The Torah is God’s Song

Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deut. 29:9–31:30)

The last command of the Torah[1] reads:

“Now therefore write down for yourselves this song, and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be my witness within the people of Israel.” D’varim (Deut.) 31:19

Many Jewish scholars have asked ‘why a song?’ and was the song the next section of Deuteronomy or the whole of the 5 Books of Moses?

Rabbi Sacks refers to Rabbi Yechiel Michal Epstein who states that one of the reasons the Torah is called “a song” is because a song becomes more beautiful when scored for many voices interwoven in complex harmonies.

Rabbi Sacks goes on to write: “The Torah is God’s libretto, and we, the Jewish people, are His choir, the performers of His choral symphony. And though, when Jews speak they often argue, when they sing, they sing in harmony, as the Israelites did at the Red Sea, because music is the language of the soul, and at the level of the soul Jews enter the unity of the Divine which transcends the oppositions of lower worlds.

The Torah is God’s song, and ‘we’ collectively are its singers.”
He also argues that through the writing and singing of this Torah ‘song’, the Torah is renewed afresh with each generation and each individual.

The Torah Portion, Nitzavim includes some of the most fundamental principles of faith in The God of Israel.

It speaks of:

  • the unity of Israel;
  • the future redemption;
  • the practicality of Torah; – see http://goo.gl/m9Dz95 and
  • Freedom of choice.

The Torah Portion (Parshah) of Vayelech also speaks of how the Almighty will ‘hide His face’ – see https://globaltruthinternational.com/2012/09/23/moses-and-the-king-who-hides/

(Thanks to Chabad.org & Rabbi Jonathan Sacks for the thoughts paraphrased above).

In considering this Torah Portion, and the concept that the Torah is God’s Song to be sung by all who love the Instructions of God (Torah), as well as considering how it can be renewed through the generations, I think it also worth reflecting on how the writer of Yochanan’s (John) Gospel in the Apostolic Writings (the NT) saw Torah.

You can get closer to the source of Yochanan’s understanding by going back to the original Hebrew of Proverbs 8:

“The L-RD purchased me at the very beginning of His way before any of his activities at that point. From before time began, I was poured out, even before there was “earth” … And I was BESIDE (or WITH) Him, a master artisan, And I was full of delights, daily playing before Him at every moment’ – Proverbs 8:22, 23, 30 translated by Uriel ben Mordechai

This ‘wisdom’ is TORAH. The Torah existed before the foundation of the universe.

Thus, it seems that it is the Torah, that Yochanan (John) refers to in John 1:1, which if we had the original autograph in Hebrew would more likely read in English something like this:

“In the beginning was the Torah, and (the) Torah was for the sake of (the) G-d, And godly was (the) Torah.”

Get Uriel ben Mordechai’s book for more details on the validity of this translation – see  ‪http://above-and-beyond-ltd.com/store/books/if.html

This translation is also very well presented and attested for in Jacobus Schoneveld’s scholarly article: ‘Torah in the Flesh

Further, when we consider that Yochanan was not writing in a vacuum, but actually quoting what other Jewish writers had written before him (and in Hebrew), we can be fairly sure of his intent, even if we only have poor Greek translations.

Yochanan, like Yeshua relied on the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh.

Yeshua when he repeatedly said ‘It is written …” were referring to the Tanakh. When Yochanan concluded his Gospel account by stating that these things were written so that you may trust, or have faith,  that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God (Jn 20:31), he was clearly endorsing and supporting the work of Yeshua and his own argument that in Yeshua. The Torah had put on (or wore) flesh.

To understand anything in the NT and to appreciate the intent of the NT authors such as Yochanan, we need to look not only into the Tanakh to understand their perspective and biblical reality, but also to documents from the inter-testamental time (perhaps as late as, late 3rd century BCE to early 2nd century BCE, through to around 40-50 CE) to appreciate common Jewish thinking, understanding and terminology. So this includes works like the ‘Wisdom of Sirach’.

In this respect even sectarian works from this period can be relevant.

So with this appreciation, it is worth asking if the concepts and ideas presented in Yochanan’s prologue were already existent or even prevalent in the Tanakh and in Jewish thought of his time.

What we find is that Yochanan’s prologue, for example John 1:3 “through ‘it’ (the Word or the Torah) everything came to be: no single thing was created without ‘it’ ” was a Jewish ‘commonplace’.

That is, it was already part of Jewish writings prior to Yochanan.

