Salvation is by faith, not works. How often have we seen this and said this? And, it is so very true. However, most people leave it there, and that is only part of the story. The concept of zikhut, merit, is seldom explored. One reason why is that as soon as one begins to speak of merit, it is assumed that we are speaking of salvation by merit. This is a horribly inaccurate assumption.
Zikhut, merit, is a concept often spoken of in both the Tanakh and Brit Chadasha. Yeshua speaks of zikhut in the sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 5:19 (CJB) So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot and 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.
It is important to note here, that what Yeshua is saying, has nothing to do with salvation. As the verse states, the doing of the mitzvot is not a requirement for getting into the kingdom of heaven. Yeshua is not talking about salvation, but about zikhut.
Who is great and who is least in the kingdom of heaven? That is a matter of zikhut. How does one gain zikhut? How does one earn the epithet, “well done, good and faithful servant.” Yeshua is quite clear on this, mitzvot. Mitzvot are the measure of zikhut. Mitzvot are how we live godly and holy lives.
2 Peter 3: 11 Since everything is going to be destroyed like this, what kind of people should you be? You should lead holy and godly lives, 12 as you wait for the Day of God and work to hasten its coming.
As we live lives kadosh, holy for God, separate for God, we hasten the return of the Messiah. It is through zikhut, it is through doing mitzvot that we hasten the return of the Messiah. Through doing mitzvot. We do not gain salvation, we gain zikhut, which hastens the return of the Messiah.
It is interesting that in looking at the life of Cornelius, we see a G-d-fearer, who is not Jewish, actively engaged in gaining zikhut. He is honored by Israel for following the Torah of the Jewish people, even though he is not Jewish. These things are pointed out in the Brit Chadasha as being important, why, because Gentile believers can gain zikhut as well as Jews. So, here is an example of a righteous Gentile, a Gentile believer, who follows the Torah of the Jewish people, and thereby hastens the return of the Messiah.
Cornelius’ following the Torah of the Jewish people as a righteous Gentile, is a map and a gateway for Gentile believers today. The Jewish people are light unto the nations. This is only relevant if the nations begin to recognize the light. The Gentile G-d-fearer has a huge role in the return of the Messiah. Zikhut. Only zikhut will hasten the return of the Messiah. Zikhut is gained every time anyone follows the mitzvot of Hashem. Anyone. Jew, Greek, male, female, if you pursue the mitzvot, you gain zikhut. As Shavuot approaches, and we celebrate our receiving of Torah, let us remember that this is not an academic exercise. As we pursue the actual doing of the mitzvot. We hasten the return of the Messiah.
As we count the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot, one day, in particular, has a very special significance. Lag b’Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, (Lamed being 30 and gimel being 3, hence lag is 33,) is a day of extraordinary events in Jewish history. It is the 18th day of the month of Iyar.
On Lag b’Omer, Hashem sent us mon (manna) in the wilderness. The children of Israel cried out yet again for Hashem to save us, and he did. Today Lag b’Omer marks a special day for the celebration of a very important sage in the 2nd century ce, Rabbi Shimon bar Yokhai. Rabbi Shimon is frequently referred to by his acronym Rashbi.
Rabbi Shimon was one of the leading students of Rabbi Akiva. While he was studying with Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon recognized the coming catastrophe of the Bar Kochba revolt. As instructed in the New Testament Rabbi Shimon fled for the hills with his son Elazar and found a cave to live in in a place called Meron, near Tzfat in the Galilee. (For this and other reasons, Rabbi Shimon is believed by many to have been a believer in Yeshua the Messiah.) Rabbi Shimon lived there for 13 years. Hashem provided them a carob tree and a spring of fresh water for sustenance.
During this time the bar Kochba revolt ensued, and for a time it went well. Archaeologists have found coins indicating that during the revolt the Karbon Pesach was renewed in the Temple. Rabbi Akiva even indicated that he thought that bar Kochba may have been the Messiah. Then catastrophe struck, a plague gripped the students of Rabbi Akiva. 25,000 of his students died in the plague and the plague ended on Lag b’Omer, only five of his students survived. One of them was Rabbi Shimon bar Yokhai.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian brought his legions into the land of Israel and squashed the bar Kochba revolt. Millions of Jews were slaughtered, and at bar Kochba’s stronghold of Betar, every single one of the men was killed on Tisha b’Av. The Jewish people were devastated; the tendency came to forget about our G-d and our history. There was a very real danger of Torah going out from the world.
