Jewish tradition and Jewish thought are a rich part of the Torah heritage, but they are not our source of identity. As we approach Torah, and Jewish tradition we must remember that the goal of Torah is Mashiach, not Jewish expression.
“It is the nation’s schools-the Cheder, the Yeshiva, and the Beit Midrash that have been our safest stronghold throughout our long tough struggle among peoples. In times of storm and fury, we took cover behind their walls and there we sharpened the one weapon we had left – the Jewish mind.”
It's all there waiting for you. In fact, it's your personal heritage. It's called Torah. Torah shares the same etymology as the Hebrew word orah, "light"—its teachings shine a light on life and show you which way to go. And its study is a mitzvah—actually, the greatest mitzvah we have.
When: "You shall teach [it] to your children and speak its words when you sit in your house, when you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise"—Deuteronomy.
A Jew is always studying Torah—24/7/365. We take breaks to eat, sleep, pray, make a living and reenergize. The remainder of the time we connect to God through studying His wisdom. The minimum requirement is that you fix some time for study once a day and once a night. Can't devote as much time as you'd like? Support our local Beit Midrash and be a partner in our study.
Who: The rich and the poor, healthy and sick, old and young, smart or dim. Torah is every Jew and non-Jew’s personal heritage.
What: "It is not your job to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it..."—Ethics.
Start with the rules that impact daily life, Shabbat, holidays, etc. And then keep on learning; there's more than enough material to last several lifetimes. Articulate the words you study. Allow the holiness to impact and refine your body.
How: Join a class at our Beit Midrash and connect with your Jewish heritage and its people. The power of a chavrusa relationship builds and deepens your inner life, thereby enriching your connection with yourself and others. Expand your horizons and reach beyond yourself to link the past with the future. Experience this discovery with a chavrusa who is passionate, dedicated to growing, friendly and welcoming to all individuals. sign up for Chavrusa Today.
Experience this discovery with a chavrusa who is passionate, dedicated to growing, friendly and welcoming to all individuals. sign up for Chavrusa Today.
What to accept during our study
Attached to every synagogue is a place devoted to the study of sacred writings and Holy Scripture. This area is called the Beit Midrash, the house of learning or study. Midrash literally means “investigation.” Here the Jewish people would gather to investigate, study, learn and argue the meanings and proper applications of their revered texts. In this environment, rich spiritual opportunities for learning are given to the participants that can never be obtained alone, or by simply listening to a lecturer give his or her own opinions.
The opportunity to express one’s own thoughts and feelings, and engage in oftentimes very passionate and heated debate is a very stimulating intellectual and spiritual experience. It is also an extremely necessary and vital part of studying the Word of God, and growing in your personal relationship with the Lord. Without it the opportunities for “iron to sharpen iron” (Proverbs 27:17) will be limited and spiritual growth stunted. Being part of a Beit Midrash can literally transform not only the way you learn the scriptures but your personal relationship with the Lord.
The Beit Midrash is not your typical Bible discussion group that has a group leader, a workbook, fixed agenda, and doctrinal correctness. This is a very free flowing, open, and often passionate environment that is geared to giving people maximum freedom to think, feel, and express their points of view. In order to have an effective Beit Midrash, everyone who attends must have the same basic motivation. It is not, as some think, the attainment of knowledge for knowledge’s sake or the seeking of an opportunity to show how much they know, but a sincerely heartfelt desire to deepen their personal relationship with the Lord and be changed into His image (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18). Developing keener interpersonal relationships with other members of the study group can happen as a result of studying together but is not a primary motivation. Every member of the study group must come with the same motivation if the times of study will prove to be fruitful instead of mere intellectual ramblings or the strutting of egos.
The Beit Midrash model is designed to enhance the spiritual life of those who are sincere students of the Kingdom of God. A student, simply defined, is someone who honestly wants to learn, grow and change into the image of the Lord. They are not focused on themselves, or on their reputations, or on how others perceive them; they really want to deepen their relationship with the Lord and change into His likeness.
