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Yeshua Master Builder of Fences

Yeshua, like other rabbis, used a popular method of teaching in which a light commandment is linked to a heavy commandment to show that keeping the light commandment is just as important as keeping the heavy commandment.  The premise is that if a man keeps the light commandments he will not break the more serious heavy commandments. On the other hand, breaking a light commandment can have serious consequences because it could lead to breaking a heavy commandment. An early example of this method is found in 4 Maccabees 5:19-21.

Do not suppose that it would be a petty sin if we were to eat defiled food; to transgress the law in matters either small (light) or great (heavy) is of equal seriousness, for in either case the law is equally despised.

A saying from around the same time as Yeshua also reflects the use of this method. It is found in a famous quote recorded in the Mishnah[i] Avot 4:2 (Oral Law) –

One good deed leads to another good deed; one sin leads to another sin.  The reward for a good deed is another good deed; the reward for a sin is another sin.

The rabbis believed that if they could add something through their teachings that would help keep people from even breaking a light commandment, then that would even be better because their disciples would then be far more unlikely to break a heavy commandment too. They called adding a teaching that would keep people from breaking a light commandment “building a fence around the Torah.” This idea is clearly established in the Oral Law too --

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgment. Establish many pupils. And build a fence around the Torah.[ii]

The Torah was viewed as a garden and the commandments as the precious plants in YAHWEH’s Garden.[iii] The teachers of the Torah viewed themselves as the guards and protectors of YAHWEH’s Garden. Yeshua clearly saw himself as a guard and protector of the Torah, too – he was a master builder of fences around the Torah.

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