Be Careful How You Study
Scripture Should Bother You!
"To whom would He teach knowledge, And to whom would He interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast? For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” (Isaiah 28:9-10) The study of Torah in its original language elicits insights that elude even the most elaborate translation. How often do we read a piece of Scripture in English, wondering why certain things are included or omitted, or phrased in a certain way and not stop and delve into the passage deeper? Quite often strange arrangements of sentences, choice of words and apparent contradictions are invitations or signposts deliberately inserted in the text to entice the reader to delve deeper. The popular five volume Jewish work entitled, What’s bothering Rashi illustrates this principle. Rashi, an acronym for the name, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki was a tenth century Jewish Sage who devoted his whole life to studying and interpreting Torah. The point is that to be bothered about an aspect of Scripture is a good thing, but to fail to reconcile it is something else all together. Studying Torah requires serious effort. “Study to show yourself approved to Elohim, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
Laying One Foundation Upon Another
We have to be careful in our studies not to grasp a small concept wrongly and move onto another slightly larger one, because it can warp a viewpoint and threaten a correct interpretation on a wider matter. If the foundation for a house is not laid correctly it will inevitably fall down like a house of cards. In short, error gives birth to further error or error escalates! Rabbi Sha’ul writes about the believer who has spiralled out of control in his learning. “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3) Returning Ephraim is rife with this type of believer. When new converts come into the faith after a little while they become like ‘super Jews,’ wanting to place everyone under their view of how everybody should be observing Torah. ‘You better quite your job if you work on the Sabbath or you’re going to hell’ or ‘You need to grow a beard.’ Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this -- not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way.” (Romans 14:13)
The Delight & Dilemma of the New Convert
When a new convert comes in no other burden shall be placed on him other than the seven Noahide laws. These are the laws that were given to Noah after the Great Flood. They are:
1) Prohibition against Sexual Immorality (Genesis 2:24 “A man…shall cling to his wife…and they shall become one flesh…”)
2) Prohibition against Murder (Genesis 9:6 “…whoever sheds the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be shed…”)
3) Prohibition against Blasphemy (Leviticus 24:10-23 “…Bring him forth that has cursed…and…stone him.”)
4) Prohibition against Robbery (Leviticus 19:11-13 “You shall not steal…”)
5) Prohibition against Idolatry (Leviticus 19:4 “Turn not to idols…”)
6) Prohibition against Removing and Eating the Limb or Blood of a Living Animal (Genesis 9:3-4 “Flesh with blood in it you shall not eat.”)
7) Commandment to Establish Courts of law (Leviticus 19:16 “Do not stand by while your neighbour’s blood is shed.”)
After concluding that circumcision is not required as the initial phase of conversion, Yakov (James the Just), Yahshua’s brother and the leader of the Council of Jerusalem enumerates some of the Noahide laws in Acts 15:19-21; “Therefore I conclude that we should not cause extra difficulty for those among the Gentiles who are turning to Elohim, but that we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things defiled by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood. For Moses has had those who proclaim him in every town from ancient times, because he is read aloud in the synagogues every Sabbath.” And further along, "For it seemed good to the Ruach HaKodesh and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well.”(Acts 15:28-29)
Historically there were three stages of conversion. The first stage was the Ger T’shuv (the returning stranger). The second stage was the Ger HaShar (The Stranger near the gate) and last stage was the Ger Tzaddik (The Righteous Stranger). The first stage was incumbent on the Noahide laws, the second stage was incumbent on everything except marrying a Levite and participating in the Passover siddur on account of his uncircumcision and the final stage underwent circumcision and was given full status as an Israelite. The only difference is that a convert, unlike a full blooded Israelite could marry a bastard.
“But seek first the kingdom of Elohim and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) This means to aim for the Kingdom rather than aim at the Kingdom’s statutes. The Torah isn’t our salvation; it’s the maintenance book that preserves our Salvation in King Messiah Yahshua. By seeking the Kingdom first, we pick up techniques on being its citizen along the way. New converts should not be bombarded with the too much information too early. We should set before them the glory of the Coming Kingdom. A healthy appetite for the Kingdom will lay a seed for a healthy appetite for participation in it.
How Should We Approach the Torah?
