This week’s Torah reading is Parashat Bo. The Scripture is Exodus 10:1-13:16. Here is a brief commentary from Baruch:
A common question that I receive is in regard to Torah observance. Within the body of believers there is a movement called Messianic Judaism. Those that are a part of Messianic Judaism, whether they be Jewish or Gentile, want to worship HaShem and express their faith in Him and His Son Yeshua, in a manner that reflects many of the traditions of the larger Jewish community. Many of those who are part of Messianic Judaism want to distinguish themselves from another expression which is called “Hebrew roots”. The purpose of this article is not to define these movements or to even comment on them to any significant manner; rather clarify a term that is often used within these movements. This term is “Torah observance” or “keeping the Torah“.
The question to which I alluded at the opening of the first paragraph is whether or not I believe it is important or necessary to keep / observe the Torah. In this week’s Torah portion one reads,
“It shall be that when you come to the Land which HaShem will give to you (as) He spoke, you shall observe / keep this service.” Exodus 12:25
Today, both leaders of traditional rabbinical Judaism and those of Messianic Judaism understand this verse as referring to the Passover Seder. Clearly, Moses intended the Children of Israel to observe / keep the Passover each year, sacrificing the Passover lamb on the 14th day of Nissan and eating it that evening with bitter herbs and matzah. The question that arises is today, without a Temple, i.e. an altar, and no functioning Priesthood, is it possible to actually do a Biblical observance of the Passover? All expressions of Rabbinical Judaism state emphatically NO! In fact, today when Judaism speaks about keeping the Law or observing the commandments, they are not referring to the Biblical Torah, rather the commandments of the sages. While it is true that rabbinical Judaism (I am referring to Orthodox Judaism, as other expressions of “Judaism”, such as Conservative or Reform “Judaism” do not mandate any mandatory observance or keeping of any law.) does incorporate those commandments which are not related to the Temple and can be “observed” today, into their Law (Torah); it is most important that one understands that this observance is to the Rabbinical Torah and not the Torah which was received at Mount Sinai! What does this mean?
The sages understand that the Torah should not be viewed as a number of individual commandments, but as one unit. This is the proper understanding as James stated,
“For if one should keep the entire Torah (Law), but should stumble in one, he has become guilty of all of them.” James 2:10
Hence, the New Covenant agrees in this matter that the Law must be understood as a unit. The implication of this is that because many of the Biblical commandments cannot be observed / kept today, that the Torah from Mount Sinai is not בתוקף! I wrote this phrase in Hebrew, because when one translates it into English often an incorrect understanding is conveyed. Allow me to give an example.
Each year a car owner in Israel is sent a license for one’s automobile. This license has all the relevant information concerning the vehicle and its owner. I had received the new car license (for the new year), but had not paid the fee to validate it. I was stopped by the police at a random traffic check to see if those who were driving had their driver license, proof of insurance, and automobile license current and validated. My driver license had eight more years and my insurance was also paid, but I had not paid my automobile license yet. In other words, it was not validated. It happened that the computer system of the traffic bureau was down and all the relevant information that the officer could have received by entering my Identification number or license plate number into the system was therefore not available to him. What did he do? He simply looked at the automobile license, which although it had not been validated, still had all the pertinent information written upon it. This information was true and accurate; it was also beneficial for him in accomplishing his objective in filling out the ticket that I received.
The point is that the Torah is still true, accurate and useful today, but it is not בתוקף today because there is no Temple. (There are other implications to why the Torah is not בתוקף, but these are beyond the scope of this article). According to Judaism, when a person violates a Biblical commandment today, even one which is theoretically possible to do (not related to the Temple), he is only breaking the rabbinical law and not the Biblical Law. Why is this? There are two reasons for this. The first is to underscore the Scriptural view that the Torah is one unit. And, as we learned, because there is no Temple, one must set aside the validation of the Biblical Torah. This does not mean the Torah has no relevance, nor does it mean that the Torah does not contain truth, for it does. Second, let’s take the commandment of “You shall not commit adultery”. Under the Torah Law, what happens to the one who commits adultery? The Torah states that this one should be stoned. This command is found of course in both Biblical Law and in rabbinical law. However, when one transgresses this commandment, do the rabbis advocate stoning him in accordance with the Bible? They do not, because the sin today is only seen as a violation of rabbinical law.
As believers in Messiah Yeshua, we are not under the law of the Jewish sages. We have the only true Rabbi, Yeshua. The proper application of the Biblical Torah today is for the believer to study each of the Biblical commandments and understand that because of Yeshua’s death, all the punishment from a heavenly standpoint, has been paid in full by Him. Why do I state, “from a heavenly standpoint”? The answer is if I should steal, I am already forgiven by the blood of Yeshua in regard to that sin (and all sins). However, that forgiveness does not mean that there will not be any earthly consequences. I could be fined by a court or sent to prison. This sinful act could destroy a friendship and ruin my reputation. There could be and probably will be numerous consequences upon my earthly life; but that sin nor any other sin, will not change the fact that I have been redeemed by the blood of Yeshua. Sin can certainly affect my relationship with G-d severely and also the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. However, when I stated that all the punishment from a heavenly standpoint has been paid, I am referring only to the fact that the sins of a believer will not affect his salvation, i.e. where he will spend eternity, i.e. in the Kingdom of G-d).
