Sulam Ya'aqov Messianic Fellowship (The Fellowship Of Jacob's Ladder) LARGE TITLE
Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Is Torah the Bridge to God?

`Torah is the mysterious bridge which connects the Jew and God, across which
they interact and communicate, and by means of which God fulfils His covenant
with His people to sustain them and protect them.’

So says Rabbi Shraga Simmons in an article on the Aish website about Shavuoth.
He also tells us that:

• At Mount Sinai when the Torah was given, the entire Jewish nation –
3 million men, women and children — `directly experienced divine revelation’.
• On the night of Shavuoth it is a widespread custom to stay up all night
learning Torah. And since Torah is the way to self-perfection, the Shavuot night
learning is called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which means "an act of self-perfection
on the night of Shavuot."
• One reason why dairy foods are eaten at Shavuoth is found in the Biblical
book Song of Songs (4:11) which refers to the sweet nourishing value of Torah
by saying: "It drips from your lips, like honey and milk under your tongue."
• In addition to the written Torah God gave the Oral Torah, which in fact
preceded the written Torah.

Let us examine these statements.

Direct revelation or divine mediation?

Did the entire Jewish nation `directly experience divine revelation’? Rabbi
Simmons bases this claim on this verse from Deuteronomy:

God spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you were hearing the sound
of words, but you were not seeing a form, only a sound He told you of His
covenant, instructing you to keep the Ten Commandments, and He inscribed them
on two stone tablets.
(Deus. 4:12-13)

However the following verse shows that Moses was the mediator through whom
God gave the Torah to Israel:

And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments,
that you might observe them in the land which you cross over to possess.
(Deut.
4.14)

This section of Deuteronomy retells the events that took place given 40 years
earlier at Sinai for the benefit of the generation that survived the 40 years
of wandering in the wilderness and were about to enter the Promised Land.

In the Exodus account of the Torah actually being given to the generation that
came out of Egypt, the emphasis is on the separation of the people from Mount
Sinai and from the encounter Moses had with the Lord:

‘Then the Lord came down on Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain.
And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain. And the Lord said to
Moses, ‘Go down and warn the people lest they break through to gaze at the
Lord and many of them perish…. But Moses said to the Lord ‘The people cannot
come up to Mount Sinai: for you warned us saying, `Set bounds around the mountain
and consecrate it. ‘
(Exodus 19.20-23).

‘Now all the people witnessed the thunderings and the lightning flashes,
the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw
it, they trembled and stood afar off Then they said to Moses, `You speak with
us and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die. ‘
(Exodus
20.18-20).

This passage shows that the communication of God’s commandments did not come
directly to Israel but through the chosen mediator, Moses.

Is the Torah bitter or sweet?

It is true that the Torah has sweet nourishing value to those who study it.
As David wrote in Psalm 19.7-11:

‘The Torah of the Lord is perfect converting the soul; the testimony
of the Lord is sure making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right
rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure enlightening the
eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean enduring forever; the judgements of the
Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold
yea than much fine gold; sweeter also than the honey and the honeycomb. Moreover
by them is thy servant warned and in keeping of them there is great reward
See also Psalm 119.

Yet there is another side to the Torah. The people responded to the words,
which Moses had written down
and read to them by saying ‘All that the Lord has said we will do and be obedient
(Exodus 24.7) ‘. Yet not long afterwards they were worshipping the Golden Calf,
leading to God moving in judgement against them:

`And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people and behold it is
a stiff necked people! Now therefore let me alone that my wrath may burn hot
against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.’
(Exodus 32.9-10)

Without Moses acting as the mediator on this occasion God would have destroyed
the entire nation as a judgement. Even with Moses’ mediation 3000 perished as
a result of this sin.