Yeshua Rabbeinu teaches us:
"A Talmid-[student] is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher." Luke -6:40
The dynamic of sharing the insights and truths you have learned, and receiving the same from others, will be a rich source for your spiritual growth.
Our study of Scripture involves total effort of mind, emotion, and will. If we desire ratzon HaShem in our lives, we must regularly and systematically interpret God's word according to its proper meaning as it says, "rightly dividing the word of truth."
We will begin to explore it with the "conventional" tools of Talmudic logic and then move on to uncover its inner spiritual dimension. Then we are going on to explore it with a section on classical commentary on the Torah.
Exegesis and eisegesis are two conflicting approaches in Bible study. Exegesis is the exposition or explanation of a text based on a careful, objective analysis. The word exegesis literally means “to lead out of.” That means that the interpreter is led to his conclusions by following the text.
The opposite approach to Scripture is eisegesis, which is the interpretation of a passage based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. The word eisegesis literally means “to lead into,” which means the interpreter injects his own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever he wants.
Obviously, only exegesis does justice to the text. Eisegesis is a mishandling of the text and often leads to a misinterpretation. Exegesis is concerned with discovering the true meaning of the text, respecting its grammar, syntax, and setting. Eisegesis is concerned only with making a point, even at the expense of the meaning of words.
We will begin with the study of the text, taking turns to read and explain it as we see it, discussing, debating, and posing questions and counter-questions to reveal many levels of the same truth, drawing from many different disciplines of thought- from the literal and legal to the metaphorical, from the homiletical and mystical to the Chassidic tradition of Torah thought - always touching in both the philosophical and psychological implication of any given issue.
The topic of the discussion must always be concluded with the same question, how can all this be concretely applied to our daily lives.
An effective teacher understands when to ask "closed questions" and when to ask "open-ended questions." A closed question is one that has a definite answer, such as "How old was Isaac when he died?" or "Where was Rachel buried?" An open-ended question, on the other hand, is one that prompts for additional information, such as "How do you suppose Jacob felt when his father died?" or "Do you think Rachel's death was a punishment for disobeying her father?"
Closed questions are used to identify facts, whereas open-ended questions are used to probe issues more deeply, to explore possibilities, to use imagination, to invite discussion, and so on.
Traditional Jewish interpretation generally relies on closed questions to focus on the literal reading of the text and open-ended questions to explore various types of implications derived from the text. Thus the plain, historical meaning (called the p'shat) is used as a baseline for other ways of interpretation, which traditionally include the alluded meaning (i.e., remez), the moral or homiletical meaning (i.e., d'rash), and the esoteric meaning (i.e., sod).
This fourfold system is sometimes called "Pardes", an acronym formed from the names of each of these four categories or the four levels of Torah interpretation, Typology describes four different approaches to Biblical exegesis in Rabbinic Judaism (or – simpler – interpretation of the text in Torah study).
Moreover, each of these four levels has their own rules of reasoning specific to that level. For example, there are general rules of interpretation for the drash level that do not apply to the p'shat level.
P’shat: is the plain meaning of the text. (Historical / grammatical)
Remez: is the meaning, which is only hinted at by the text. (Metaphorical / allegoric-having hidden spiritual meaning that transcends the literal sense.) An allusion, figurative, and implied or direct reference intimated meaning. How something in Torah relates to something larger in the world.
Drash: is the implicit meaning of the text. (Insight) interpretations and an expounded meaning, resembling a homily.
Sod: is the esoteric meaning of the text. (Mystery/something to be revealed) It does not carry the idea of a secret to be withheld, but to be published. “The secret things”.
Nonetheless, as a general principle, the extended meaning of a text will never contradict the plain meaning. In other words, ultimately there will be no valid "deeper meaning" that violates or contradicts the plain sense that is revealed through the careful study of the historical/grammatical context.
The phrase "The Torah has 70 faces" (i.e., shiv'im panim la-Torah) is sometimes used to express the idea that there are different "levels" of interpretation of the Torah. "There are seventy faces to the Torah: Turn it around and around, for everything is in it" (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15).
