Master, which is the great commandment in the law?]
He calls him "master, Rabbi, or doctor", as the Sadducees had in ( Matthew 22:24 ) either because he was usually so called by his disciples, and by the generality of the people; or merely in complaisance to engage his attention to him, and his question: and might hereby suggest, that should he return a proper and satisfactory answer to it he should be his master. The question is not which of the laws was the greatest, the oral, or the written law: the Jews give the preference to the law delivered by word of mouth; they prefer the traditions of the elders before the written law of Moses; (See Gill on Matthew 15:2); but the question was about the written law of Moses; and not merely about the decalogue, or whether the commands of the first table were greater than those of the second, as was generally thought; or whether the affirmative precepts were not more to be regarded than negative ones, which was their commonly received opinion; but about the whole body of the law, moral and ceremonial, delivered by Moses: and not whether the ceremonial law was to be preferred to the moral, which they usually did; but what particular command there was in the whole law, which was greater than the rest: for as there were some commands that were light, and others that were weighty, a distinction often used by them F13, and to which Christ alludes in ( Matthew 23:23 ) . It was moved that it might be said which was the greatest and weightiest of them all. Some thought the commandment of the sabbath was the greatest: hence they say F14, that he that keeps the sabbath is as if he kept the whole law: yea, they make the observance of the three meals, or feasts, which, according to the traditions of the elders, they were obliged to eat on the sabbath, to be at least one of the greatest of them.
``These three meals (says one of their writers F15) are a great matter, for it is one (hrwtbv twlwdgh twumhm) , "of the great commandments in the law".''Which is the very phraseology used in this question. Others give the preference to circumcision, on which they bestow the greatest encomiums, and, among the rest F16, say, it drives away the sabbath, or that is obliged to give place unto it. Others F17 say of the "phylacteries", that the holiness of them is the greatest of all, and the command to be arrayed with them all the day, is more excellent than all others; and even of the fringe upon the borders of their garments, others observe F18, that a man that is guilty of that command, is guilty of all others, and that single precept is equal to all the rest. In this multiplicity of opinions, Christ's is desired on this subject, though with no good intention.
F13 Pirke Abot, c. 2. sect. 1. & c. 4. sect. 2.
F14 Zohar in Exod. fol. 37. 1.
F15 Tzeror Hammor, fol. 3. 3.
F16 Misn. Nedarim, c. 3. sect. 11.
F17 Maimon. Hilch. Tephillin, c. 4. sect. 25, 26.
F18 T. Bab. Menachot, fol. 43. 2.