The Selfless Yoke

The Didache - Chapter 2

Every commandment and instruction found in the Didache strengthens either our love for God or love for our neighbor.


DidacheJun 1, 2018

DidacheJun 1, 2018


Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

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Ever heard of the Didache? It’s is one of the earliest writings by believers in Yeshua that some feel was written as early as 50 CE. It is a manual of practical-living instructions written for new Gentile believers in Messiah.

It may even contain material older than many of Paul’s epistles and the Gospel of John. The Didache offers believers today an incredible window into the life of Yeshua-believers at a time in which believers functioned as a sect within Judaism and not as a separate religion.

The Didache is sixteen chapters long, and there are exactly sixteen Sabbaths between Shavu’ot and Rosh HaShanah. In turn, it presents a perfect opportunity to study one chapter of the Didache a week throughout the summer. We will be presenting a blog each week previewing some of the commentary of The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles.

Chapter 2 of the Didache continues to expound on the Way of Life. However, there is a switch from focusing on the injunction to “Love your fellow as yourself” in chapter 1 to covering injunctions that fall under “the second commandment of the teaching”: “Whatever you do not want to happen to you, do not do to one another.”

The chapter opens with content similar to the Ten Commandments and then brings forth some instructions regarding proper speech. It closes with verse 7, which functions as a kind of summary of the chapter:

Do not hate any human being; but some you are to rebuke, and some you are to pray for, yet some you are to love even more than your own life. (Didache 2.7)

The passage reminds us of the passage in Jude: “Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22‒23). It reflects the message of love that our Master Yeshua taught: a love that results in challenging some, praying for others, and giving up our lives for still others.

In the verse right before it, we find a passage that summarizes the entirety of the Master’s yoke to love both God and man:

Do not be greedy, or predatory, or hypocritical, or malicious, or arrogant. Do not plot evil against your fellow. (Didache 2.6)

The first part of this verse corresponds to the love of HaShem and the second to the love of one’s neighbor. Let me explain.

The Shma

How does “Do not be greedy, or predatory, or hypocritical, or malicious, or arrogant” reflect our love for HaShem? The commandment to love God in the Torah is found in the Shma:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

Loving God is divided up into three categories: with all one’s heart, soul, and mind. The sages break this down and explain what each of these separate areas means:

“With all your heart” means, with your two impulses, the evil impulse as well as the good impulse; “with all your soul” means, even though he takes your soul [life]; “with all your might” means, with all your money. (m.Brachot 9:5)

Loving him with all your heart essentially means with your inclinations, both your good and your bad ones by curbing them for good. “Soul” in Hebrew here is the word nefesh, which can mean “life.” Loving God with all our soul means loving him even to the point of death or martyrdom. “Might” is the Hebrew word me’od, which can mean “strength, property, and wealth.” God requires us to love him even enough to give up all our worldly possessions. Not that we will all be asked to do that, but that we could if we were.

The Didache’s “do nots” reflect these three areas:

  1. Heart = Do not be arrogant or malicious.
  2. Life = Do not be hypocritical.
  3. Strength/Possession = Do not be greedy or predatory.

To love God with all our heart requires curbing our desires, which include arrogance and maliciousness. To love God with all our life requires that we die to ourselves and live to serve God only. A hypocrite lives to serve himself and receive praise. In turn, a hypocrite does not love God with all his life. Finally, to love God with all our possessions requires that we let go of greed and the desire to prey on others. Therefore, in this passage, we have a veiled allusion to the Shma and the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.

Loving Your Neighbor

If this is true, then the Didache’s “Do not plot evil against your fellow” corresponds to the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Remember in chapter 1 the Didache adds, “Whatever you do not want to happen to you, do not do to one another,” which is a paraphrase of “as yourself.” We noted that chapter 1 covers positive comments that you should do to your neighbor and chapter 2 covers negative commandments of actions you should not do to your neighbor. Not plotting “evil against your fellow” is part of the mitzvah to love your neighbor.

Conclusion

So, here in Didache 2.6, we find a summary of the Master’s yoke to love God and one’s neighbor. The Master’s yoke is the Way of Life. The Didache lays this out in chapter 1, and it continues to reiterate this throughout the work. In fact, every commandment and instruction found in the Didache strengthens either our love for God or love for our neighbor. As disciples, we take this yoke upon ourselves. This is the yoke of discipleship.

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About the Author: Toby Janicki is the main teacher and Camp Dad for the 12-21 youth initiative, as well as a teacher and writer for First Fruits of Zion. He is also the Communications Coordinator for the Torah Club program and has authored several books including God-Fearers and a comprehensive commentary on the Didache titled: The Way of Life. More articles by Toby Janicki