For example in the Book of Jubilees we read that God “has created everything by His word/Torah” (12:4), and so it is also said in Wisdom of Solomon 9:1.

Even more similar to Yochanan’s prologue is the wording of two sentences in the Dead Sea Scrolls: “By His (God’s) knowledge everything came to be, and everything which is happening — He establishes it by his design and without Him [nothing] is done” (1QS XI: 11).

And “By the wisdom of Thy knowledge Thou didst establish their destiny ere they came into being, and according [Thy will] everything came to be, and without Thee [nothing] is done” (1QH 1:19-20).

Thus, the concept that God created the world through his ‘word/Torah/wisdom’ is a Jewish concept.

In fact, the Tanakh informs us that Almighty created the entire universe through ‘fiats’; through His word. So not only does the ‘word’ of God have a creative function, it also has an analytical function.

Consider for example, Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit. …and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Here we see the ‘word’ or ‘logos’ having an analytical function. Interestingly, even the Hellenistic Jew Philo (20 BCE – 50 CE) took this position.

In Wikipedia we read: ‘Some scholars hold that his concept of the Logos as God’s creative principle influenced early Christology. Other scholars, however, deny direct influence but say both Philo and early Christianity borrow from a common source. For Philo, Logos was God’s “blueprint for the world”, a governing plan.’

So consider that Yochanan starts with: “In the beginning was the Torah, and (the) Torah was for the sake of (the) G-d, And godly was (the) Torah.” And then goes on to state (paraphrasing Yochanan 1:14):

“And the Torah dressed itself in human flesh and so dwelt amongst us, so that we could see its (the Torah’s) glory from the Father, a glory full of grace and truth.”

So God’s Song has dressed itself in humanity, so that all who love Torah, and see the perfect example (in Yeshua) of how to live Torah, can properly renew, and in unity, sing Torah daily.

Perhaps we can even sense the rising crescendo of this ‘Torah Song’, as we witness the great signs through the creation of State of Israel, and the dawning of the final Redemption!

Shalom!

[1] The word תּוֹרָה (Torah) means teaching or instructions. It is also used to refer to the 5 Books of Moses, as these contain the Torah. Normally when referring to the whole Hebrew Bible, the phrase Torah, Prophets and Writings is used, but at times this may also be shortened to ‘Torah’.
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The Ethics of Ya’acov

The Ethics of Ya’acov (died 62 CE):

The oldest book in the New Testament is the Book or Letter/Epistle of James. The author’s name,  Ya’acov (or Yaakov) HaTzadik, has  been transliterated to Jacob (‘the Righteous’) and then to James (the Just)!

Josephus wrote of him: “He was surnamed the Righteous because of both his piety towards God and his benevolence to his countrymen.”  (translated from Josephus, ‘Antiquities’, Xii.43)

His letter is a letter of encouragement and of ethics.

For example, Ya’acov speaks out against:

  • a superficial  hearing of God’s Word;
  • pious speech on what the Jewish people should believe, but little practice of the same;
  • the error of being dogmatic about both the Written and Oral Torah, yet not fully understanding proper practice – for example, the healing of a man on the Sabbath[1];
  • a failure to fulfill the most foundational requirements of Torah, while at the same time getting pedantic about the more minor requirements (the narrative in Matthew 23 is a great example of this where Yeshua finishes (see v23) his condemnation with a reference to the great Micah 6:8 passage. See James 1:26 for just one example of how Ya’acov addresses this;
  • the pursuing of wealth which leads to divided loyalties between riches and YHVH;
  • the futility of the exercise of prayer without faith in God;
  • the slandering and cursing of their neighbours, and;
  • the taking of oaths too lightly (perhaps indicative of a lack of commitment to the path of holiness).

Just as a number of Jewish scholars, such as Joseph Klausner[2] of Hebrew University in Jerusalem (1874-1958), have recognized that Yeshua was a great ethical teacher, the same emphasis on ethics is seen in this short Book of James/Ya’acov.

It starts with a message of encouragement to those facing temptations/trials. Part of the answer from Ya’acov to such challenges is to call his readers to heed the Torah because it brings freedom!

“But if a person looks closely into the perfect Torah, which gives freedom, and continues, becoming not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work it requires, then he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:25[3]

With the Exodus, the Jewish people were freed from physical slavery in order to voluntarily place themselves under the restrictions of moral integrity.

As Rabbi Benjamin Blech states in ‘Freedom without limits’: Freedom without any restraints may very well be just as destructive as slavery. “No one can ever tell me what to do” – an idea not limited by ethical constraints – is potentially just as much a threat to the social order as slave masters…”.  