When we disagree with someone regarding a particular interpretation of a text, we must remember that they may be reasoning from a different perspective, and therefore it is wise to identify the assumptions that underlie our respective conclusions. When we do so, it is likely we will find we were misunderstanding the intent of the other person. Humility is the key here. Often how we read the text says more about us than it does about the text itself - especially when it comes to asking "open-ended questions" about the text's meaning.
I should add that not all interpretations are equally valid, of course, and indeed some interpretations must be rejected from the outset.
The need to study is necessary for our spiritual growth. To study one must engage in the Pardes of the Torah according to its capacity to comprehend and perceive. But the primary reason we should study the Torah because it was inspired by Ribono shel Olam.
Our study should not be merely abstract or theoretical. Instead, it should focus on those aspects of the texts that concern our observance of the Mitzvot (Commandments) and our hashkafah (Outlook) on life. Communal Torah study surpasses the Torah study of an individual. In a simple sense, that of course refers to a group of individuals studying in unison.
Taking turns to read and explain the text as one sees it, discussing, debating, and even questioning it. The end result is that they know it inside and out, generally for the better than if we studied it singly. In our study one must be able to discern and “test all things in light of Scripture”.
As we see the Bible is the only book we need to discover the foundational truths of how to know and walk with God. But some can explore commentary, which can be good to a certain extent, as long as it does not contradict with the canon of Scripture.
Jewish tradition and Jewish thought are a rich part of the Torah heritage, but they are not our source of identity. As we approach Torah, and Jewish tradition we must remember that the goal of Torah is Messiah, not Jewish expression.
Jewish practices that continued until the Church became more gentile in composition and outlook. Such preconceived ideas have influenced inter-pretations of many New Testament passages. In theological circles this is known as eisegesis, or reading one's own ideas into Scripture.
The Beit Midrash study can be likened to someone who steps off the dry land anywhere on the earth and into the water. The Bible says that one day “the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” Yeshua (Jesus) said that those who believed in Him would have “rivers of living water flowing from their innermost being.” From these, and other scriptures, we can see that God likens himself to water. As we study the natural so we can learn about the spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:46).
All the rivers of the earth eventually flow into the sea, and all the waters of the sea are really one huge ocean, vast, deep and teaming with life. Sometimes the ocean is so incredibly calm and serene, at other times it is horrendously violent. There are paths in the sea, tides and currents that circle the earth. You can literally put a note in a bottle and throw it into the ocean at any place on the earth, and if that bottle catches the right currents it can go around the world.
So it is with the Beit Midrash Bible study. You can start anywhere in the Word of God with a question or a comment; just step out into the vast ocean of God’s spirit and be carried along to discover the “unsearchable riches of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus)” (Ephesians 3:8).
The Beit Midrash study is not about exposing anyone or making anyone feel uncomfortable. It is about creating a very positive environment for learning, discussing, investigating and growing). He did share, though, that it had nothing to do with the initial topic that began our Beit Midrash study. The Lord used that merely as an entrance point into the waters of the Spirit, and the currents of God brought revelation to this man. God will use the Beit Midrash study as a means of bringing revelation to you.
The Beit Midrash operates according to some basic principles, which if applied consistently will make your experience very positive and spiritually enriching. The first and most basic principle is that of respect for your fellow students and their points of view. You must show respect in tone and attitude for each other. Respect does not mean agreement, but it does mean that you conduct yourself in a particular way that keeps the atmosphere free from opportunities for the enemy to come in and affect people’s thoughts and feelings.
This is what the Beit Midrash can do for us. It can create an environment where the Word of God in all of its wonderful complexity can be investigated. Like the Bereans of Acts 17 we can come together to investigate the Word of God and the words of men “to see if these things be so.”
