First Fruits of Zion is proud to announce the completion of a Messianic Jewish translation and commentary on the Didache entitled The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles. You can order this now. 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.
In chapter 5 the Didache, as it continues the Two Ways section, turns from illustrating the Way of Life to expounding the Way of Death.
But this is the Way of Death, which is first of all evil and full of curses: murder, adultery, lust, sexual immorality, theft, idolatry, magic, use of potions, robbery, false witness, hypocrisy, duplicity, deceit, arrogance, malice, egocentrism, greed, foul speech, jealousy, overconfidence, loftiness, and pretension.
It is the way of those who persecute good; those who hate truth; those who love falsehood; those who are ignorant of the wages of righteousness; those who do not cling to what is good or to righteous judgment; those who keep watch not for good but for wickedness; those who are far from being considerate and persevering; those who love frivolous things; those who seek repayment; those who are merciless to the poor; those who do not trouble themselves for the oppressed; those who do not recognize the one who made them; those who murder children; those who corrupt what God has formed; those who turn away the needy; those who oppress the greatly distressed; those who are advocates of the wealthy; and those who are lawless judges of the poor—those who are utterly sinful. Children, may you be rescued from all of these! (Didache 5:1-2)
Even though the Didache briefly mentions the Way of Death in the first verse of chapter 1, the book’s contents thus far have dealt exclusively with the Way of Life. What is striking is not only how long it takes the Didache to address the Way of Death but also the stark contrast between the amount of space it gives to the Way of Death and that given to the Way of Life.
Although the new Gentile believers did not need as elaborate a description of the Way of Death as of the Way of Life, it was important that the new believers knew exactly what behavior would not be tolerated within the Messianic communities. In essence, chapter 5 defines the lifestyle and character traits of those who are completely wicked and far from God. Such behavior should not be found among followers of the Master.
Teachings on Jewish ethics prescribe a study of both good character traits and bad character traits to discern proper behavior. We find in the sixteenth-century Jewish ethical work Orchot Tzaddikim:
The righteous man must recognize good and evil and be an expert in the value of each trait. He must properly observe and reflect upon them and exert himself physically and intellectually to rid himself of folly and to embrace understanding and remove admixture of dross. 
Only through the study and contemplation of evil traits can we completely rid these qualities from our lives. If we don’t know how to recognize wrongdoing, we will not be able to purge it.
Messianic luminary Paul Philip Levertoff comments on the order of the prayers in the Amidah where the prayer for knowledge is before the prayer for repentance:
First it says, “You grant knowledge to mankind.” After the petition for knowledge, we ask for repentance. Without knowledge of sins, one cannot differentiate between good and evil. Without knowledge, a person would not come to repentance. 
It is this knowledge of sin and then recognizing where it is in our lives that brings us to complete repentance.
Additionally, if we do not continually eradicate evil traits from our lives, thereby allowing these qualities to gain the upper hand in our nature, we will eventually come to despise good character traits. Orchot Tzaddikim continues:
Know and understand that one who by nature inclines to an evil trait or has become habituated to such a trait and does not take it upon himself to forsake it, but constantly strengthens himself in it—such a one will come to despise and abhor the corresponding positive traits.
For this purpose, the Didache exposes the Way of Death so that the new disciples would be wary of its traps and exercise healthy introspection, examine the evil traits that could ensnare them, and remove them from their lives.
- Rabbi Gavriel Zaloshinsky, The Ways of the Tzaddikim (trans. Rabbi Shraga Silverstein; 2 vols.; New York, NY: Feldheim, 1996), 1:15.
- Paul Philip Levertoff, Religious Ideas of the Chasidim (trans. Kevin Hanke; Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, forthcoming).
- Rabbi Zaloshinsky, The Ways of the Tzaddikim, 1:13.