For example, in James 1:12 he writes How blessed is the man who perseveres through temptation! For after he has passed the test, he will receive as his crown the Life which God has promised to those who love him.”  We see here that obedience and perseverance in obedience brings the ‘Crown of Life’.

Yaacov’s call in v1:22Don’t deceive yourselves by only hearing what the Word says, but do it! is strongly reminiscent of much of what Yeshua declared in terms of obedience to the divine instructions (Torah) of the Almighty. For example, in Matt 12:50 we read: For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

In chapter 2:13, Ya’acov having just stressed the need to be obedient to all 10 of the Ten Words, then makes the powerful call to his Jewish brethren to both speak and act with this appreciation of the Ten Words, while recognizing that ultimately while the Almighty will judge us in terms of our obedience to Torah, His mercy will temper and even triumph over His judgment so that we need have no anxiety with respect to our, at times, imperfect obedience to the perfect Torah of freedom:  So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the Torah of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:12-13

In this statement I believe we can also hear the echo of Micah 6:8: He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does YHVH require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

This is even further accentuated when Ya’acov goes on to write:

“18 But someone will say that you have faith and I have actions. Show me this faith of yours without the actions, and I will show you my faith by my actions!
19 You believe that “God is one”? Good for you! The demons believe it too — the thought makes them shudder with fear!”
– James 2:18-19

Notice that Ya’acov is extremely emphatic that ‘faith’ or belief without ‘works’ or ‘actions’ is no faith at all. As he confirms, even the demons have faith or believe that YHVH is One, that there is no God beside Him, but such faith of demons will not save them because they are not exercising such knowledge of the One True God.

Ya’acov is so strong on the need to act according to our faith in YHVH that he gives the analogy that just as a person dies when their ‘spirit’ (the breath of God, or that which animates them) leaves them, so to, faith that is not exhibited through living obedience is really dead or non-existent.

Indeed, just as the body without a spirit is dead, so too faith without actions is dead.” – James 2:26

Further confirmation, though not needed, is then seen in v22 where Ya’acov clarifies that ‘works’ or actions (i.e. obedience) ‘completes’ faith:
“22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;
23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness—and he was called a friend of God.
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
– James 2:22-24 (ESV)

I also love the humble and gracious manner in which Yaacov explains that a life of obedience to Torah, being a life of true freedom, is then also, by implication, a life that exhibits a pure and peaceful attitude towards others, so that it can be seen that the faithful servant of YHVH is truly ‘loving his neighbor as himself’.

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him demonstrate it by his good way of life, by actions done in the humility that grows out of wisdom.” – James 3:13

“But the wisdom from above is, first of all, pure, then peaceful” James 3:17

For more, see my article ‘James the Just: Reevaluating his legacy’ at circumcisedheart.info

[1] Luke 13:14 “but the President of the synagogue, indignant that Yeshua had healed on Shabbat, spoke up and said to the congregation, “there are six days in the week for working; so come during those days to be healed, not on Shabbat!”  Yeshua was falsely accused. He is both condoning a practice that had developed (Oral Torah), and expanding it in an intriguing way. The practice had been developed that if a boy’s 8th day from birth was the Sabbath, the person (a ‘mohel’) performing the circumcision was allowed to break the Sabbath by carrying the tools required through the village and performing the ritual. It was considered that when this conflict between the requirements of observing the Sabbath and of circumcising a male child on the 8th day were in conflict the circumcision took precedence. If however the child was ill on his 8th day since birth (which say was the Wednesday) and he was not well until the Saturday, the Sabbath, the ruling was that now, the Sabbath took precedence and so the circumcision would not be performed until a later day. Yeshua by his comments appears to condone this approach to the potential conflict between these mitzvot (commandments). However, Yeshua also argues that, given this ruling, why should he be condemned for healing the whole man on the Sabbath. The clear understanding being that circumcision was a form of healing (not only a token, or marker but a positive commandment), perhaps primarily because it was a mark of entry into the family/tribe of Israel.

