Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Torah: can we be observant and what is its purpose?

I'm writing this because it makes me sad to see believers in YHWH Elohim arguing online about Torah (aka the Law) and whether or not we should be 'keeping' it or are 'under' it. Given the beauty of YHWH's teachings to us, the misunderstandings and arguments are a grievance.

Before I continue, I need to establish some definitions. Firstly, by Torah, I'm speaking of the written word, and not the Oral Torah (so-called). I don't argue that Oral Torah doesn't exist, nor that it's not useful in its own unique way, but I do not believe it was handed down from the Almighty to Moses, and from Moses to others. Why do I believe this? Scripture makes it plain to us (e.g., Exodus 24:4) as does the Babylonian Talmud (e.g., Tractate Aboth Ch. 1 pg. 2 Aboth of R. Nathan). In addition, Jacob Neusner makes it clear, perhaps inadvertently, in his book on Rabbinic Judaism that the Oral Torah is a collection of writings which record mankind's struggle to understand and implement the teachings in life.

Second, by the Law (used interchangeably with Torah) I mean Torah (as defined above) and that as teachings/instructions given by the Almighty out of love to guide us in life. A good reference and reading on the nature of the law can be found on the Bible Scholars site (part 1 and part 2) and additional links below. I want to underscore the distinction here because I will only reference Torah; the use of 'the Law' I think has done great damage to the understanding and implementation of YHWH's words and intent.

Those definitions out of the way I endeavor to make the following points:

(1) There is really no way to be 'Torah Observant' and the idea that it is necessary to be so is misguded.

(2) We are not to abandon Torah, but are to live under it. When I say live under it, I mean that we are to study and cherish it, because YHWH gave us teachings so that we may prosper. He tells us as much.

To begin with the first point (1), I say that there is no way to be 'Torah Observant' for the very simple reason that there is no Temple and no Tabernacle within which to carry out all of the Levitical commands. By definition, this means we cannot be 'Torah Observant'. We can try our best to mimic the offerings but we really cannot, and I would argue, should not. The Temple and Tabernacle were commanded to be built in time and space by YHWH for specific purposes in that time and space. That time and space has elapsed and we are now in a new time and space in which the Holy One, blessed be He, has put us. 

Furthermore, and on a more personal and practical level, I'm not going to stone anyone anytime soon. I do not believe that YHWH would want us to do so and if you believe, deep down, that we should if only we could, I encourage you to read scripture carefully, as well as the sources I've provided in this post. I'm also not going to take anyone as a slave, despite there being specific rules and customs regarding slaves in Torah. Think carefully about how these words applied in a very specific way to the Israelites in their time and space, and also how they apply to you in a different but related way, in your time and space.

Now, to segue to the second point (2) should any of us want to be 'Torah Observant' and is that necessary? I would argue that the LORD has made clear that He has always desired for His will to be written on our circumcised hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4 and 9:25). Jeremiah 9:25 is especially telling, "The days are coming when I will punish the circumcised yet uncircumcised"). And how can we circumcise our hearts? This is a complicated matter but one thing we must do is study YHWH's teaching, His Torah, and by holding it dear to us-through this we apply what we learn into our actions-showing mercy and kindness to our brothers..

In order to properly understand the reason for Torah an analogy may be helpful. Torah was given in much the same way that strict rules are given to an immature teenager. When the teenager becomes an adult and (hopefully) matures, the commands are not needed to be followed in a strict manner. Why? Because they have been written into the person's heart and soul, and they carry out those rules with all of their strength. As YHWH is our loving Father, can we not understand that this was His intent all along?

We need not argue among ourselves any longer. We should love, study, and cherish YHWH's teachings which he has given to us, but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that the intent was for us to carry a heavy burden He always knew we could not keep perfectly. In the same way that a loving parent gives a child strict rules which they know the child will break, so YHWH gave the children of Israel impossible commands. He wanted them to do their best and he always warned them before he punished them, as a loving Father does, but He knew the best way to teach them and teach us. Furthermore, by Moses' own words, YHWH knew that the Israelites would fail, just as a loving parent knows that his child will fail-yet still loves him.

There is another great danger which I have also seen which is that people want to ignore Torah altogether. This is a mistake. The problem is that we need to strive for correct understanding and application of the teachings of YHWH in the proper context. Our context is today, as we live, in the world in which we live. YHWH understands this and has always understood. Of course He has. There is always something for us in Torah. And by all means, man's commentary on Torah can be very helpful and thought provoking, we just have to make sure we are listening to YHWH, and not men, no matter how good their intentions, because men sin-YHWH does not sin.. 

Therefore, do not push a heavy yoke of Torah onto your brother but show him the easy yoke of Torah study. Why is it easy? Because to study it and understand it removes the heavy yoke of ignorance and helps us to remain faithful to YHWH. And what is the heavy yoke of Torah? To blindly misunderstand and misapply Torah by trying to keep something perfectly which has always been outside mankind's grasp. And no matter what, do not discard Torah as that is the most foolish thing of all. For how can you cast aside instruction, which you have never studied and have not learned, and be wise?

Shalom.

For more on this topic I highly recommend the following books:

His Name is Yawheh by Neil Snyder - I'd categorize this as must-read material for any believer.

The Torah's Goal - One for Israel's great book on the subject. Must-read material also.

Finally, please download your free copy of my book Turn to HIM  and share with family and friends.