It was at this time that Rav Shimon bar Yokhai emerged from the cave at Meron on Lag b’Omer. He saw the destruction and the despair of the Jewish people. Strengthened by Hashem, he fought, valiantly, to keep the light of Torah from leaving the world. It is clear, that without the strength, vision, and relentless effort, of Rabbi Shimon bar Yokhai, we might not have Torah today.
While in the cave at Meron, Rashbi compiled and organized Jewish mystical thought. The result is the book of splendor, the Zohar. Although the text itself was not redacted until the early Middle Ages, the lines of esoteric thought were gathered and preserved by the Rashbi. We can see much of these lines of understanding in both the gospel of John and the Revelation.
Finally, the Rashbi passed away on Lag b’Omer. So, Rabbi Shimon bar Yokhai was born on Lag b’Omer, he emerged from the cave on Lag b’Omer, and he died on Lag b’Omer. And so we celebrate. We light on fires, symbolic of the light of Torah, not being extinguished from the world. We sing and dance with joy at our ability to study and live the Torah because of the Rashbi. Incidentally, I was born on Lag b’Omer, and married on Lag b’Omer.
Lag b’Omer sameach!
Happy Lag b’Omer!
Lev 23: 9 The LORD said to Moses, 10 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. 11 He is to wave the sheaf before the LORD so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath.
Lev 23: 15 “ ‘From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. 16 Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. 17 From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD.
The Complete Jewish Bible here offers us an excellent translation. Let us compare and contrast Leviticus 23:10 with Leviticus 23:17. Leviticus 23 is frequently translated as firstfruits, as opposed to the translation we see here sheaf of the first grain. In Leviticus 23:17 we see the wave offering of firstfruits. There is quite a bit of confusion about the idea of firstfruits in both of these verses. In verse 17, the Hebrew is quite clear. The term used that is translated firstfruits is Bikurim. In fact, the term Bikurim is used to indicate the firstfruits offering throughout Scripture. The term used in Leviticus 23:9, is quite different. Instead of Bikurim, firstfruits, the terminology used in Hebrew is, Omer Reishit, which literally means first sheaf. So we see that the Complete Jewish Bible translation of this verse as, “sheaf of the first grain,” is a far better translation and understanding than firstfruits. This frequent but poor translation has led to much misunderstanding of the verse. As you can see, Leviticus 23:10 is referring to the first day of the Omer. Leviticus 23:17 is referring to the Moed of Shavuot. This is why Shavuot is sometimes referred to as the Festival of firstfruits. The beginning of the offering of the firstfruits is Shavuot. The Mishnah explains in tractate Bikurim that the Bikurim (firstfruits) were offered beginning in Shavuot, all the way until Hanukkah. No Bikurim were offered before Shavuot. In this way, Shavuot is the Festival of firstfruits.
In Yeshua’s time, the day that the first sheaf wave offering, that is the first day of the Omer, was the 16th of Nissan. The Pharisees controlled the Sanhedrin, the Nasi of the Sanhedrin was Gamliel, so Pharisaic interpretations were used in Temple ceremony, such as the counting of the Omer, and the Nisuch haMayim, the water drawing ceremony. It was not until after the counting of the Omer was finished on Shavuot that the Bikurim were brought to the Temple. It is easy to see that in no way can firstfruits be associated with Pesach.
John 1:24 Some of those who had been sent were P'rushim. 25 They asked him, "If you are neither the Messiah nor Eliyahu nor `the prophet,' then why are you immersing people?" 26 To them Yochanan replied, "I am immersing people in water, but among you is standing someone whom you don't know. 27 He is the one coming after me -- I'm not good enough even to untie his sandal!"
This text illustrates a very interesting, and often overlooked, point. John, the immerser, is speaking with a group of Pharisees. The text clearly delineates that they are Pharisees; John is not speaking to a crowd of Judeans, rather to Pharisees specifically. To them, he says, “among you is standing.” This is clearly an indication that Yeshua is among the Pharisees prior to his ministry. This is but one indication that Yeshua was a Pharisee.