The ancient rabbis expressed their comprehension of the realities of diversity of understanding, and the necessity for it, by analogizing it this way. They said that studying the Word of God was like having a group of students examining a huge diamond set in the middle of a table. As the light of the Lord came upon the diamond everyone from their own position and perspective saw different radiant and glorious colors. As they saw the magnificent colors and shared what they saw, they began to realize that what they were seeing was the manifold wisdom of God being revealed in part to everyone, and that together we get a full picture.
The Torah And It's History
Towards the end of the Torah Moses commanded that it be read publicly on a regular basis:
Moses wrote down God’s Law and gave it to the levitical priests, who were in charge of the Lord’s Covenant Box, and to the leaders of Israel. He commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, when the year that debts are canceled comes around, read this aloud at the Festival of Shelters. Read it to the people of Israel when they come to worship the Lord your God at the one place of worship. Call together all the men, women, and children, and the foreigners who live in your towns, so that everyone may hear it and learn to honor the Lord your God and to obey his teachings faithfully. In this way your descendants who have never heard the Law of the Lord your God will hear it. And so they will learn to obey him as long as they live in the land that you are about to occupy across the Jordan.” (Deuteronomy 31.9-13)
There is no record of this actually being done until the time of Ezra, when Nehemiah 8 describes the public reading of the Torah at Rosh Hashanah and through the entire festival of Sukkot.
By the 3rd century BC public reading of the Torah was an established custom in Judaism. This is shown by the translation of the Torah into Greek in Alexandria (the Septuagint) so that people attending the synagogue service could understand the text.
In the book of Acts Luke quotes James as saying, “from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues” (Acts 15.21). This custom of reading the Torah every week is confirmed later in the first century by Josephus (Against Apion 2.175).
The Talmud says that Ezra ruled that the Torah should be read regularly, but the rabbis argued that the custom began even before Ezra:
The [following] ten enactments were ordained by Ezra: That the law be read [publicly] in the Minhah service on Sabbath; that the law be read [publicly] on Mondays and Thursdays; …
'That the law be read [publicly] in the Minhah service on Sabbath:' on account of shopkeepers [who during the weekdays have no time to hear the reading of the Law].
'That the law be read [publicly] on Mondays and Thursdays.' But was this ordained by Ezra? Was this not ordained even before him? For it was taught: 'And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water, upon which those who expound verses metaphorically said: water means nothing but Torah, as it says: Ho, everyone that thirsteth come ye for water. It thus means that as they went three days without Torah they immediately became exhausted. The prophets among them thereupon rose and enacted that they should publicly read the law on Sabbath, make a break on Sunday, read again on Monday, make a break again on Tuesday and Wednesday, read again on Thursday and then make a break on Friday so that they should not be kept for three days without Torah.' (Bava Kama 82a)
Different customs developed for the length of the cycle to finish the entire Torah reading. In the Land of Israel the earliest tradition was to read through the Torah in three years or three and a half years (bMeg. 29b), while the cycle in Babylonia was one year. During the time of the geonim (after the fifth century AD), the one-year cycle was adopted also in the Land of Israel. The start and finish of the annual reading cycle is on Simhat Torah.
Today the Torah is divided into 54 weekly portions. This division was made by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon using the Aleppo Codex of the Masoretic Text of the Torah. When one of the holidays falls on the Shabbat, a special portion is read for the holiday. Since there are fewer weeks available in the Jewish calendar, some of the portions are combined. The portion is read during the morning synagogue service on Shabbats and festivals.
Haftarot Ans It's History
Along with the Torah reading, it is the custom to read one or more passages from the former or latter prophets. This reading is shorter than the reading from the Torah. It is known as the “haftarah,” because it closes the reading from the scriptures.
There is usually some obvious thematic connection between some part of the parashah and the choice of the passage for the haftarah. For example, for Parashat Tazria (Leviticus 12.1 – 13.59), which deals with various skin diseases, the haftarah includes the story of the cleansing from leprosy of Naaman the Syrian. Similarly, the haftarah reading for the Day of Atonement is from Isaiah 58, where God defines what he expects from a proper fast.