In the summing up of the Torah in Deuteronomy 28, God tells Israel of the blessings
which result from obedience to the Torah as they enter the land, but also warns
of the curses (judgements) which result from disobedience. The last of these
is to be scattered from the land and live ‘with a trembling heart, failing eyes
and anguish of soul ‘ (Deut 28.65) amongst the Gentile nations. The history
of Israel written in the Bible tells of the outworking of this principle in
the blessings in the land at times of obedience and the judgements following
disobedience. The bitter side of the Torah is to be found in these judgements.

What about the Oral Torah?

According to Rabbi Simmons the Oral Torah preceded the Written Torah. He writes:
`The Oral Torah is not an interpretation of the Written Torah. In fact, the
Oral Torah preceded the Written Torah. When the Jewish people stood at Mount
Sinai 3,300 years ago, God communicated the 613 commandments, along with a detailed,
practical explanation of how to fulfil them. At that point in time, the teachings
were entirely oral. It wasn’t until 40 years later, just prior to Moses’ death
and the Jewish people’s entering the Land of Israel, that Moses wrote the scroll
of the written Torah (known as the Five Books of Moses) and gave it to the Jewish
people.’

Yet in the Bible we have no mention of the existence of an Oral Torah. Here
is something very strange. If God had given Moses both the written and the oral
Torah surely something would have been mentioned in the written Torah pointing
to the existence of this other teaching, which was necessary to understand the
written Torah. But what do we find? Not a word about it.

In fact we find evidence to the contrary. It is hard to see how Rabbi Simmons
can justify the statement that the oral Torah preceded the written Torah when
Exodus 24 says Moses wrote all the words of the Lord…. Then he took the Book
of the Covenant and read in hearing of the people. ‘ (Ex. 24.4-7).

Moreover the Book of Joshua tells us that Joshua (to whom Moses is supposed
to have communicated the unwritten Oral Torah) possessed a written word, which
he read to the people of Israel as they entered the Land. This written word
contained all that Moses had passed down:

‘And afterward he (Joshua) read all the words of the law, the blessings
and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the law.
There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read
before all the assembly of Israel with the women, the little ones and the
strangers who were living among them. ‘
(Joshua 8.34-35)

It is hard to reconcile these verses with the idea of an Oral Torah, which
precedes the written Torah and is equally inspired given by God at Mount Sinai.

Is the Torah the bridge to God?

According to Rabbi Simmons Torah is the way to self-perfection, and the Shavuot
night learning is called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which means "an act of self-perfection
on the night of Shavuot."

But the Bible shows that no person can reach self-perfection by his own efforts.
In Kohelet (Ecclesiastes)
7.20 we read, `There is not a just man on the earth who does good and does
not sin.’
Isaiah 64.6 tells us ‘We are all like an unclean thing, and
all our righteousnesses (kol tsidkoteinu) are like filthy rags; we all fade
as the leaf and our iniquities like the wind have taken us away. ‘

Human experience testifies to the truth of this and religious people of all
faiths often lead the way in putting people off from believing in God by the
gulf between what they claim for themselves and what they do. It can also be
said that rather than being the bridge to God, the Torah reveals the gulf which
separates us all from God, whether we are Jewish or Gentile, male or female.

It is interesting to read on the Aish website the list of 613 commandments
as recorded and classified by Maimonides in the 12th century. This listing is
taken from his classic compendium of Jewish law, the "Mishneh Torah."
Numbers 301 to 442 are all to do with the Temple and sacrifices and cannot be
kept literally by anyone today. Numbers 596-8 are not exactly helpful in the
present situation facing Israel and the Palestinians: 596 `Destroy the seven
Canaanite nations. 597 Not to let any of them remain alive. 598 Wipe out the
descendants of Amalek.’ Numbers 37-41 are also rather unfriendly! 37 `Not to
love the missionary. 38 Not to cease hating the missionary. 39 Not to save the
missionary. 40 Not say anything in his defence. 41 Not to refrain from incriminating
him.’