In many circles, this is not a popular position, however, Scripture shows us that this is actually the case. Part of the problem is in the lack of understanding of what the Pharisaic movement actually was in the first century Judaism.
Scholars have been debating for several decades, the actual definition of a Pharisee. It is not my intent to involve myself in this, however, let me explain the bases of the discussion. On the one hand, the Pharisees are described as a political movement dominated by a small number of people, leadership. On the other hand, the Pharisees are described as a sect, actually sects, of Judaism followed by the majority of Jews in the first century, which adhered to Torah observant practices. Yeshua was clearly not in the leadership of the Pharisees. So, if your definition of Pharisee, is only the leadership, clearly Yeshua was not a Pharisee. But, also clearly, Yeshua followed Pharisaic Jewish observance and doctrine. For the purpose of this blog, it really makes no difference whether Yeshua was actually a Pharisee, or whether he merely followed Pharisaic Jewish practice along with the majority of Jews at the time So for the sake of brevity, will simply say he was a Pharisee.
Yeshua and the talmidim were readily accepted to both attend, and teach, in Synagogue. This is a very important point; Synagogue was strictly a Pharisaic institution. Sadducees had nothing to do with Synagogue and would not set foot in one. In Matthew 22:23-34, Yeshua soundly rejects the theology of the Sadducees regarding resurrection. In addition, both Yeshua and the talmidim constantly quote the Prophets, whereas the Sadducees rejected the idea of the books of the Prophets to be Canon. Yeshua frequently defended Oral Law against ideas presented by competing Pharisaic sects. Examples of this include healing on Shabbat, and feeding the hungry on Shabbat. Yeshua very clearly takes the position of accepted Pharisaic Oral Law. In John 7, it is recognized that there is an allusion to the water drawing ceremony, the Nisuch HaMayim. This is a ceremony promoted only by the Pharisees, to the point where, a century before Yeshua, the head Sadducee, Alexander Yannai, trying to disrupt the ceremony, poured the water on his feet instead of on the altar. In the resulting melee, over 3000 Pharisees were killed in the Temple.
So, depending on your definition, Yeshua was either a Pharisee, or adhered to the religious practices of the Pharisees, along with the majority of the people. This is an important fact to understand, because it clarifies Yeshua’s relationship to the Oral Law, and why he supported it, as opposed to the traditions of the elders. At the same time, it is clear that Yeshua despised the behavior of hypocrites within the Pharisees. Indeed, Yeshua foretold the destruction of the second Temple, because of baseless hatred, sinat chinam. Aside from this, Yeshua clearly followed the interpretation and practice of the Pharisees.
One of my teachers recently reminded me during class; we are each a product of our own spiritual growth. This includes the culture that we are raised up in and the language or languages we are raised up in; these are things that give us comfort in our thinking about Scripture and about Hashem. Perhaps, the answer to the above question is simply that that is what we are raised in and what we are used to, on the whole. If you are raised in the church or entered the church upon first finding Yeshua the Messiah, it is church doctrine, church culture and church language that we are most familiar with, even today. Most of the leadership in the messianic movement, in fact, most of the people in the messianic movement, did not grow up in a learned Jewish atmosphere. If your only true introduction to Hashem was through the church after finding Yeshua the Messiah, how much more so would your immersion into church thought and doctrine be.
We are seeing the beginnings of a Jewish return to Messiah Yeshua. Within this beginning, we must recognize that the vast majority of Jewish religious people worldwide are from the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities. The Pew research study of 2012 indicates that the numbers of people involved in American Reform Judaism are declining rapidly. Outside of the United States, Reform Judaism, for all practical purposes, does not exist. We, as a movement, must, therefore, brace ourselves for a coming influx of new believers with a learned Jewish background, that are not willing, nor should they be willing, to simply throw away Jewish scholarship simply because it’s Jewish and not Christian.
In fact, it is these Jewish sources that give us accurate, vetted, and thoughtful understanding of the Tanakh. These are resources that we as Messianic Jews should be embracing in contrast to contradictory replacement and dispensational theology presented to us by the Christian church.
