Today we continue the mini-series on topics in which I don’t believe we (as Christians) are totally wrong, but for which our current view is just too small. I believe our view of Torah is too small.

 

As is typical I would like to begin this discussion with a story.

What Makes a Great Business?

My wife was recently telling me about a local exercise studio that was sold and how much it had changed. On the surface it seemed as though nothing had changed! The building was exactly the same. The pricing hadn’t changed. But over time membership started dropping with some of the staff leaving as well. Why? We agreed the change had to be attributed to the new owner.

This caused me to recall some of my past experience in the world of high tech startups in such places as Silicon Valley, California and in various startups in Israel. It is known that in the very best startups there was a certain kind of culture that was present, a culture that I would like to boil down in this column to just two aspects regarding “what it is like to work there.”

  1. Involvement. The leadership involved the employees in the workings of the company where possible. Employees felt encouraged to work hard, and innovate, and continually asked “is there a better way to do things?” As such employees felt like part of a large family. They felt included in the discussions, that they had a voice, and that their voice would at least be heard, even if their suggestions might not ultimately be acted upon. In other words, company decisions and policies would need to be made, but there was some give and take, and employees could be part of the process. Naturally the earlier you joined the company, the more influence your own voice might have. Over time, a company’s culture solidifies and is established at all levels. Nevertheless, the opportunity to be part of one of those companies in the early days, and help shape it can be a thrilling experience even if you are not in leadership. Such people feel intensely part of the community.
  2. Vision. Through many different kinds of interactions and forms of communication, the leadership believed and instilled in the employees a sense of vision and of purpose for the company direction. The leadership would speak often about how their company is on a mission to change the world, or at least improve the world. Employees bought in to the vision and worked long hours, both in the office and at home, and were often so engaged in the vision and purpose of the company that they would continue thinking about the products and the problems they faced even at night and on weekends. Sometimes the best ideas would come to employees at the most unexpected times.

No company is perfect, but in companies that fit what I describe above, I can assure you that such companies have people eagerly wanting to join them.

So why then was a fairly young exercise studio suddenly losing business? Because while the first owner did (1) and (2) very well, the second owner viewed the business as “something to manage”. In the words of my wife: “The entrepreneurial spirit in that business has been lost.”

Too Small a View of Torah

What does this have to do with the claim that our view of Torah is too small?

While many Christians see the Old Testament as absolutely necessary, while many of us see the Torah as absolutely valuable to help us understand our Jewish Roots, while many Christians have learned that Torah does not even mean law but that it means teaching or instruction, even so, I think that we Christians are still viewing the Torah as a way to “manage a nation”, rather than as having an “entrepreneurial spirit”!

Simply put, we are viewing The Torah as a way that God (the Commander) gets his will done on earth (the control).

This view is too small!

God is the greatest entrepreneur that ever existed, or ever will exist, and the Torah is full of entrepreneurial spirit!

Let us look at the two previous items again, this time with Mount Sinai in our minds.

God is the greatest entrepreneur that ever existed, or ever will exist, and the Torah is full of entrepreneurial spirit!

Let us look at the two previous items again, this time with Mount Sinai in our minds.

  1. Involvement. God did not deliver the Ten Commandments just on stone, as if it was an operational manual from the Human Resources department, but He presented it directly to the people! Amazingly they both saw and heard the words personally, and the Jews say that everyone heard the commands in their own language. The fact that they were terrified shows that this was probably the greatest, most awesome “sound and light show ever created” to reveal what the Great Entrepreneur had in mind! Indeed, even after Moses took on the primary role of messenger between the people and God, God was still interacting with the people through Moses. Individuals and the problems they brought to Moses would help refine the details of how the Torah was to be kept in the larger community. Occasionally God even added new components to the written Torah based on their observations and questions, such as when the daughters of Zelophehad questioned the male-only inheritance ruling.
  2. Vision. The giving of the Torah was not about command and control, to keep the people from being too unruly in the desert; the Torah was about creating a brand new culture on earth. We think about “Jewish culture” and “Jewish practices”, but these things we see today are invented by God directly. They are an expression of none other than God’s culture and God’s preferred practices. The first big milestone of the vision was to fulfill what had been promised to Moses, that the people would come to the very mountain where the burning bush had stood. The next great milestone was to get the people ready to enter the Promised Land — not just to enter it, not just to conquer it, but to build in it a new kind of community, different from every other nation on earth, with the potential to stand the test of time. This community had the potential to live forever and not collapse as empires do when created in the image of man.

Too Small a View – Two Examples

Let’s now look at two examples of mistakes that Christians can make, when we view the Torah as too small.

The first one involves the perception of God in traditional Christianity. If we see God at Mount Sinai as a “command and control” kind of God, and then we read about the grace and mercy of Yeshua as shown in the New Testament, then we unintentionally act as if God has changed even though the Bible clearly say He does not! (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). This seed of thought eventually is taught as axiomatic using formal theological labels, such as “The Age of Law” versus “The Age of Grace”.

But our second example affects followers of Yeshua in the Hebrew Roots movement. Some followers of Yeshua celebrate the feasts of the Lord on days that are not aligned with the Hebrew calendar that the Jews are using. How did this happen? In recent decades, certain followers of Yeshua have studied the history of the Jewish calendar and every mention of the calendar in the Torah, and have taken issue with the way in which the Jewish people are implementing the Torah’s commands. The Jews, they say, are in error and to correct the problem they wait another month to observe the feasts.

