The Way of Torah

When you ask today, “What is Torah?” you get an unambiguous answer, “It’s the instruction, teaching, and law contained in the Five Books of Moses.” Depending on who you ask, that answer may also include Talmud and Midrash. However, as I will show you, that answer is also tragically wrong.

Even if the word itself is derived from Hebrew root which means “to guide” or “to teach” and therefore the meaning of “Torah” is indeed “teaching”, “doctrine”, “instruction”, or the commonly accepted and rather telling (as will be clear later on) “law”, it most definitely does not include whole Pentateuch, much less so Talmud or Midrash.

The whole of Torah is Ten Commandments aka Ten Words.

Although I already touched upon this fact previously, I’ve done so in a rather brief and implicit way. I was relying on the curiosity of the reader, expecting them to follow the clues and counting on their subsequent insights that would allow them to connect all the necessary dots. So let me be completely explicit and a bit more elaborate this time.

Since we are dealing with a text singularly embedded in a specific larger story, we have not many options than to depend on and examine that larger story itself in order to see that what I claim is indeed so.

As the story goes, Torah was given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. However, it was a perilous affair.

At first attempt, God said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and wait there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the teachings and commandments which I have inscribed to instruct them.” [1] And so, Moses went up on the hill to get the tablets and take them to Israelites in his care.

But since it took him rather long and Israelites became impatient and doubtful, they made Golden Calf to worship in the meantime. When Moses came back with tablets under his arm and saw his kin worshiping an idol, he became furious and smashed the tablets to pieces.

To make the long story short — after some meditative back-and-forth between God and Moses, God gave Israelites another chance and commanded Moses to prepare another set of tablets identical to the first ones. He then called Moses again to go up on the hill and after a rather long prologue he said to him, “Write down these commandments, for in accordance with these commandments I make a covenant with you and with Israel. And he [Moses] was there with Lord forty days and forty nights; he ate no bread and drank no water; and he wrote down on the tablets the terms of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” [2]

Although it is true that Moses also received plethora of other instructions on Mount Sinai (and it is this that is most probably at the root of the whole confusion), these additional instructions were in fact “the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses to [tell] the children of Israel on Mount Sinai,” [3] (emphasis mine). Now, one may (correctly) argue that the quote above is rather interpretation dependent as you won’t find explicit word “tell” in that final verse of Leviticus.

However.

God also instructed Moses to build the Ark of Covenant. Not only he gave a precise description of how the Ark should look like, he also said what should be placed in it. It was meant to house “[the tablets of] the Pact which I will give you.” [4] The Pact being the testimony or, in other words, the covenant law.

As for how this translated into later practice, thus what is considered as The Law today, consider that ever since the original Ark itself was (most probably) lost, “[t]he only remnant of the Ark in Jewish life today is the Holy Ark in which Torah scrolls are kept in synagogues.” [5] Torah scrolls being the whole Five Books of Moses.

No wonder that Jews cling to 613 mitzvot that cannot be generally observed, not because there is currently no Jewish temple, but simply because there are e.g. instructions which Jews who are not descendants of Aaron, that is priests, are not even eligible to perform, or that some of the instructions are gender specific.

Anyway, let’s move further down the timeline to Jesus.

Notwithstanding the origins of Christianity, proclivity of its adherents to quote-mine and misinterpret the Jewish scripture in order to validate some populist semi-pagan myth around its alleged founder, it is not a coincidence that its most important tenets make perfect sense.

Let’s, for example, examine the so-called Greatest Commandment found in synoptic gospels, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” [6]

When we look at the Ten Commandments, we will see that we can split them in two sets of five instructions each. First set deals with relationship with God, and the second set deals with interpersonal relationships. Thus The Law (that is, the Ten Words) really hangs on those two generalizations (and since prophets are expected to be fully realized sages, there should be no discussion why they also must align with the same). And also let’s not forget that Moses got exactly two tablets too.

This is further echoed in the discourse about defilement. When asked for explanation, Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” [7]

As can be seen, making the case against evil thoughts which instigate murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander is exactly what constitutes the half of the Covenant that deals with relationships between humans — no murder, no cheating, no stealing, no lying, no envy. That is, love your neighbor as yourself.

So, we have two tablets originally inscribed by the finger of God literally set in stone that ought to be preserved as the sole artifact in the ceremonial capsule intended to host The Law. We have two (allegedly agreed upon) generalizations that fit perfectly with the content of each tablet.

And we have also seemingly ambiguous records about abolishing of law in contrast with quotes of Jesus proclaiming, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” [8]

It’s more than obvious what it all means. The alleged law (Pentateuch, Talmud, Midrash) is abolished because these scriptures were never a part of covenant in the first place, while the actual Law, the one “set in stone” which Moses brought from Mount Sinai, will be in effect until Universe ceases to be because it is embedded in its very fabric.

How The Law works in practice as a teaching and a guide to God-realization is then rather simple.

You love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. That is, you fully embrace the premise that there is nothing but God. If there is nothing but God, you must accept that all representations of God (aka idols) cannot be God and it’s impossible for you to claim that you act or speak on God’s behalf. In order to realize it, you keep Shabbat. That is, you “actively rest in wholeness” at least one day a week — you are “non-doing”. In other words, you make the correct effort to realize that there is nothing but God. And you do it by accepting the causality of manifested world, by accepting the causes and effects that eventually lead to personal demise known as death (thus it is said to honor your parents; note — not love, not obey, but honor as in respect or coming to terms with).

That in turn moves you to love your neighbor as yourself. It helps you to curb your envy which stems from desires and dislikes, and which motivates everything from lying and stealing, to cheating and murder. When you set your life in order in such a way, you can abide in a state where you can fully love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

You simply have faith in The Law. Therefore you work to keep its precepts. And when the time is right and you are graced by luck, you are eventually saved and enter the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven.

May you realize it as soon as possible.

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