by Toby Janicki
Why is it important that we study
the five books of Moses? What can we learn about our Messiah and the New
Covenant from honoring the Torah?
Most of you who have been reading this [website] have the understanding that you are indeed “Israel.” But, if true (and it is), then we need to see how Israel is (or how we are) to live.
To begin, we need to see that Israel was given a document called the Torah --- which contained certain “covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12). This Torah is our “how to live” manual.
But, through the years, this treaty has often been misunderstood, rejected, and even abused, by both Judah and Ephraim.
We hope to sift through the misunderstandings and gain a fresh perspective, that we might get a glimpse of why it is so important to study Torah.
Torah Means Teaching
To begin, we need to understand what is meant by the word, “Torah.” It can refer to the first five books of the Bible, i.e. Genesis through Deuteronomy. However, Rabbinic Judaism usually uses this term to include the Written Torah (the first five Books of the Bible) as well as the Oral Torah, which is the teachings of the rabbis passed on from generation to generation.
For our purposes we will use it to refer to the Written Torah as well as to the Living Torah, which is Messiah YAHUSHUA (John 1:1).
Understanding the meaning(s) of the word Torah is essential to our comprehension of who we are as children of Israel. Rabbi Hertz, writes, “Torah does not and never did mean law, it means teaching.”
Following Torah is not a way to find eternal salvation! That is found only in Messiah YAHUSHUA! Instead, Torah is a group of teachings that our gracious heavenly Father has given us to instruct us in our community life, as well as in our personal walk as Believers. It teaches us how to live in relation to one another.
King David speaks of this in Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
Now that we understand these essential truths let us see how Messiah YAHUSHUA felt about Torah.
To get a picture of YAHUSHUA’s relationship to the Torah, we go to the “Sermon on the Mount.” Imagine the scene:
YAHUSHUA has an enormous crowd in front of Him, and He takes this time to explain how He feels about the Torah:
We begin in Matthew 5:17:
“Do not think I have come to abolish the Torah and the Prophets, I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.”
Many believe YAHUSHUA is saying that He will fulfill the Torah in the sense of fulfilling its prophesies. And although He did do this, there is yet another way to look at this verse, one that better fits the context of what YAHUSHUA says next.
Fulfill and abolish were terms used by the rabbis in YAHUSHUA’s day when they were discussing interpretations of Scripture. Abolish was a term used to describe an interpretation that was not correct, and, fulfill was a term used to describe a proper interpretation of the Scripture.
Armed with this understanding, we see that YAHUSHUA is saying that He had come to give the proper, God-intended interpretation of the Torah!
When we begin to understand this important point, we begin to see YAHUSHUA as the greatest Torah teacher (Rabbi) of all time.
Next, YAHUSHUA says in verse 18:
“Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud or a stroke shall pass from the Torah --- not until everything that has happened must happen.”
YAHUSHUA is saying not even the minutest mark (stroke) or smallest letter (yud) will be nullified.
And, if we look outside, we see that heaven and earth are still there!
In other words, the Torah is here to stay.
Reading on in verse 18:
“So whoever disobeys the least of these commandments and so teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven, but whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Here, not only is YAHUSHUA saying that the Torah will always be here but that the teachers and doers of the Torah will be “blessed.” In fact, YAHUSHUA instructs us to teach the Torah to all the nations of the earth.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”
One might say YAHUSHUA is speaking of His commandments. But here we not two points:
First, everything that YAHUSHUA taught was from the Torah and, He did not teaching anything that was not from Torah. Second, YAHUVEH gave the Torah, and, if YAHUSHUA is YAHUVEH, then they are one and the same, and, YAHUSHUA’s commandments are YAHUVEH’s (more on this later).
In summation, YAHUSHUA taught Torah, and we are instructed to bring Torah to the people of all nations, and YAHUSHUA blessed Torah teachers.
What Does Torah Teach?
What does the Torah teach? How can it help us?
A friend of mine told me about a conversation he once had with a man. He was talking to him about the importance of Torah, and he asked the man, “What does YAHUSHUA say are the two greatest commandments?”
The man replied, “To love YAHUVEH your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
My friend said back to him,
“OK, how do you do that?”
That’s what Torah teaches!
How to find your way.
