I want to go to the Kingdom, but exceed? How can that be? The Pharisees were the most righteous people alive in Yeshua’s day! To understand what Yeshua means, it is imperative to be familiar with what Pharisees believe.
As some of you know, I grew up in the church of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee, the heart of the “Bible belt”. My mother enforced a very strict church regime (which I am thankful for today), but we were never taught anything about the Pharisees. We avoided that subject like the plague. It wasn’t until I went on an Israel tour in 2003 that I understood the Pharisee belief better.
Our Christian tour guide, Yoni Gerrish, explained to us about the Talmud, the book that the Ultra-Orthodox Jews carefully follow. Through the millennia, in order to not trespass against any commandment written in Torah (Gen-Deut) they built “fences” around the commandments to keep them from coming close to breaking Torah. For instance, they have rules on how to put on your shoes, which leg to put in your pants first in the morning and so on. Like Yeshua said, they have made the burden too hard for men. Every single task is regimented. Impossible. One “fence” they have built is even mentioned in the gospels. There is a rule about washing your hands ceremonially before eating. You use a cup, pouring water over one hand while holding the cup (I don’t know which hand has to be first, but you can see how it’s done in the film, “Ushpizin”.) in the other hand while saying a specific blessing, and then repeat the process on the other hand. The Pharisees and scribes came to Yeshua with this question:
“Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders (Talmud)? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”The Pharisees in Matthew 15:2 (Mark chapter 7 touches on this account as well.)
Yeshua counters their question by concluding:
“These defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”Yeshua in Matthew 15:20
Basically, Yeshua was teaching against Talmud in this conversation. Talmud had grown more important than Torah to them. Yeshua was breaking their “fences” down, and it infuriated them. He was stripping the elders of their power. Yeshua was making it clear that Torah, not Talmud, was King. The Word of Eloheim over the traditions of the elders.
So, back to our original question. How do we become more righteous than the Pharisees? We look at what Yeshua says. We take into account what He said is the first (greatest) commandment.
How do we love YHVH with all of our heart, soul and strength? Well, how did Yeshua do it? Obeying Him! Action! If we fail at the greatest commandment, the others are pointless.
What next? Yeshua says that loving your neighbor is the next important commandment and tells us what that looks like in His parable of the good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37) Compassion, patience, mercy and grace encompass how we should treat people. Sometimes easier said than done. People can be real jerks.
Love the Father. Love others.