The complaint these followers have against the Jews is that they are no longer relying on human observations of the moon for their calendar as implied in the Torah and as it was done in the Temple periods. Rabbi Hillel II and others that followed him figured out a formula for the Jewish Calendar in about 358 CE. This allowed Jews around the world to keep the same calendar everywhere without a centralized authority in Jerusalem — an ingenious solution during the Exile. But even though it was brilliant move, over time it has drifted slightly. Yes, Jewish scholars know about this drift, but most Jews don’t even notice, and even fewer are pressing for a worldwide change!

But to take issue with the way the Jews are following the Hebrew Calendar, is itself a mistake. It reveals that we as followers of Yeshua are misunderstanding the Torah on at least two levels. First, it misunderstands how God involves his people in the development and interpretation of the Torah. For a deeper understanding of this principle, I suggest a Torah teaching given by Gidon Ariel here on YouTube. Gidon’s very first example in that teaching reveals a shared responsibility between God and man, regarding the keeping of the Hebrew calendar! The implication is clear: God adjusts to the decision of the people, but He does not adjust to the decision of every person! In other words, God expects the people to come together as a community and work and live together under a single calendar.

So if a friend of mine questions the Jewish calendar today and wants to live by a corrected calendar, my response to them is this: “Even if you are right, you are wrong”.

I tell them that “You are wrong because you are separating yourself from the calendar that the Jewish people have selected”. It doesn’t matter if the current system is slightly off — God is adjusting to their community decision. Two competing calendars does not please God, and it creates separation between followers of Yeshua and the Jewish People. When the Jewish people are ready to make a community decision to change it, at that time we should change with them.

You may individually choose not to observe a certain day on the Hebrew Calendar. That’s fine. But if you observe a day, don’t separate yourself from the community decision.

Summary

I don’t think people in these examples are consciously trying to be hurtful to the Jewish people. We just don’t understand the Torah. Unless we learn directly from the Jews, which is the whole idea behind Root Source, we will be reading Torah apart from the Jews, and trying to interpret the commands just right. But that is a view that is too small. We are missing the bigger point of:

  1. God’s involvement with His people in the interpretation of the Bible.
  2. God’s vision to create a new culture that would inspire the World.

God is a pretty good businessman! I would say that He did a pretty good job getting a new entrepreneurial effort off the ground and inspiring the people to go take the Promised Land, and to build a community that had a lasting potential. Indeed, the Jewish people have lasted for 3,500 years with this very culture, and now they are back in the Land.

Silicon Valley has produced some amazing companies over the last fifty years, and likewise the nation of Israel is well known for having a culture that fosters many successful startups.

But it is time for us to celebrate that about 3,500 years ago God founded a startup of His own.

The Israelites who left Egypt were the original Startup Nation!

Shalom.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Studio See: 041 – A View Too Small: Torah”

  1. Avatar
    Louise Brislane

    interesting!! I didn’t even know that the days they celebrate had changed but then I am not a “Torah follower”. What I have found is that the more I read through the Scriptures each year, with the help of the Holy Spirit’s guidance I am actually seeing more & more that I had never noticed in the past. It is a real adventure especially as this year I am using two Jewish bibles to give me a greater perspective of the Jewish way of looking at things. First book is the new Israel Bible printed for the 70th anniversary. & the second is the Complete Jewish Study Bible which I use mainly for the NT readings. I do have an issue with some of the English wording in the Israel bible in so much as ‘happy’ is not the right word to use but should be ‘blessed’. There are a few other old antiquated words that send me to the dictionary to discover the meaning of but over all it has been enjoyable to spend my mornings reading those translations along side of my ESV. I think I am developing more compassion on Jacob’s offspring as it wouldn’t have mattered who they were! God could have chosen Job & his off spring & the result would have been the same because prior to Jesus sending the Holy Spirit, no one could possibly live a godly life. Look at the world around us, at family members who are not Christians. there is no way any human could live the life that the Lord chose for the children of Jacob. So my heart goes out to them & I thank God that I was born post Christ & so have His Holy Spirit to enlighten what I am reading, making the words on the page live in 3D instead of just marks on a page. So blessings… I am upto where God has told Moses he will not be entering the land so nearly finished Numbers & I have gotten far more understanding out of the books. So thank you to those you were behind bringing the Jewishness of the scriptures to us in English. I also have to thank Jacob Prasch for his teaching & opening up of the Jewish way of thinking etc. So happy that I found his you tube downloads. Also many thanks to you Bob for all that you bring us through this webpage. I look forward to getting it each week, & especially for all the trips around Israel as it has been wonderful to finally see what it looks like from a Christian perspective.

    1. Avatar

      Hi Louise, Here is some extra information to fill in some details for you. The Israel Bible is an annotated version of the JPS 1985, which is not the most recent version of the Jewish Publication Society. The CJB is based on the JPS 1917, which is no longer under copyright protection. The point is that the JPS is more of a scholarly work than a religious work. A good example of the difference can be found in the Art Scroll Tanakh, that is translated under religious guidance. But, all versions have advantages and disadvantages as you say. Blessings! Bob.

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