What is Torah?
You are a Jew. Or maybe you are Messianic. Perhaps you consider yourself a Unitarian or part of the Hebrew Roots movement. Either way, You’re relatively certain that you know all about Torah and wield it with the relative ease of a baby shaking a rattle.
And maybe, hopefully – you’re right. But more times than not, the people that are most outspoken about Torah are the very ones that don’t FULLY understand it.
They know the textbook definition. They understand that it’s the word and will of YHWH. They know where to find it in their Bible / Tanakh (it’s the first five books). They’re amazingly quick to tell you that violating it is the very definition of “sin.” And they can even tell you what many of the more common statutes and commandments are.
So what else is there? What are they… I mean most of US missing?
What is Religion?
“Religion” may very well be the greatest stumbling block in all of the Bible which repeatedly tripped Israel (all of YHWH’s people in both the “Old Testament” and the “New”) up and separated them from their Creator. So what is the standard definition of religion?
Religion is nothing more than a collection of beliefs.
Unavoidably, we all have beliefs. That’s no more avoidable than it is undesirable; after all, “faith” is just belief so strong that it produces action, right? But where beliefs become problematic is when they are not REAL. Just because I believe something or a million people believe it, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily correct.
Once upon a time, Cain BELIEVED he could offer a sacrifice any way he wanted. Nadab and Abihu BELIEVED they could use any fire they wanted to. Aaron BELIEVED his golden calf could replace Moses as an intermediary. And the examples go on and on all the way to the end where they FILL the Book of Revelation.
So what are GOOD beliefs? They are the things that come straight out of Torah. What then is the source of BAD beliefs? These are things that we produce in our own hearts which, no matter how much we THINK they should be in the Torah – they simply are not. Without realizing it, we are under CONSTANT ASSAULT by religion. This religion is not (necessarily) an organized sect or denomination, but rather every philosophy, interpretation and personal conviction that is shared with you. And when you think about that – it’s a whole lot!
Here’s how the trap works: I tell you my doctrine. “I believe X is a sin. Obviously our god doesn’t want us engaging in that kind of behavior! Did you ever hear about anybody doing that in the Bible? How would you feel if…” And they go on with endless reasoning and logic until eventually they make a convincing enough case and you AGREE, “Yeah, you’re right! I shouldn’t be doing that either. Thanks – you’re a real pal!”
What just happened here? A sin was invented. Torah (our set of instructions) just had a new (oral) line written in it.
That doesn’t sound so bad on the surface, but let’s look at it from a couple of different perspectives. First of all, now that you and I agree on this new prohibition, what do we do when we find a third brother and try to sell him our new doctrine that WE’VE created… and he refuses to accept it?
Anathema! You’re not one of us. Pagan! Get thee hence, Devil!
Don’t even ACT like you don’t see this happening all the time. You do – it’s everywhere. And nobody stops to even ask the question: “Is this commandment in Torah?”
Speaking of Torah, where does it come from? It’s called “The Law of Moses,” so did it come from him? I’m sure you know by now that – no – it came from YHWH. It’s only called “The Law of Moses” because he’s the one who recorded it all in written form.
So when you or I add to Torah and create new laws which we proceed to impose on others, what are we doing? You and I are making ourselves EQUAL to the only one who EVER had the authority to give commandments, and that is our Creator. Do you see how serious / dangerous religion is yet?
The Straight and Narrow Path
Nearly 2,000 years ago, a man walked the streets of Jerusalem, entered the Temple and visited houses and synagogues. He was ultimately put to death for pleading with the people of Judah to abandon religion and instead to come back to a pure faith (confidence in YHWH / the word of YHWH).
Matt. 15:3 Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of YHWH for the sake of your tradition?
We see the battle being fought – the commandment of YHWH vs the tradition of men.
Matt. 15:5 You say, “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever I have that would help you has been given to YHWH,’ 6 he is not to honor his father or his mother.” And by this you invalidated the word of YHWH for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you when he said, 8 “THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 9 BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE COMMANDMENTS OF MEN.”
And the religion… the beliefs in the commandments and traditions INSTEAD of Torah actually BECAME transgression. Men put more faith in their own hearts and devices than on the actual, direct word of YHWH.
Matt. 7:13 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
And so easy is it to take the bait and fall into this trap of religion, that too many of us THINK ourselves servants of the Most High without realizing that we are in fact serving MEN.
Matt. 23:2 The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses, 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.
But the words of this man still echo in our ears from 2 millennia ago with the same plea – that we RETURN (repent) to doing the will of our Father.
So this is the great pitfall of many believers: we trade in obedience of Torah for obedience of the commandments and traditions of men (aka religion). But that’s not the only place we err.
