Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
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Rumination #6: Did the Patriarchs keep the Torah before it was given at Sinai?
Since ancient times, our Sages have given the Patriarchs a "free ride" it seems. They teach that the Patriarchs were almost always motivated by the purest of motives (even when their actions seem less than honorable); and the Sages teach that the Patriarchs kept the same traditions they did - traditions that we keep even today.
Consider the following verses from Parashat Toldot:
Then HaShem appeared to him [Isaac] and said: "Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws."
The Hebrew words, "mishmeroti" [My safeguards], "mitzvotai" [My commandments], "chukotai" [My inscribed statutes], and "torotai" [My instructions], are words some do not consider applicable prior to Exodus 20 when the Torah is given at Mount Sinai. But is that correct? No, it is not. The notion that the "Law" was suddenly given in Exodus 20 is part of a narrative that tries to distinguish between "ceremonial laws" (i.e. "Jewish stuff") and "moral laws" (i.e. universal "Christian" stuff). Of course we can now see through that not-so-subtle agenda: which is that those laws given after Genesis, and before Matthew have no jurisdiction. This is utter nonsense. There are no such silly dispensations.
The Sabbath day was not suddenly revealed in Exodus 16 (it was revealed as HaShem's holy standard in Genesis 2). Pigs and rats did not suddenly become un-kosher in Leviticus 11 (Noach used only clean animals for an offering in Genesis 8). Most of the particulars of burnt offerings did not suddenly appear in Leviticus 1 (Abel understood in Genesis 4). Circumcision is not something first commanded in Leviticus 12 (Abraham circumcised himself and his household in Genesis 17, and Isaac on the eighth day in Genesis 21).
When we bother to look with unveiled eyes, we start to see lots of "Jewish stuff" long before the giving of "the Law." So much for the preposterous notion put forth by the antinomian as well as those that teach that HaShem's Torah is only for those of "Jewish" descent or having undergone ritual conversion!
With the help of history and archaeology, we can even see things like the commandment of tzitzit (Numbers 15:37-40) being practiced by the Patriarchs (Genesis 38:18, the "cord" is "patyil" which was made up of twisted threads attached to a garment, used as a personal signature). There are many more examples where the Patriarchs kept many of the commandments prior to them being given at Sinai. Yes, the Patriarchs knew many of the commandments that would be written down after the Sinai experience.
And HaShem said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of HaShem, to do righteousness and justice, that HaShem may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him."
Abraham, the father of our faith, practiced many of the very things we are now told are "done away with," or are only for "Jews." Yes, the revelation of HaShem's righteous standard was progressive. Yes, it is likely too much to believe that the Patriarchs had full Passover seders - but the basic tenets of the Torah have always been kept by the righteous. What foolishness it is to think that those that keep the faith of Abraham won't look "Jewish" in the eyes of those around them…
…walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had…
When Fences Become Walls
And HASHEM said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to HASHEM to look and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to HASHEM consecrate themselves, lest HASHEM break out against them.” And Moses said to HASHEM, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.”
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for G-d has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the L-rd is able to make him stand.
“Children want boundaries.” You have heard that, or perhaps you have said it yourself. It is true of course. Human beings seem to almost crave limits to our behavior. No doubt this part of our G-d-given conscience – our sense of “right and wrong.”
Let’s be honest though, our conscience is not the same thing as right and wrong – it simply is our sense of what we think is right and wrong. Sadly, some people seem to have no conscience at all, and it is equally sad when some think everything is wrong.
When Conscience Becomes a Choice
In order for our conscience to be a positive tool in our relationship with HaShem, we need to be careful what choices we make in establishing new (or new to us) “fences” (boundaries put up to protect particular commandments) and how we maintain a distinction between those fences and the written commandments of HaShem. Once a standard is a part of our conscience, it is difficult to undo that without damaging our conscience.
It is common in newly observant communities for individuals to grab hold of standards that are new to them. This can be very good. The danger is when individuals make these fences matters of conscience. This is a matter of choice if the fences are not clearly distinguished from the actual commandments of HaShem. “So, if the standard is upheld, and the individual conscience is not offended, what is the downside?” you might ask. The dangers are:
An ever-increasing more-observant-than-thou attitude
Adding to your personal “I will be offended if…” list
Your children as they grow older may have difficulty distinguishing between HaShem’s commandments and your newly established fence
By choice, becoming the “weaker brother”
Safely Embracing Fences
In the case of neighbors with literal fences along a property line, it is easy to understand that one neighbor cannot move the fence without affecting the other. This is also the case of “fences around the Torah.” To best understand how to safely embrace fences, we must remind ourselves what fences are and how they might affect others. A fence is a standard that is beyond of the literal words of HaShem. Notice, that man did not initiate the fence around Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 to keep the people safe. HaShem commanded that it be built. So the Exodus 19 model does not apply to “fences around the Torah” – that is, unless you are also willing to disregard the very sober words in Deuteronomy 4:2:
You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of HaShem your G-d that I command you.
Yeshua alludes to this in His admonition:
And why do you break the commandment of G-d for the sake of your tradition?
I am very encouraging to people who want to embrace Jewish tradition, making the lifestyle of Judaism, their own. I offer this personal caution however: as you adopt traditional halacha and make it your own, do not make the traditional halacha a matter of conscience. That is truly your choice. Distinguish between the literal commandment, and the traditional “how to” in walking out that commandment. Here are my personal recommendations:
Context. Do your best to mirror the community in which you find yourself. If your community does not adhere to your newfound fence, be careful to not promote it as a community standard. Do not broadcast your fence. It is personal, or for your family only. On the other hand, be careful to reflect the community in which you are currently a part. Do not offend your brothers and sisters by what you permit or by what you forbid.
If you have children, as they get older, make it clear that your “family rules” are not “more right” than any other families' rules.
Be gracious. Recognize that everyone errs in some way. Make sure you do not begin to look down on those who do not share the same fences that you do.
Remember Romans 14:4:
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the L-rd is able to make him (and you) stand.
Don’t let your fences become walls. Walls that keep out the blessing of a healthy relationship with HaShem, or walls that make your circle of brothers and sisters ever more small.
The Mideast Update News Site
In 2007, my eldest son moved to Jerusalem working as a journalist and writer. Since then he has done interviews with government officials, academics, and "the man on the street." Joshua maintains a news web site that draws from his contacts in the middle east: the Israeli government, middle eastern universities, and public relations outlets. His reporting, analysis, and insights are unique in reporting on Israel and the middle east.
My friend Brock Wright has written an iPhone/iPad app called "Daily Aliyah" that displays the Torah and haftarah portion for the current week, as well as the daily aliyah for the day of the week. Get it for free in the iTunes App Store.