Not only should one study the Biblical commandments, but each believer should pray for the Holy Spirit to teach him how he should apply the righteousness of the Law to his life. As Paul states,
“But now, we have been made delivered from the Torah, having had put to death that which was working, so that we can serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.” Romans 7:6
It is necessary to make a few comments concerning this verse. First, the context of this verse is the outcome of Messiah Yeshua’s work. By His death, we have been made delivered from the Torah“. This means that by means of Yeshua’s death we have also died, and therefore the punishment of the Law, i.e. death, no longer is applicable for the believer. This does not mean that the Torah has no longer any value for the believer. The phrase, “having had put to death that which was working” refers to what Paul stated in the previous verse, where he spoke about how the Law can work in a person’s flesh to arouse one’s sinful desire. No longer should the revelation of the will of G-d cause the believer to desire to rebel, rather the primary purpose for accepting Yeshua was to turn away from sin, i.e. the violations of the commandments of G-d. Now, having been redeemed by the blood of Yeshua, the believer can “serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.” This is the reality for the Spirit-led believer.
Now having stated the position of the believer in regard to the concept of keeping or observing the Torah, allow me to respond to one more related issue. A friend recently sent me an article:
“One Law, Two Sticks”:
A Critical Look at the Hebrew Roots Movement: A position paper of the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (IAMCS) Steering Committee. 1/15/2014
This paper states the IAMCS’s position in regard to the “Hebrew Roots Movement”. First of all, I do not believe that either Messianic Judaism or the Hebrew Roots movements have been clearly defined theologically. That is to say, there is exceedingly wide diversity within both of these movements and a great deal of overlapping. However this position paper tends to make a distinction between them in regard to the application of Torah Law. The paper opens with the statement:
“We, as Messianic Jewish leaders, have become increasingly concerned that there are a growing number of individuals and groups today promoting the idea that all the world’s believers in the Messiah – Jewish and Gentile alike – ought to be keeping the Torah, particularly the Shabbat, the feasts, and kosher diet. The doctrine which is the subject of this paper has been around since the day of the Apostles, in different forms, but today it has come to be known as “One Law One People” or just “One Law,” for short. It insists upon Gentile Torah observance universally.” Page 1
In essence, the paper seems to say that proper Messianic Judaism asserts that the “keeping of the Torah” is for primarily the Jewish people and not incumbent on Gentiles. It is not my intent at this time to respond to the primary message of this IAMCS’s position paper. This I will save for an additional article. Rather my concern is the failure of the Messianic world to properly understand the meaning of what Judaism means when it uses the term “Torah Observance“.
Throughout this article, I did not see any distinction between מצוות דאורייתא וממצוות דרבנן, the actual 613 Biblical Laws and those commandments which rabbinical law places upon its adherents. I also found a problem that there was an artificial separation between moral commandments and ceremonial aspects with the Torah.
“While there clearly are universal moral laws in the Torah, there are many aspects of the Torah that have nothing to do with morality, and which therefore are not intended to be universal.” Page 4
Although one can divide the commandments under different sub-headings, this should not be thought of as a way to present one set of commandments which is for all humanity (moral and ethical aspects of the Torah) and a second set (along with the first set, of course) which is only for Jewish individuals (commandments related to the ceremonial aspects, such as tzitzit or circumcision, etc).
Let me state that there is a great problem when individuals, whether Jewish or Gentile, misuse or misapply traditions and elements of Torah observance (whether the Biblical Torah or rabbinical law) in a manner that is in conflict with the standard Biblical or traditional application. This can be and usually is a stumbling block to the wider Jewish community. As one who has participated seriously in several Orthodox communities both in Miami Beach (8 years) and in Israel (13 years) I can attest that most of what the Messianic community or the Hebrew Roots movement call Torah observance is far from what the Orthodox communities would label as observant. The point is that both camps need to stop utilizing the term keeping the law or observing the law, because such language is never accurate if the reference is the Biblical Torah, and the vast majority of the time, not accurate if the standard is rabbinical Jewish law. While people can obey the rabbinical law, NO ONE IS ABLE TO OBEY THE BIBLICAL LAW completely, and nearly 250 of the 613 Biblical commandments cannot be observed at all.
I was asked did I keep Passover last year. No I did not and neither did anyone else. Even if you had a Seder on the 14th day of Nissan in Jerusalem (actually on the eve of the 15th) and even if you slaughtered a lamb there on the Temple Mount, you did not keep Passover, because there was no altar and there were not the Kohanim serving. This is why I believe that each believer (Jew or Gentile) should study the commandments and ask the Holy Spirit how He wants him to apply the message of each commandment to his life. Furthermore, I prefer to identify the Torah as Truth given to Israel (the Jewish people) in order to practice it (in the days of the Temple and Tabernacle) and receive the favor of HaShem (favor here is not a reference to the concept of grace) and cause those of the nations to desire that same favor and thereby applying (practicing) Torah to their lives. When the Bible speaks about Israel being a light to the Gentiles, it is referring to the glory of G-d which is manifested through obedience to the word and once again causes the Gentile (and sometimes the fellow Jew) to be drawn to that same obedience.
In conclusion, the believing Jewish community might be making the same error has their non-believing fellow Jews, namely finding identity in lifestyle or perhaps cultural indicators or factors, rather than in the One Who created them. One is not Jewish as an outcome of tzitzit, Kippot, Kashrut, or any other action. He or she is Jewish because HaShem created this one to be a biological heir of Jacob. These outward expressions, when performed by those who are not Jewish, should not therefore be viewed as threatening the Jewish identity of those who are Jewish.