Spirit vs Letter of the Law
When we first learn about Torah and what it is, we focus on the rules: do this, but don’t do that. And this is an IMPORTANT stage of our development; we HAVE to know these things. But this is not the FINAL stage of our development, and too many times, we don’t go beyond the LETTER of the Law and learn to live in the SPIRIT of the Law.
Living in the spirit of the Law doesn’t mean we disobey the letter. Rather, it means we learn to use the letter as a TOOL rather than a blunt instrument or a weapon. It’s a scalpel – not a machete! So what is the “spirit of the Law” exactly?
Matt. 22:36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “YOU SHALL LOVE YHWH YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it: YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
So the two great commandments… which essentially CATEGORIZE all of the rest of the commandments are both the same thing: LOVE. Torah is a set of instructions designed to mold our behaviors and in so doing, teach us to love our Creator and to love one another. The spirit of the Law is LOVE.
But is that the way we use it? Do we use it to build one another up? Do we unify the kingdom with our use of Torah? Does it make us the salt of the earth?
Not only do we divide and assail one another with Torah, but going back to the previous section of this study, we also create our OWN “oral Torah” and use that to murder one another as well. And, especially in the age of information, it’s more prevalent than ever as people feel insulated from any consequence of their actions hidden away behind the distance and anonymity the internet affords.
Stop and meditate on this for a second. You’re talking to some “unknown idiot” on the internet. This guy doesn’t agree with you on some point of interpretation. He claims to love and live Torah, but he’s STUPID enough to think it should be done a little differently than how you do it. So you get sarcastic. You tell him he’s not really “Israel.” You call him a Pagan. Then you block him and maybe flame him a little more after that.
Then one day, you’re standing in front of that judgment which, in your heart today, you don’t ACTUALLY believe is real! And there’s this guy – standing right there on the opposite side of the throne room… I mean COURTROOM. And the Judge looks at you and says, “What you said to him, you said to Me. Now, look me in the face and say it all again…”
That sounds ridiculous and infantile, doesn’t it? Of course it would to many people because many people DON’T believe they’ll ever have to answer for their words, or the way they treat their brethren, and they have no clue what the spirit of the Law is. They still think it’s something you use to win arguments!
Divisive Doctrinal Fallacies of Men
Did you know that it’s forbidden to play sports? Well of course it is! Did you ever read in Torah where Israel was told that they COULD play sports? NO! Did you ever see anybody playing sports in the Bible? Other than Saul chucking javelins at David, it didn’t happen, and that was a BAD thing.
So because we were never given specific permission to do it, it must be a sin!
And while we’re talking about sports, let’s go ahead and add the use of indoor plumbing, harnessing electricity, smoking, birthdays and anniversaries, feeding ducks, owning house pets, masturbation, secular education and engaging in political processes to the list.
Let me guess – some of those you agree with and some are preposterous, right? I wonder what the difference is if the Bible (and especially Torah) is silent about ALL of these?
That difference is called religion.
There are things which are maybe LAWFUL but not EXPEDIENT for us – of course. You technically CAN have 30 wives if you want, but living in Waco, TX today, it MAY not be the smartest thing you’ve ever done! And as such, we can counsel one another and advise one another and be guides.
What we CANNOT do is IMPOSE LAW. As much as we feel like we are sometimes, you and I are NOT ABOVE TORAH. If a brother decides he wants to take 30 wives, yeah – we know he’s setting himself up for a non-positive outcome, but we CANNOT forbid it or disavow a brother who is not doing anything wrong according to Torah.
That’s a hard pill for some of us to swallow – I know. People in the USA want freedom of speech right up until the KKK has something to say. They want freedom of religion, as long as that religion isn’t Islam. And you and I want Torah to be the Law everybody lives by, so long as they interpret it the exact same way we do!
How many tzitzim do you wear? Do you wear them on actual corners? Are they on all corners or just some? What if you don’t have corners? Do you wear tzitzim when you’re sleeping? Walking down the street? Only in prayer? Are they visible or not? How long are they? Do you use traditional, Jewish tzitzim, or do you make yours differently? Should women wear them, or only men? What about newborn babies? Is there an age when we should start? Must they be only white and blue, or can they all be rainbow colored?
What do you wanna bet that you and I have different interpretations regarding this one, SIMPLE commandment? But I’d bet that you and I BOTH keep it to the best of our understanding. I’d also bet that we might BOTH have something just a little bit wrong.
So what do you think – you ready to go to war over it? Tear each other down? Offend one another? Terminate fellowship? Maybe we can slander one another publicly!
What do you think – do you want to live the letter of Torah with the spirit of the world? Cause if so, I think you’d be better off and a lot happier getting all the way in or all the way out.
Love YHWH with all your heart. That’s number one!
But number two is loving your brother, and if you don’t know how or aren’t willing to, you’re just wasting your time with the former.