For this reason, we as a movement seriously need to begin study not only of Jewish attitude and understanding of Scripture but Talmud, Midrash, the Gaonim, the Rishonim, etc. We need to recognize that these writings are not “the traditions of men,” but rather the collective understanding of the children of Israel, passed down to us throughout the generations. These writings are not Scripture. Nor should they be treated as Scripture. In fact, no Jewish person I know or have ever known has ever treated them as Scripture, that is a strawman argument that I’ve seen repeatedly. The understandings in these writings serve as a basis for beginning the journey toward understanding Hashem and Messiah through Jewish eyes. As we have the new Jewish believers, that have the substantial background in the Jewish Antiquities, come into the movement, we must be ready for them.
So the question is, what are you studying now? What is your course of study, what has been your course of study, how and in what direction? Have you advanced in the last 5 years, 10 years, 20 years? Most particularly if you are in leadership, how much time do you devote to study? In order to be ready for the coming influx of believers of a strong Jewish background, it would be seemly to begin or continue, a course of study in the Jewish Antiquities
Let us get one thing straight from the outset. The reason the Jewish people did not accept Yeshua the Messiah, 2000 years ago, is because Hashem would not let them. This is spelled out very clearly in Romans 11. There is no reason to fear or reject rabbinic teaching for any believer in Yeshua.
Paul declared himself a Pharisee, which means he followed rabbinic teachings and directives. Yeshua said they sit in the seat of Moses, be careful to do everything they say, (He then rejected their behavior, not their teachings.) Gamliel himself, Nasi of the Sanhedrin, warned not to go after the believers in Yeshua in Acts 15, basically he stayed neutral.
In prior blogs, we have discussed the idea that the traditions of the elders are not the same thing as the teachings of the rabbis, the oral law. So, let us look for a minute at some of the instances with Yeshua himself that are often pointed out, incorrectly, as being in contention with the oral law.
A group of Pharisees chastised Yeshua because the disciples did not wash their hands before eating. In Talmud Bavli 52b, there is an argument between Hillel and Shammai. Shammai says that one must always wash your hands to be ritually clean before eating. Hillel points out that there is no such requirement in Torah, ritually clean hands are only required when eating Teruma, food dedicated to the Temple. Hillel wins the argument. Yeshua supports the position of the oral law against the position of Shammai.
There are 2 questions about work on Shabbat in the Gospels. The disciples work so that they can eat grain on Shabbat, and Yeshua heals a blind man on Shabbat. The oral law is quite clear on both of these instances, feeding the hungry on Shabbat is an imperative. Work done to feed the hungry does not violate Shabbat. Healing life and limb on Shabbat is an imperative work must be done to heal life and limb. This can be found in the Kitsur Shulchan Aruch Siman 92. Again, Yeshua upholds oral law against challenges made by students of Shammai.
It is important to remember that the Sanhedrin was controlled by the Pharisees. Violation of the rabbinic interpretation of Torah was considered violation of Torah. There was no separation between written and oral law. We must consider Mark 14:55. During Yeshua’s mock trial, the Sadducees tried everything they could to convince the Pharisees to convict Yeshua. But they could not find anything to convict him. Why not? Because, Yeshua followed the Pharisaic, rabbinic, interpretation of Torah exactly. Yeshua followed the oral law. In the end, the only thing that could be found to convict Yeshua, was the fact that Yeshua declared himself to be the Messiah. There was then no actual conviction, there was then no actual trial, but the Sadducees carted Yeshua off to Pontius Pilate to be crucified. Consider that the Sanhedrin had had agents following Yeshua for years, and yet they could find nothing to convict him. Yeshua followed Pharisaic oral law.
Torah was given to us at Mount Sinai. It was not given to us as individuals. It was given to us as a nation, as a newly formed nation. This nation consisted of the children of Israel who chose to leave Egypt under Moshe’s direction, and the mixed multitude that attached themselves to the children of Israel. At Mount Sinai, we became one nation. And it is that nation that received the Torah from the mouth of Hashem by the hand of Moshe. The Torah was given to us so that we would be a nation separated for Hashem, a holy nation, a kingdom of priests, a light into the world. The method that Hashem gave us make us a separate nation, a holy nation, is the mitzvot.