[2] Klausner argues that Yeshua was best understood as a Jew who was trying to reform the religion, and that he died as a devout Jew. He writes: ”But Jesus is, for the Jewish nation, a great teacher of morality and an artist in parable.  He is the moralist for whom, in the religious life, morality counts as – everything.  … in his ethical code there is a sublimity, distinctiveness and originality in form unparalleled in any other Hebrew ethical code; neither is there any parallel to the remarkable art of his parables.  The shrewdness and sharpness of his proverbs and his forceful epigrams serve, in an exceptional degree, to make ethical ideas a popular possession.  If ever the day should come and this ethical code by stripped of its wrappings of miracles and mysticism, the Book of the Ethics of Jesus will be one of the choicest treasures in the literature of Israel for all time.”
 – Klausner, Joseph “Jesus of Nazareth; His Life, Times, and Teaching’ (1925) p 413-414

Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness …” – Martin Luther King

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” – James Arthur Baldwin

To be free, you have to let go of hate.

And I suspect, as the quote from James Arthur Baldwin argues, that letting go of hate does initially open your heart to pain.

Yet, to be free you need to forgive those who have persecuted you. This does mean you need to accept and acknowledge the pain, yet remembering the hurt and accepting the pain is a process and a journey. It is a journey of release; of letting it out and letting it go.

Forgiveness does not meant forgetfulness; it does not mean forgetting the injustice or persecution that you have endured, but it does often mean remembering it so that you don’t re-live it, and remembering it so that you can be more empathetic towards others who may suffer similarly to how you may have suffered.

Such remembering is then a positive memory, a memory that no longer has pain attached to it. This can take considerable time. It doesn’t happen over-night, but is a journey that is best taken in company.

While you still feel pain, you are still suffering injury and therefore you have not fully freed yourself of the past, you are still, to a degree at least, living in it.

When you let those who have hurt you define you (by placing you in this position of pain), you have clearly not achieved liberty.

Hatred and freedom cannot co-exist. Anger and bitterness are the fruit of unforgiveness – if you still feel these powerful emotions, then you are still harbouring some un-forgiveness.

In a world devoid of God there is no justice and hence no true hope for restitution, for fairness and ultimate redemption. When you have a relationship with God and you recognize that He will ultimately bring Justice tempered always with Grace, you can then release your pain to Him, and then truly find freedom.

True freedom though may not be what you think it is. True freedom is the liberty and choice to seek the best for you, for your family; for your community and for your nation & your world. This is also the essence of ‘tikkun olam’ (repairing the world).

The best is a deep and abiding relationship with your Creator. Such a relationship involves loving your heavenly Father with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and this in turn means loving your neighbor as yourself. If you love God you will love His commandments. When you love His commandments, His Torah (divine instructions), you will walk in the Way (Psalms 119).

Be free – let go of hate!

To go deeper please check out: Freedom & the Law and Amazing Grace

* This short blog post was inspired by a great article on this weeks Torah Portion – see ‘Letting Go of Hate’ by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks – http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/167470055.html

Maintaining Holiness Through Confronting Error

There are a number of verses that in some way sum up, or encapsulate the whole message of the Almighty and His Word.

Micah 6:8 springs to mind as does the Sh’ma (Deut 6:4 …).

Another of these is Gal 5:14 where the Apostle Paul states: “For the whole of the Torah is summed up in this one sentence: “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

Two important points to note here. The Apostle Paul is quoting from Leviticus 19:18 (part of this weeks Torah Portion, Kedoshim – Leviticus 16:1-20:27).

Here we read: Don’t take vengeance on or bear a grudge against any of your people; rather, love your neighbor as yourself; I am Adonai.”

I believe, both from the context, and what I am about to share that the phrase ‘tacked’ on the end here, ‘I am Adonai’ or ‘I am YHVH’ (the God of Israel), actually means, ‘love your neighbour BECAUSE, or IF, you love Me’.

Consider Lev 19:17 “‘Do not hate your brother in your heart, but rebuke your neighbour frankly, so that you won’t carry sin because of him.”

I believe that argument and wisdom being presented here is that, when someone wrongs you in some way, loving them is clearly not easy, but just avoiding them or keeping silent is not good either. If you do not speak with them about the issue(s) and try to get them to see where they have erred and hopefully, help them to recognize their sin and seek forgiveness, you are likely to resent them, and anger and bitterness are likely to grow in your heart and lead you into some error, mistake or sin.

If we recognize our Yetzer HaRa (our evil inclination or fleshly heart) as well as our Yetzer HaTov (our good or spiritual heart), we will recognize our tendency to err in this way and the call of the Shema to turn both our hearts to the Almighty (see my articles on the Hebraic Mindset for more on this).

Consider the case of Absalom. When he heard how Ammon had raped his sister Tamar, he keep his anger hidden in his heart for some two years and then had Ammon killed. This is the exact sinful consequence that Moses warns against in Leviticus 19:17 and also very much the theme that the Apostle Paul is speaking on in Galatians 5 when he quotes from Leviticus 19.

