Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:19 (KJV)
Least commandments – I assume you know which commandments are the two greatest – love God, and love your neighbor. But do you know which ones are the least? If not, it might surprise you that Yeshua places an importance on the keeping even the least of them.
It’s often said that we no longer need the law because we’re under grace. The claim is that prior to Yeshua’s death, it was the law that brought salvation, but now it’s through grace. But this was never the case. The law was never given for the purpose of eternal salvation in the afterlife. In fact, when reading, you might notice that eternal salvation and the afterlife are hardly ever discussed in the Old Testament, especially not in the Torah. The law only ever provided the freedom to know what pleases YHVH, and a guidelines for His will on earth. It was always about life here for the living, not about life after death.
But there is a connection between the afterlife and keeping the commandments, which Yeshua makes very clear. If you keep, even the least of the commandments, you’ll be greater in the kingdom. Obviously, despite what western Christianity attempts to preach, Yeshua himself values those who keep all the commandments and will reward them in a “greater” way. But entrance to eternal salvation is an invitation through grace – through Yeshua.
Let’s take a look at the Mesillat Yesharim to understand this a bit more.
Therefore has God, blessed be His Name, given us the Mizvot. For this world is the only place where the Mizvot can be observed. Man is put here in order to earn with the means at his command the place that has been prepared for him in the world to come. In the words of our Sages, “This day is intended for the observance of the Mizvot; the morrow, for the enjoyment of the reward earned by means of them” (Er. 22a)
Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, Mesillat Yesharim, p17
So to clarify, the ability to enter the kingdom is provided by Yeshua. He offers us the invite through His grace. Now that we’re there, where we are placed in the kingdom depends greatly on the extent with which we observe the Torah. Do you see a difference? Yeshua realized the difference as He remarked in Matthew 5:19 above.
So what is one of the least commandments? Well that’s found in Deuteronomy 22:6 according to the Sages. But there are others such as paying tithes as mentioned by Yeshua in Matthew 23:23. Then there are also weightier commandments that include anything relating to judgment, mercy, or faith.
Did you know that the Sages agreed that the preserving of life always superseded the observance of the law with three exceptions?
There is no action that can stand before saving life, in precedence, except: idolatry, forbidden sexual transgressions, and murder. (Ketubot 19a)
In all other laws of the Torah, if a person is commanded, ‘You must break this law or suffer death,’ that one must transgress [the law of the Torah and live], except in the case of idolatry, forbidden sexual transgressions and murder. (Sanhedrin 74a)
So ultimately, one must choose death before transgressing one of these commandments, but all others can be broken to preserve a life if necessary. These were wise men who made these conclusions, and well studied in Torah. But again these were speculations until Yeshua clarified them further. One thing is for sure:
Be as meticulous in fulfilling a light commandment as a heavy commandment, because you do not know what type of reward will be given for which commandment. (Mishnah, Avot 2:1)
So keep in mind that eternal salvation is provided by the grace found in Yeshua, but where you are placed in the kingdom depends upon your choices today. Do you commit yourself to the entire Torah, even the least commandments, or do you choose disobedience?