YAHUSHUA says the whole Torah hangs on these two commandments. This means, the whole of Torah is built upon “two principles.” They are like two major points in an outline, and the rest of the Torah is made up of minor points that explain the major points.
Torah teaches us how to love YAHUVEH with all our heart, soul, and mind and how to love our neighbor as ourselves.
In particular, we are told to, “Love YAHUVEH your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.”
As Believers we want to serve YAHUVEH with all of our life, “offering our bodies as living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1), but, we often get confused as to how best to do this.
Again, our loving Father knows our heart and He has already provided for us a manual for our lives. That manual is the Torah.
To best serve Him, we need to understand Him, and to understand His character, His relationship to us, and where we stand with Him. And, from the Torah we can learn all that.
In Torah we see that in the beginning our God created man in His own image, and then breathed life info him (Genesis 1:26; 2:7). And, we see that we are His representatives on Planet Earth, and that we are to imitate Him and be “holy [set-apart], even as He is holy” (Leviticus 1:45). We hear for the first time in Genesis of the Nation of Israel, and of YAHUVEH’s bride, and of Israel’s Land, and of the covenant He made with them. We see how much He loved us in the story of the Exodus, and how much our sin grieves Him in the story of the Flood. And, He reveals His essential characteristics to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7:
“YAHUVEH passed before him and proclaimed, ‘YAHUVEH, YAHUVEH! A God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He does not remit all punishment, but visits the iniquity of parents upon children and children’s children, upon the third and forth generations.”
Granted that these truths are expanded upon in the (re)new(ed) covenant, but we need to understand them in their basic root form in the First Covenant, in the Torah. For, if not, we will miss their essence in the renewed covenant.
YAHUVEH reveals His inward self throughout the Torah to us. For, He wants us, His bride, to know Him intimately.
The Torah also reveals some very practical points about how to serve YAHUVEH. For example, we learn of special times in which He wishes to meet with us so He can reveal spiritual truths.
These times are called the “Feasts of Israel,” and they are outlined in Leviticus 23. The word for them in Hebrew is moedim, it literally means appointed times. These times are days and seasons when YAHUVEH wants His congregation, as a unit, to appear before Him. At that time, they are to “rehearse” a specific aspect of their history.
When we do this, year after year, we see how these principles relate to our own salvation walk. For instance, in Exodus 12:17 we are introduced to the seven day observance of Unleavened Bread. And we are told to remove all the leaven from our houses and not to consume it. But, it doesn’t stop there. Rav Sha’ul (Rabbi Paul) expands this to its fullest meaning in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8:
“Don’t you know the saying, ‘It takes only a little yeast to leaven the whole batch of dough?’ Get rid of the old yeast, so that you can be a new batch of dough, because in reality you are unleavened. For our Pesach (Passover) lamb, the Messiah, has been sacrificed. So let us celebrate the Feast not with leftover yeast, the yeast of wickedness and evil, but with the unleavened bread of purity and truth.”
Here Sha’ul is saying that the Festival of Unleavened Bread, which comes right after, depicts the time when we begin to remove the sin from our lives. We want to be pure in YAHUSHUA, but it’s not an overnight change. Instead, it is a daily practice. It is something we “work on,” after we are saved. So we see the “season” of Unleavened Bread.
Another example of Torah teaching is our need for “atonement.” We cannot serve God completely without it, and so we read in Leviticus 17:11:
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have assigned it to you for making atonement for your lives upon the altar; it is the blood, as life, that atones.”
The writer of Hebrews expands this point in verse 9:22:
“…According to the Torah, almost everything is purified with blood; indeed, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.”
We need blood atonement, and, with the Temple no longer standing, there is only one answer:
YAHUSHUA. The answer is, He Whose sacrifice was greater than any offered in the Temple. He is now our atonement. And, we need to apply His blood to our temple (body) to be purified.
As we read through the Torah we learn of all the sacrifices, and we can see more how much YAHUSHUA did for us. Even so, one objective some have to the study and observance of Torah is that, they think it takes away from our need for YAHUSHUA. But on the contrary, a true study of Torah makes us realize how much more we need Him in order to serve YAHUVEH with all our heart, soul, and mind!
Love Your Neighbor As Yourself!