Torah defines sin and defines righteousness. It is life and death, the blessing and the curse, it is the ultimate choice that Hashem has given us so that we may choose good and reject evil. Torah is the way that Hashem has given us to fulfill the ultimate purpose of all creation, that is, for us, of our own free will, to choose Hashem. This means doing His mitzvot. As Yeshua said, “if you love me follow my commandments.” Remember, when Yeshua walked the earth, “the Scripture” meant the Old Testament. “The commandments” meant the commandments of Torah.
So how are we, as a nation, to obey the mitzvah of Shabbat? The Torah gives us a general outline, do no work, not you, not your spouse, not your servants, not your animals. The sages explain that this means that not only are we not supposed to work, we are not supposed to cause anyone else to work either. When you pay someone to do something for you, obviously you’re causing them to work. Consequently, we must not handle money on Shabbat. We must not go out to a restaurant. We must not go shopping. We must not do anything that requires us have to pay someone else for services or goods. This is a commandment of Hashem.
Then Torah gives us an important insight. The first instruction given in Torah regarding the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, is that we must cease from building on Shabbat. So any of the activities that we were to engage in for the construction of the Mishkan, we were instructed to stop doing because it violated Shabbat. This provides us a list of 39 separate activities that are forbidden on Shabbat by Hashem.
Torah gives us other insights about Shabbat that are explained by the sages. For instance, the Kohens are instructed to bring sacrifices on Shabbat. The work involved in bringing the sacrifices his work that does not violate Shabbat, it is Avodat Kodesh, holy work, which is different than Avodat Chol, regular work. Holy work is allowed on Shabbat, such as giving charity, feeding the hungry, healing serious injury.
The 10 Commandments give us two different instructions about Shabbat. We are to remember the Sabbath day, and we are to observe the Sabbath day. This is why we light two candles on Shabbat. It is time that we as Messianic Jews begin to take the Shabbat seriously. Unfortunately, the cultural pressures of Reform Judaism and Christianity try to move us in the wrong direction, away from Torah. We must begin moving in the other direction, toward Torah. Choose life, choose the blessing, be shomer Shabbat.
Prior to the Babylonian exile Synagogue did not exist. The Synagogue itself is a construct created as a result of the Babylonian exile. Judaism, until that point, was completely centered around the Tabernacle/Temple. The Temple services, officiated by the Kohens, were the mainstay of Jewish life and the children of Israel’s relationship with HaShem. The Kohens diligently brought the sacrifices and offerings, both national and individual, and offered them according to the instructions in the Torah. These activities which had been the center of Jewish life from Sinai, came to an abrupt halt when the armies of Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and burned the Temple to the ground.
Most of the children of Israel were carried off into captivity in Babylon, the Temple was no more, and although it was in the hearts of the children of Israel to rebuild the Temple and reestablish ourselves in the land of the promise, there was no immediate thought of the feasibility of accomplishing this as we were carried off into exile. So, a new era began in Judaism. How could Judaism survive without the Temple? What would Judaism look like without the Temple? What would Israel’s relationship with HaShem consist in without the Temple?
The leadership of Israel had these questions and many more to ponder and solve with the onslaught of the exile. 120 of these leaders got together and form what is known as the Anshei Knesset HaG’dola, the men of the great assembly. These leaders included people we are well familiar with from Scripture, including Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah, Mordechai, Ezra, Nehemiah and others. The men of the great assembly were faced with the problem of finding a way to maintain a relationship with HaShem that did not include the Temple. With Ezra leading the way, the men of the great assembly began to fervently evaluate Torah and the Torah relationship Israel had with HaShem. The question arose, for the first time, what if the children of Israel were incapable of performing a Mitzvah? With the Temple destroyed, many of the commandments of HaShem were no longer viable. We had no way to bring offerings to the place that God had chosen. It had been destroyed. So how do we do those commandments? The Anshei Knesset HaG’dola determined a key principle which very much affects our lives, even today. That is, if one cannot form a Mitzvah, instead of ignoring the Mitzvah, it is incumbent upon us to do as much of the Mitzvah as we possibly can. Even though we cannot do all of the Mitzvah we must not ignore it, we must do what we can, this action shows our hearts to HaShem. The principle of the Anshei Knesset HaG’dola is the underlying factor establishing the Synagogue and the Synagogue service.
