I had dinner with a friend last night. He is someone I see only once a year or so. He is a rather intense person. (He may be reading this, so I have to be careful what I say). He is that kind of intense person who clearly has a calling from God. It was a meaningful dinner, one that took me back to a basic imperative: following Torah.
It may seem elementary or trivial, since you would think Messianic Judaism already centralizes Torah, but it is easy to lose Torah in the shuffle of other central imperatives (God, Messiah, community of Israel, congregational life, etc.). He reminded me that in the midst of it all, following God means following Torah. Simple but true.
I have often used the analogy of a house to help explain Torah to people who are already readers of the Bible. I entered the faith through an evangelical Christian setting. Our primary reference point was in the writings of Paul. You could say that Paul’s writings were the kitchen and living room. The Torah was a murky basement, dark and terrifying.
What I needed to know was that the Torah is really the main level of a two-story house. It is not the murky basement. The New Testment is the upper floor, built upon and dependent on the main level of Torah.
Think about it: the main teachings of the Bible are all in Torah. The rest of the Bible is based on what God already revealed in Torah. Creation, sin, separation, covenant, election, Israel, it’s all there. All the rest of the Hebrew Bible is an expansion of Torah. The historical books (the former prophets) show how Israel’s ups and downs were based on their response to Torah. The wisdom literature is Torah made practical (as well as disturbing questions that appear to be exceptions to Torah). The prophets call Israel back to Torah. The Gospels are about a man born under Torah whose message is consistent with Torah and who is the goal of Torah. The epistles are practical letters for following that man and discussions of Jews and Gentiles in light of Torah and Messiah.
If you think of Torah as the main level of a house, it is apparent that you cannot properly build the upper floors (New Testament understanding) without a solidly built main level. The Torah supports the New Testament.
I was taught differently. I was taught that Paul’s epistles were the standard and we moved backward from them into Gospels and Torah. Torah was mostly that other book, that mostly obsolete book from the old days, superseded and replaced in New Testament. I was taught that Torah is the way they used to do it. We know better now, but we read it for two reasons: history and to see hints of Jesus.
As I developed my Biblical Theology, I came to believe that Torah was more than that. I came to see that the Bible regards Torah as the foundation, not the obsolete way of the past. But even then I did not understand. It was at that point that I started Tikvat David in 2001. I knew the Torah was foundational, but I still carried a lot of anti-Torah prejudice with me.
What really opened my eyes was studying the Torah over a long period of time. I teach it year after year in the annual reading cycle. Its beauty becomes more apparent each year.
Those afraid of the Torah should read it, again and again. Its contents are not digestible in one read. It is a deep book. Its subtleties become clear with repetition and trying to understand it from within. That is exactly why it took me so long to understand it — I read it from the outside. I was an outsider to Torah. This is for the past. This is how they used to do it. I don’t need to figure out this boring detail since we don’t do it anymore.
I urge you,. Jewish or non-Jewish, become an insider to Torah. Read it from within. Read it as the book of your faith. Until heaven and earth disappear, not the slightest letter or stroke will disappear from it. The Torah is spiritual, Paul said. Yes, spiritual.