We should avoid becoming conceited, filled with pride or puffed up because of knowledge. A healthy fear of Yahweh should precede a fiery zest for knowledge. “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) A good student craves instruction and correction! Don’t be offended when a teacher rebukes you on a matter of Torah. On the contrary, praise Yahweh. “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.” (Proverbs 15:31)
Let your pursuit for knowledge of Yahweh be like an impassioned lover seeking to draw closer to the object of his affections. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” (Philippians 1:9)
When it comes to Scripture, don’t be content with paddling in shallow waters. Get wet. “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge.”(Proverbs 1:22)
Always keep in mind that acquiring knowledge of Yahweh will improve your relationship with Him. “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for Elohim, but not according to knowledge.” (Romans 10:2)
Find out about who you’re worshiping. “You Samaritans worship what you don’t know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22)
Petition Yahweh daily with requests to increase in understanding. “…keep asking that the Elohim of our adon Yahshua HaMoshiach, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Ephesians 1:17)
Don’t be carried off on different winds of doctrine. In the last three years we’ve had the polygamy doctrine, the dateline Sabbath doctrine, the Leper Messiah doctrine, the Islamic Beast doctrine, the Whole-wheat Unleavened Bread doctrine, the Two Sticks of Joseph doctrine, Yahshua was stoned doctrine, the Black Messiah doctrine, The Book of Hebrews is not Scripture doctrine, Rabbi Sha’ul’s letters are not Scripture doctrine, the Jews aren’t really Jews doctrine and the list goes on. That’s a lot of false doctrines in a pretty small space of time to hit such a small movement. “(Rabbi Sha’ul’s)…letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)
The Seventy Faces of the Torah
Shiv’im Panim laTorah means “The Torah has 70 faces.” This phrase is sometimes used by the Jewish Sages to indicate the number of different things that can be gleaned from every piece of teaching in the Torah. Bamidbar Rabba 13:15 says, ‘There are seventy faces to the Torah: Turn it around and around, for everything is in it.”
The seventy faces have four main categories. They are:
1. P’shat – The plain meaning of the text.
2. Remez – The Meaning which is only hinted at by the text.
3. D’rash – The Implicit meaning of the text
4. Sod – The hidden meaning of the text
The initials of these four categories yield the acronym Pardes (meaning “orchard” or “Garden”). This word is what Yahshua said to the thief on the tree when he asked to be remembered. Yahshua replied, “I tell you today you will be with me in Pardes.” This meant that the zealot thief would be with Yahshua in a pleasant interim location in Sheol while he emptied it of the saints and preached to the spirits of those who lived before the Great Flood. “…through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when Elohim waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water…” (1 Peter 3:19-) “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Yahshua’s resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” (Matthew 27:53-54)
The Sages teach that to penetrate the realm of Pardes, one should have striven to unlock all the categories of Pardes in his Torah learning in life.
Anyway, back to the topic. Provided the surface meaning of a text is marshalled correctly, its deeper teachings can be unlocked. Learning Torah requires one small movement of understanding to the next. Rather than rushing through a meal, each bite should be savoured and enjoyed.
In approaching a Torah text, one may first try to understand the plain meaning, or the p’shat, of the text: What is the text trying to say in its original context? What do the individual words mean? Why are certain words and phrases used rather than others?
One might then ask broader questions about the meaning of the text and about its relation to other texts: What are the hidden meanings of the text? Why does the text speak as it does? How do we relate to the text? In what ways does the text reflect or conflict with our own beliefs and values? What about the text do we find problematic or challenging? How does this text compare with other Biblical texts?
Asking these types of questions may rarely lead to a definitive resolution, but will certainly contribute to a deeper understanding of the texts at hand and of one’s companions in study. Ultimately, it is the process of study, with its emphasis on questions and dialogue, which distinguishes Torah study from other forms of learning.
Nothing in the written language of Scripture is superfluous, exaggerated or without purpose. An Israelite should strive to stay rooted in a firm knowledge of the elementary aspects of the faith before seeking teachings that are to difficult for him.
“'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:3)
Torah Study is a commandment, equal to all the other commandments in Scripture. Angels study Torah also, but it can never increase their elevation toward Yahweh, but with man it always increases his elevation. It’s up to you how you handle the Word. Tremble when you read. Stop to think from time to time that this is a dangerous and wonderful.
“I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, "I follow Sha’ul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as Yahweh has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but Elohim made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only Elohim, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour. For we are Elohim’s fellow workers; you are Elohim's field, Elohim's building. By the grace Elohim has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.” (1 Corinthians 3:2-10)
Be Careful how you study!