Numbers 28 shows us many of the national offerings Israel is required to make for HaShem in the Temple. The chapter begins with the description of the Tamid offering, the daily offerings at dawn and at dusk. Without the Tamid offering, none of the other offerings could be brought during the day. The Tamid offering provided the bookends of the entire Temple service. Since we no longer had a Temple, how could we fulfill the Mitzvah of the Tamid offering? The answer was, of course, we could not. However, following the principle of the Anshei Knesset HaG’dola, it is incumbent upon us to do was much as we are able. So, we assembled together and performed the service of the Tamid offering, without actually doing the sacrifice itself, because the sacrifice was required to be made only in the place that HaShem had chosen, the Temple mount. The Synagogue service was born. The basic order of the Synagogue service is a commemoration of the basic order of the service of the Tamid offering we are no longer able to do in the Temple. There are additional sacrifices and offerings in Numbers chapter 28, for instance, there is the additional, or in Hebrew Musaf offering for various designated times, like Shabbat, commemorated in the Synagogue service. Consequently, on Shabbat, we begin with the Shacharit service, which is a commemoration of the dawn Tamid offering. This is followed by a Torah reading, which was instituted by Ezra. Then the Musaf service commemorates the additional sacrifice for Shabbat.
This is why we have Synagogue service today. Many of the elements of our Synagogue services today can be traced back to the actual Temple service that was carried out by the Kohens. Even though we cannot do the sacrifices as instructed by HaShem, by attending Synagogue service, we do as much as we can of the Temple mitzvot.
Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, what is this all about and what relevance does this have to us as Messianic Jews? This is a very interesting and important question, as it shows us the necessity of tying Torah and the Gospels together.
Anyone wishing to know the specifics about Yom Kippur simply has to read Leviticus 16. For a more detailed look at the actual Yom Kippur ceremony in the Temple, Babylonian Talmud tractate Yoma should be studied. As you study you’ll find that the high priest has very specific duties; these duties involve multiple (5) ritual immersions, multiple sacrifices, 2 goats, a lottery and the actual entering of the Holy of Holies. One very interesting item is glaringly obvious. The nation of Israel is not required to be present in the Temple for Yom Kippur. Israel is required to come to the Temple for Succot, Pesach and Shavuot but not Yom Kippur. Even so, the Kohayns perform the ceremony of atonement, and Hashem forgives the children of Israel, most of the time.
The mahloket (dilemma) here comes from an understanding of John 3:16. If we believe in Yeshua our Messiah, and confess our sins before Him, at any time, on any day, are not our sins forgiven? The obvious answer is, of course, they are. So, if our sins are forgiven through our faith in Yeshua the Messiah, why even have Yom Kippur? What relevance does Yom Kippur have to the Messianic Jew and the Gentile in the 21st century?
The machloket can be resolved through an understanding of who is being addressed in each of these texts. Leviticus 16 is in regard to the nation of Israel as a whole, John 3:16 – 17 is addressing individuals in the world, not the nation of Israel. Leviticus – nation, John – individuals. This is a very important distinction to understand. Through Yeshua our Messiah, individuals within the world are saved. This does not address the children of Israel as a nation.
Jeremiah 31: 33 "For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Isra'el after those days," says ADONAI: "I will put my Torah within them and write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will any of them teach his fellow community member or his brother, 'Know ADONAI'; for all will know me, from the least of them to the greatest; because I will forgive their wickednesses and remember their sins no more." 35 This is what ADONAI says, who gives the sun as light for the day, who ordained the laws for the moon and stars to provide light for the night, who stirs up the sea until its waves roar -- ADONAI-Tzva'ot is his name: 36 "If these laws leave my presence," says ADONAI, "then the offspring of Isra'el will stop being a nation in my presence forever."
