The leaders of Israel, and especially the Pharisees, were so focused on the ritual ceremonies and rules of their religion that they missed the purpose of these practices. Jesus taught that the outward laws of men were far less important than the commandments of God. This was one of the most important of the many dividing points between Jesus and the leaders of Israel.
On several occasions, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees for performing miracles of healing on the Sabbath. The Jews were forbidden from performing even the slightest amount of work on the Sabbath days, and when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were outraged. Jesus asked them if it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or to do evil, but the Pharisees kept their silence. This is an example of how Jesus taught that the letter of the law was not as important as doing good works with the right intentions.
Jesus and His disciples were confronted by the Pharisees for not washing their hands before eating (the practice of washing hands before a meal seems to be common hygiene to us, but we must remember that this took place almost 2000 years before the discovery of germs). The Pharisees and the scribes asked Jesus “Why do not thy disciples walk according to the tradition of the ancients, but they eat bread with common [unwashed] hands?” [Mark 7:5], to which Jesus replied, quoting Isaias, 29:13, “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and precepts of men” [Mark 7:6-7].
Jesus’ reply in Mark 7:6-7 truly summarizes the differences between Him and the Pharisees and scribes. The rulers of Israel were so caught up in the “doctrines and precepts of men” that they did not honor God.