It is not known today when the haftarot were added or how they were chosen. One tradition connects the addition of haftarot to a time when Israel was subject to conquerors who forbade the Jews from reading the Torah (but not from the rest of the Tanach). For a period of time only the haftarot were read, and the similarity of subject matter was a reminder to the hearers of what was in the weekly reading from the Torah. Another tradition says the haftarot were added to combat those who, like the Sadducees, claimed that only the Torah was holy.
Even so, there is evidence that the practice of reading from the prophets began early. In Luke 4 Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah, and in Acts 13.14-15 we read that “on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the Torah and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, ‘Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.’”
The division of the Prophets is longer than the Torah. Since only shorter passages are read from the prophets, naturally not all of the books are covered. Out of the twenty-one books of former and latter prophets, there are haftarot passages from only fifteen books. It should be no surprise, then, to find many familiar passages missing from the list of the haftarot. Nevertheless, a close look at the haftarot does show some surprising things.
The haftarot for almost the entire book of Deuteronomy are from the prophet Isaiah. These, of course, come towards the end of the annual reading cycle. The readings from Isaiah continue with the first three haftarot of Genesis. Most of the readings are taken from Isaiah 40-63, many of them in order. It is notable that the most messianic passage, Isaiah 52.13 – 53.12, is missing from this extended reading from Isaiah. It becomes even a suspect omission when we notice that Isaiah 54 is read twice, with Parashat Ki Tetse and seven weeks later with Parashat Noach. Was it the custom to read Isaiah 53 before the death and resurrection of Jesus? When his believers began to use it to prove he was the Messiah, was it omitted and the passage immediately after it read again?
Isaiah’s description of the suffering Messiah is not the only important messianic passage omitted from the haftarot. Among other passages we might expect to find in the list are Isaiah 7.14 (Messiah’s birth from a virgin) and 42.1-4; Jeremiah 31.31-34 (the promise of a “new covenant”; Hosea 11.1 (out of Egypt I called my son); Micah 5.1 (Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem); Zechariah 9.9 (Messiah comes riding on a donkey) and 11.13 (Messiah betrayed for thirty pieces of silver); and Malachi 3.1 (Messiah comes to the Temple). Also omitted are the opening verses of Isaiah 61, which Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth and applied to himself.
Salvation in the Torah And The Prophets
The Bible is God’s revelation of himself. It shows his character, and in turn it reveals what is required for human beings to live in his presence. Much of the Bible is given in story form, and the story tells us how the first people God made were indeed able to have fellowship with him, how they lost that fellowship by disobeying God, and how God set into motion his plan to restore that original perfect relationship between himself and those he had created in his likeness.
One figure is central to God’s restoration program. That figure must naturally be God himself, since there can be no savior besides God. But the figure is revealed to us also as a human being, called by many names in the Bible. The title most familiar to us is “the Messiah.”
Several places in the New Testament tell us that the Messiah is the central figure of the Tanach. When Jesus was speaking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24.27). In Acts 3.18, 22-24, Simon Peter said, “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Messiah should suffer, he thus fulfilled. . . . Moses said, `The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul that does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.' And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came afterwards, also proclaimed these days.”
These statements of Jesus and Peter are confirmed by rabbinic tradition. In the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a, we read, “R. Hiyya b. Abba said in R. Johanan’s name: All the prophets prophesied [all the good things] only in respect of the Messianic era.”
Because the rabbis believed that all of the Scriptures spoke of the Messiah, they found messianic references in far more places than we can imagine. Alfred Edersheim, a Messianic Jewish scholar writing in the latter part of the 19th century, listed over 450 Tanach passages that are referred to as messianic in rabbinic literature. Over seventy of those passages are found in the Torah.
The centrality of the Messiah in the Bible forms the basis for our study. It looks for prophecies of Messiah’s coming, hints of what his character will be like, what kinds of things he will do, even things that will characterize the messianic age. Since Messiah is the one through whom God brings his salvation to the world, the discussions here are consider aspects of God’s salvation program as they are revealed in the Torah.