Returning to the idea that IF or BECAUSE we love God we are to love our neighbour, we see here a summary of the Ten Words and a summary of Yeshua’s answer to what were the two greatest commandments. The Ten Words were on two tablets. The first involves 5 commands that all relate to loving God and the second tablet has 5 commands that relate to loving our neighbor.

So again we are drawn back to the Ten Words, to the ‘moral code of the universe’.[1]

This Torah Portion is about holiness, about being holy because He is holy. This call to ‘rebuke your neighbor frankly’, is about acting to avoid sin entering your heart and therefore removing your holiness.

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks paraphrases this in a very practical way:

“Love your neighbor as yourself. But not all neighbors are loveable. There are those who, out of envy or malice, have done you harm. I do not therefore command you to live as if you were angels, without any of the emotions natural to human beings. I do however forbid you to hate. That is why, when someone does you wrong, you must confront the wrongdoer. You must tell him of your feelings of hurt and distress. It may be that you completely misunderstood his intentions. Or it may be that he genuinely meant to do you harm, but now, faced with the reality of the injury he has done you, he may sincerely repent of what he did. If, however, you fail to talk it through, there is a real possibility that you will bear a grudge and in the fullness of time, come to take revenge – as did Absolom.”

I again strongly recommend the Rabbi’s Torah Portion, Of Love and Hate’ at Aish.com

– see http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/202908911.html

ChiefRabbiLordSacks290x150

April 18th 2013


[1] For more on this see my articles ‘Siblings of the King’ and ‘The Path of the Circumcised Heart’ at www.circumcisedheart.info

Are You Rich?

Do you have riches that will last? What do you really own? Are the material riches you have really yours?

A famous Rabbi(1) once said: “If you were to give me all the silver, gold, precious stones and pearls in the world, I would not dwell anywhere but in a place of Torah.”

In this statement he was to some degree echoing the words of King David who stated in Psalm 119:72 The Torah you have spoken means more to me than a fortune in gold and silver.”

King David recognized that the Torah was worth far more to man than material riches. But perhaps he recognized even more, and that is that the riches of the world, the gold and silver is really the Almighty’s anyway, to do with as He sees fit. In fact, the Almighty, has promised that one day he will repeat on a bigger scale, the giving of gold and silver from the Gentiles to the Jewish people that he orchestrated for the Exodus.

Just as the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is a bigger miracle and a more incredible act of the Almighty than the Exodus, so too it appears, will be this latter day gift of Gentile gold and silver.

Jeremiah declared that a greater miracle was to come in Jeremiah 16:14-15

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.”

We have witnessed this greater miracle in our lifetime!

Similarly, the Almighty speaks of a rebuilding of His ‘Tent of Meeting’, His Temple in the last days:

“4 Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, 5 according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. 6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: 

6 Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. 

8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. 

9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give shalom, declares the LORD of hosts.” – Haggai 2

So not only are the material riches of the world really in the control of the Almighty and thus, these are not the riches that we should seek to keep for ourselves, there are many passages in Scripture that speak of the great treasure that is Torah and obedience to Torah.

Another common one is:

20 My son, obey your father’s command (i.e. Torah), and don’t abandon your mother’s teaching.
21 Bind them always on your heart, tie them around your neck.
22 When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you wake up, they will talk with you.
23 For the mitzvah (commandment) is a lamp, Torah is light, and reproofs that discipline are the way to life.
” 
–      Proverbs 6

Some of the Rabbi’s have an interesting take on verse 22. They argue that it speaks of the eternal nature of Torah and its role in our death and resurrection.

They understand this verse as stating:

‘When you walk, they (Torah or the commandments of Torah) will lead you’ – that is, in this life you should be lead by the divine instructions that are Torah;

‘when you lie down, they will watch over you’ – meaning that when you are in the grave Torah will protect you even there; and

‘when you wake up, they will talk with you (or ‘they will be your speech’).’ – meaning that when you awaken to the World to Come, Torah will be what you speak.

As the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 will, at last be fully instituted, all will know Torah in their hearts,  – ‘… says Adonai: “I will put my Torah within them and write it on their hearts … – Jeremiah 31:32.

May you discover that true treasure that is the Torah!

May you be abundantly wealthy in the only treasure that you can take with you when you die!

(1) Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma- see Pirkei Avot, ch. 6