We see here, obviously, a prophecy which has not yet come to pass. The Jewish people do not have Torah written on their hearts so that we don’t have to teach it anymore. Not all of Israel knows to fulfill all of the Torah commandments or how to do so. And, even when this prophecy does come to pass, verse 36 reminds us that all of the Torah is still valid and must be done, including the ceremony of Yom Kippur. So, the nation of Israel has not yet had our sins forgiven. The Yom Kippur ceremony is still necessary. Even after the fulfillment of the prophecy in Jeremiah 31, the Yom Kippur ceremony will still be necessary because not only are individuals required to atone, but the nation of Israel is required to atone as well.
So, we see that the individual may attain salvation through faith in Yeshua the Messiah, but the salvation of the nation of Israel as a separate topic has not come yet. When the Messiah returns, the nation of Israel will be saved. As a symbol of this salvation, Messiah will reign in Israel from the Temple itself. And still, the Torah laws of Yom Kippur will be relevant.
Oral law has its beginnings in the actual Torah. We see two very important instances where provisions for the oral law are initiated. First, Betzalel was filled with the Ruach HaKodesh and given oral instructions as to how, precisely, to build the Tabernacle. These instructions were passed down as oral law. Second, under Jethro’s suggestion, Moses organized a leadership system so that questions regarding Torah, and conflicts between people, could be adjudicated. As these cases were heard and resolved, the case law that would become oral law began.
Torah was given to the Jewish people at Sinai. It was not given to individuals. Nor is there any concept anywhere in Judaism that Torah should be followed, or can be followed, as an individual. Torah was given to us as a nation, to be followed as a nation. So the question is, how is the nation of Israel supposed to follow Torah? This is the origins and purpose of the oral law.
The Babylonian exile began a new era of Judaism. In order to preserve Israel’s relationship with Hashem, the leadership council of the Men of the Great Assembly was formed under the direction of Ezra. Ezra brought to the forefront the real purpose and importance of Torah to the Jewish people. The question of how to interpret and understand Torah, as a nation, came to the forefront in Jewish thought. Thus began the organization of the oral law.
After Ezra, pairs of sages, called the Zugot, started to organize the national interpretation of the Torah that had been passed down orally for a long time. They provided an understanding of interpretation, and the interpretive process, through the use of argument. The last, and greatest, of the Zugot, Hillel and Shammai, argued and resolved some 318 different interpretations of Torah. With Hillel and Shammai, the bases of the oral law that we have today were in place. Both Hillel and Shammai passed away shortly before Yeshua began his ministry.
In Yeshua’s time, although the bases of the oral law were in place, there were still enough unresolved issues to allow for some 20 different sects of Pharisees to emerge. Even so, the basics of the oral law were in place and adhered to by the Pharisaic movement as a whole. Methodology for the celebration of the Moadim, including the Passover Seder, specifics regarding methodology of sacrifice and offering, the calendar, basic definitions of work on Shabbat, all were understood and in place at that time. Although there were holdouts for the arguments of some individual sages, such as Shammai, much of the oral law was in place already.
Yeshua was very clear in supporting Pharisaic interpretation and oral law. Mt 23:1-3(T LV) “then Yeshua spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, the Torah scholars and Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses. So whatever they tell you do and observe. But don’t do what they do for what they say they do not do.” We see that Yeshua agrees with the Pharisaic interpretation of Torah, but not the behavior of the Pharisees. He tells us they do not do what they say, but we are to do what they say. The rest of the chapter goes through and outlines the problems with the behavior of the Pharisees. Never is anything derogatory said about the methods of interpretation of the Pharisees, just their behavior.
In a previous blog (Traditions of the Elders), I showed that the “traditions of the elders” cannot be the oral law. This is how Paul can refer to himself as a Pharisee among Pharisees and not be self-contradictory. So Paul himself was a strict adherent to the oral law, as were all the talmidim.
So we see that Yeshua, in fact, supported the oral law interpretation of the Torah in his time. This is important to us today because we can look to the oral to give us guidance into how to observe Torah as a nation. We can put a mezuzah on our house and synagogue in confidence that this is the proper understanding of what to do. We can have a Passover Seder, we can observe the Moadim, we can recite the Shema, we can observe the Shabbat, knowing that the understanding and interpretation of these things has been handed down to us in accordance with Yeshua’s belief and teaching.