Even leaving these out, the commands, which clearly are relevant today, are
hard if not impossible to keep. Who really fulfils the command to love God `with
all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength’ (Deut 6.5 –
number 4 in the 613 commandments)? Or to `love your neighbour as yourself? It
is interesting that this command (Leviticus 19.18 – number 13 in the 613 commandments)
becomes `to love Jews’ (i.e. not a general command to love your neighbour whoever
he / she is, but only if he / she is Jewish).

If no one is able to keep all of these commandments, those who seek salvation
by this method are left in a state of condemnation. This is why God promised
that he would make a new covenant with the house of Israel, not because he found
fault with the old one, but because of the impossibility of keeping it. Concerning
this new covenant we read in Jeremiah:

‘Behold the days are coming, says the Lord when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not according to the
covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the
hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke,
though I was a husband to them, says the Lord But this is the covenant that
I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will
put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their
God and they shall be my people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour
and every man his brother, saying, `Know the Lord’, for they shall all know
me from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord For I will
forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more. ‘
Jeremiah
31.31-34

The New Covenant.

According to this passage the new covenant offers forgiveness of sin, knowledge
of God in a personal way and having God’s law written on the heart. This will
replace the covenant given at Sinai as the means by which God relates to humanity
(i.e. the bridge to God). When Yeshua (Jesus) took the bread and the wine on
the eve of Pesach (Passover) he reinterpreted the familiar symbols which speak
of the Exodus from physical slavery in Egypt and applied them to himself as
the Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world and brings about our
Exodus from spiritual slavery in a world which has fallen from God’s commandments
and is in bondage to sin. He described the cup containing the wine as `the
new covenant in my blood which is shed for you
(Luke 22.20).’

When speaking to a learned rabbi of his day, Nicodemus, Yeshua said that in
order to enter into this new covenant ‘You must be born again’ (John 3.7) –
not physically but spiritually, an experience also prophesied in Ezekiel:

‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will
take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I
will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my judgements and you
will keep my judgements and do them
(Ezekiel 36.26-7). ‘

Just as the covenant at Sinai had to be mediated through God’s chosen servant,
Moses, so the new covenant had to be mediated through ‘a Prophet like unto
Moses’
(Deuteronomy 18.15-18). Isaiah reveals that this one would be more
than a prophet. Although he would be born as a child, ‘His name will be
called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’
(Isaiah 9.6).

Isaiah went on to describe how this anointed Servant of the Lord would be put
to death for the sins of the
people: ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to
his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. … For he
was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people
he was stricken
(Isaiah 53.6, 8). ‘ Although Rashi claims that this prophecy
applies to the people of Israel suffering on behalf of the Gentiles this simply
does not make sense of the text. For one thing it makes Isaiah a Gentile –
He (Israel) suffered for my people (the Gentiles). For another it means that
Israel, who Isaiah has been calling to repentance for their sins, is somehow
bringing atonement for the sins of the Gentiles.

The interpretation of this prophecy which makes sense is the one favoured by
Rabbi Alsech: `Our Rabbis with one voice accept and confirm the opinion that
the prophet (in Isaiah 53) is speaking of the King Messiah and we shall ourselves
also adhere to the same view.’

We believe Yeshua, Jesus, to be the Messiah of whom Moses and the Prophets
spoke, who has mediated the new covenant through which we can find the true
bridge to God. Through his death and resurrection he has paid the price required
for sin and made it possible for all humanity, Jewish and Gentile, to come to
know God’s forgiveness and eternal life. Those who truly accept him as Messiah,
Saviour and Lord (as opposed to the mass of generally uninformed and unenlightened
Christendom) experience the new birth which Jesus spoke about to Nicodemus which
empowers us by the Holy Spirit to walk in newness of life and gives us the desire
to keep his commandments. Although we remain liable to sin and fall short of
the glory of God, the blood Jesus shed is sufficient to cover our sins and to
give us peace with God so that we know that when we appear before God on the
Day of Judgment He will receive us into eternal life in heaven.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever
believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.’
John
3.16.

Article reprinted with permission from Tony Pearce. 2002.

 

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