fringes?

    p.s. You need to get a blog.

  6. Dear blog readers,

    You might be interested in Commandment Deep Zoom: it's a Silverlight web application that lets you zoom in on the commandments hierarchy with your mouse. Pretty cool stuff:

    Commandments Deep Zoom.

    Works in Firefox, IE, Mac, Windows.

  7. I think the issue over tzit-tzityot seen in the Messianic movement has very little to do with the validity of the command. I think we pretty much all recognize it as valid, and that Yeshua followed it. When it comes to application, that is where we see XYZ opinions.

    How are they to to be tied? What do we do about the blue dye? Do we wear a tallit? Should women observe this command? Etc. Etc.

    There is certainly variance seen across the spectrum in Judaism, but I have never seen a Jew wear tzit-tzits on beltloops (so I think that this view can easily be disregarded). Most of the Messianics I know fall somewhere in the Conservative-Reform category: tallits on Shabbat day services. Sometimes the tassels are all white, sometimes they have a thread of blue. I find no significant problem with this application.

    Let's keep in mind that wearing tzit-tzityot does not classify as being one of the "weightier matters," and not be unfair to anyone who may not share our opinion on how the command is to be applied. And yes, things have become complicated by an entire cottage industry out there with people selling tzit-tzits!

  8. JK,

    Balanced comments as always. I agree that this commandment regarding fringes is not one of the weightier matters in the law, so it should be looked at though that perspective.

  9. Dear blog readers,

    For your personal pleasure, here's one perfectly-shaped female wearing fringes. ;-)

    (...and you thought it was gonna be dirty. Get your mind out of the gutter!)

  10. All my comments on ṣiṣith were only reiteration of Orthodox halakha and minhag.

    More comments I'd like to make regarding ציצת/ṣiṣith, referring to Numbers 15:37-41 and Deuteronomy 22:12:

    The command of ṣiṣith includes the placement of pethil tekheleth (a thread of tekheleth) within the ṣiṣith. Tekheleth is not a color. It is only a color by way of it being a substance with which is a assigned a certain color. There are just a couple differences of opinion about which is the real tekheleth. A random blue thread not of the substance tekheleth is not valid as tekheleth and does not magically substitute for tekheleth. Tekheleth had been unavailable (and some may argue still is) and therefore ṣiṣith without tekheleth is the norm. Especially since there is unsurity in the minds of most Jews as to which, if any, of the few possibilities of what is real tekheleth is indeed the real thing--all white ṣiṣith are the norm.

    Ṣiṣith are to be made of twisted threads, and it is a halakha that they must be specially manufactured for the purpose of the miṣwa of ṣiṣith and consequently made by a Jew using proper intent in their making.

    They are only for four cornered garments, not belt loops nor any other non-four-cornered-garment; this is a basic violation of the written miṣwa.

    The ṣiṣith are specifically for men, women need not wear them. "Wait wait-it doesn't say that", you may object, since banim (sons) either means sons or children (it is only said banoth/daughters when it is strictly a group of females). Therefore how does one know if in this instance it is referring to only men and not men and women? The answer is the Oral Tradition without which no one can properly adhere to the text of the Torah. The Oral Tradition explains that it refers only to men. If you don't like it and think its wrong, consider the miṣwa in the text of the Torah that no Moabite can become an Israelite (Dt. 23:4). Yet Ruth became an Israelite. Its not a contradiction with the Torah, because the Oral Tradition explains that Dt. 23:4 refers specifically to males and excludes females.

    If someone is wondering why I use seemingly weird transliterations, please see here.

  11. My third paragraph is referring to the threads of ṣiṣith. Similar applies to tying ṣiṣith as well, which can either be pre-tied when bought, or tied by the buyer. When tied, a brakha (blessing) must be recited and proper kawana (intent) used.

  12. I was reciting Kriath Shma` last night and realized its "urithem otho" not "otham", my bad.