Living with others is difficult to do, especially when our flesh gets in the way. So, we need a code to live by that will help us overcome our weaknesses through instruction. In the Torah we find that code.
Concerning that code, Jewish rabbis numbered all of the commandments of the Torah at 613 --- with 248 of them being called “positive” (celebrate Passover, observe Shabbat, etc.) and 365 being called “negative” (don’t lie, don’t kill, etc.).
However, in actuality, Torah has an even greater number of commands. To find them we examine YAHUSHUA’s “Sermon on the Mount.” For, after He explains that His goal is to give a proper interpretation of Torah, He adds to the number:
“You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Do not murder’, and that anyone who commits murder will be subject to judgment, and I tell you that anyone who even nurses anger against his brother will be subject to judgment.”
YAHUSHUA gives the original intent of Torah, and that in it's self makes the number go far beyond 613 commandments.
According to the Messiah, the commandment against murder teaches us that, not only are we not to murder, but we must not even have hate or anger in our hearts. He also says, it’s not enough to not commit adultery, but, we must not even have “lust” in our hearts.
These heart principles are not always explicitly stated in the Torah, but they are always there. And, if we will look for them with the eyes of YAHUSHUA, like Him, we too will see the totality of the Torah. If we will learn to see things His way, then through His grace, we will be empowered to walk in His way.
So it is that the principles that were long ago written down for us, and even their hidden meanings, teach us how we are to relate to our fellow man. They even teach us to curb “human heart” reactions.
Lastly, in Matthew 5:44 we read:
“But I tell you love your enemies.”
Is this a Torah concept?
Let us look at Exodus 23:5:
“If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.”
Here the Torah addresses heart attitude. And it encourages us to refrain from wrong attitudes, and instead, to show love, even to the animals of our enemies.
The Torah is full of spiritual concepts about how to “Love our neighbors as ourselves.” And, it is essential that we take the Spirit of YAHUSHUA, and His system of interpretation, into every nook and cranny (yud and stroke) of our lives, so that we might find out how to relate to our fellow man, also, so that our hearts might be made pure. And, without the Torah and the Father’s Spirit, how can we possibly know what to do?
The Chief Cornerstone
Our one regret in this study is that we can’t possibly cover it all. For the Torah and its concepts and teachings are more numerous than the stars. Still, we hope you have seen that the Torah is something that goes far beyond mere dietary laws and Sabbath. Not that these things aren’t important, but Torah study and observance goes way beyond this. So, we hope you feel encouraged to seek out this ancient book and the wisdom that is enclosed in it.
This is not meant to downplay the rest of Scripture, for all of it is YAHUVEH’s Word. But in fact, once you begin to build with a Torah foundation, you will find that your new understanding will help to open up the rest of Scripture to you.
So we encourage you to pray and to ask YAHUVEH to show you His heart as you embark on the study of His word.
In closing, we look at one more Scripture. This one has to do with the two houses of Israel.
“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
As Believers we have always considered this chief cornerstone to be YAHUSHUA, and rightfully so, for, He was rejected and despised. But there is another valid interpretation of this verse.
Rabbis such as Rav Kook (the first Chief Rabbi of modern Israel) saw this cornerstone as the Torah that was rejected by the nations (gentiles) and that in the end of days they would indeed return to it.
Who is right? Could it be both opinions are correct? Are they one in the same? YAHUSHUA Himself says He is spoken of throughout the Torah (Luke 24:44-45). And there is even evidence that YAHUSHUA was called “The Torah” by His early followers, and truly, in greater truth that man has ever known, YAHUSHUA walked and taught Torah, He was in essence, the “Living Torah.”
In these end-times, and as the two houses of Ephraim and Judah, we both must admit our errors. As we do, Judah will grieve for stumbling over the Messiah, and then he will return to the Living Torah, to YAHUSHUA. Ephraim will also grieve, and, he will repent for stumbling over and not walking in obedience to YAHUVEH’s Torah.
So, let both the houses of Israel begin their repentance now.
Toby is the spiritual leader of the Israel Community Center in Loveland, Colorado. He lives in Loveland with his wife Shannon along with his two children Aharon and Channah. He can be contacted through his E-mail [email protected].
This article is reprinted by permission from Toby Janicki