…like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old
SERMON ON THE MOUNT AND TORAH PORTION
Even among non-Christians, there is a general consensus that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the greatest moral discourse ever given. But have you ever thought of the possibility that the Sermon on the Mount could have been a sermon on a specific Torah Portion – probably read that same Shabbat? Jesus’ audience would have known the Torah portions very well and therefore would have known exactly what he was referring to.
The last verse of Matthew 5: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”, makes this connection very evident. The Torah portion Kedoshim – “Holy People” (Lev. 19:1-20:27) – begins with similar words: “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.” It is in this Portion that we find the famous words that not only Jesus, but many Jewish sages before and after Him, considered to be the kernel of the entire Torah: “Love your neighbor as yourself”.
Certainly, these famous words were read and understood in many different ways. For instance, in the opening paragraph of the Manual of Discipline of the Dead Sea sect, one reads: “… to hate all that He has rejected”. For Jesus, however, these words spoke not only about loving friends or fellow-believers, but also about loving enemies, and this is what we find in His drash (interpretation) of Parashat Kedoshim (Torah portion Holy People).
And who is my neighbor?
These words – “Love your neighbor as yourself,” – are quoted in all the synoptic gospels. However, only Luke’s Gospel has the famous parable of the Good Samaritan where the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is addressed. What was so shocking in Jesus’ interpretation of one’s neighbor?
The episode opens with a “lawyer” asking Jesus how to inherit eternal life. In a traditional Jewish way, Jesus responds with a question: “What is written in the law?” The lawyer quotes verses from the Torah known to all Jews of his time— Deuteronomy 6:5: “ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” and Leviticus 19:18: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord”. These verses had already been combined in Jewish thought and had indeed been considered to be the foundation of the whole Torah; so, by this point we observe only continuity between the covenants.
But the conversation didn’t stop there—the dialogue continues, and the famous parable follows. The newness and shock of this parable may escape a non-Jewish reader, but it is important to understand that every Jew belonged to one of three groups: priests, descended from Aaron; Levites, descended from other children of Levi: and Israelites, descended from other children of Jacob. After mentioning a priest and a Levite in this story, a first-century Jew would have expected mention of someone from the third group—an Israelite.
However, the third person in the parable is not the expected Israelite but an unexpected Samaritan—the enemy of the Jews. Tensions between the Jews and the Samaritans were particularly high in the early decades of the 1st century, therefore not only is the appearance of this Samaritan absolutely striking, but the fact that this Samaritan proves to be a neighbor, while the priest and the Levite fail, directly challenges the contemporary Jewish interpretation of the word “neighbor”. Jesus’ interpretation of the term “neighbor” would have sounded absolutely shocking to his Jewish audience—thus, not only continuity, but also the newness of the New Testament, is evident here.
IS “TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK” A JEWISH VALUE?
The words of Jesus about “the other cheek” remain among his most famous sayings: But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.  At first glance, it seems that Jesus here has completely abolished the principle of “measure for measure” that we find in the Torah. However, you may be very surprised to learn that the very idea of “turning the other cheek” comes from the Hebrew Bible: in the book of Lamentations we read “Let him offer his cheek to the one who strikes him.” Is “turning the other cheek” a Jewish value, then?
In our search for an answer, let us turn to the Torah. In Numbers 35 we read about the cities of refuge, the establishment of which is ordered here by God: “you shall appoint cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person accidentally may flee there.” The reason a person corresponding to this definition needs protection is the fear of blood revenge by a relative of the killed person. If we recognize that the original purpose of this legislation was probably to limit the amount of revenge for an offense and to limit the location of the revenge as well, surprisingly, we might find the same purpose behind what seems to be a formal annulment. Thus, we find an unexpected parallel between the very concept of the cities of refuge, and “the other cheek” of Jesus: “do not retaliate, do not avenge” – this is the message in both cases.
The insights you read on these pages, are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or JBNT (Jewish Background of the NT) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion) classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, or learning more about the Jewish Background of the New Testament, I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding our amazing courses (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books – you can get them from my page: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/ . I also want to let you know that I am preparing a book with all these Hebrew insights into Torah and into New Testament, which I hope will be published and available soon.
 Lev. 19:18
 Lk. 10:29
 Matt. 5:39
 Lam. 3:30