First words of the Hebrew Bible: "In the beginning,
Shalom Brothers and Sisters,
HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot almost upon us, we have only a few more readings left in this
year's Torah reading cycle. In just a few weeks, we will once
again restart the annual cycle of Torah readings.
holiday of Simchat Torah, which takes place this year on the evening of October
4th, will mark the end of one annual cycle of weekly Torah readings, and the
beginning of another.
Christians negate the importance of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses), it is
truly at the heart of the Jewish People and Judaism.
The reading of the Torah is central to synagogue worship. It is recited in part during the
morning services of Monday, Thursday, and twice on Saturday or the Shabbat.
Torah scrolls are paraded in front of the United Synagogue
on Simchat Torah. (Photo by Joe Epstein)
We are in good
company when we read the Torah out loud.
Jewish tradition, the practice of reading the Torah aloud before the assembly
dates to the time of Moses who is said to have publicly read the Torah on
Shabbat, on festivals and on Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new month.
teaches that Ezra the scribe, who lived at the time the Jewish People returned
from Babylonian exile in the sixth century BC, added Torah readings on Mondays
and Thursdays and on Shabbat afternoons.
and Thursdays were selected because on these days Jewish people would go to the
towns to shop and trade.
Since the time
of the Maccabees during the 2nd century BC, this practice was at times
suspended, but the public reading of the Torah has continued uninterrupted.
There are two
approaches to the readings that go back to historical times.
In one, the
Torah is divided into 155 portions and read through in a three-year cycle. This
is still practiced today within the Reform and Conservative movements.
In Babylonia, the Torah was
divided into 54 consecutive readings to be read through in a one-year cycle. This approach is still used by the
Orthodox and most Conservative Jews today. Special Torah readings are inserted
on the holidays.
Torah scroll and yad (Torah pointer, literally, hand)
synagogue, a Torah service coordinator called the Gabbai calls people up to the
bimah (raised platform from which the Torah is read) for
the Torah reading, which is divided into sections called aliyot (plural for aliyah,
meaning ascent or going up).
Two people on
the bimah are required for the actual reading: the person reading the Torah and
the person who corrects the reader's pronunciation and chanting of the trop,
which is Yiddish for ta'mim or musical
signs that determine how the text is chanted.
necessary since the text in the Torah scroll is devoid both of punctuation and
of musical notations. These notations are available in the Masoretic text,
the authoritative Hebrew and Aramaic text written sometime around AD 10 by
scholars in Tiberias, Israel, and in particular by Aaron ben Moses ben Asher.
least three others are called to the bimah for the aliyah
they each recite a special blessing before the reader continues with the next
Being called up is a special honor; therefore, the first reading
is given exclusively to one who is a descendant of the Kohanim (Jews of priestly descent). The
second oleh (person called to read) is a descendant of the
Levites. The third is given to a yisra'el, a Jew who
is neither a Kohen nor a Levi.
Readers use a
special pointer fashioned in the shape of a finger called a yad or literally hand,
to keep their place. The yad ensures that the text remains unobscured so
that others at the bimah can follow along.
Standing at the bimah in the Ealing Synagogue, UK
The removal of
the Torah from the Aron HaKodesh or ark involves a procession in which the
Torah is carried through the sanctuary while hymns are sung.
It is carried
in the arms of the Chazzan (the one who chants the service) on Shabbat and
holidays. Whenever the Torah is removed from the ark, the Chazzan faces
the congregation and recites the Shema (Here oh Israel the Lord your God is One
God). He continues with Echad Eloheinu, gadol Adonenu (One is our God, great is our Lord).
congregation responds with verses from Chronicles and Psalms. The traditional
prayer that's read when the Torah is returned to the ark is called Eitz-Chayim hi,
which begins "It is a Tree of Life to
those who hold fast to it."
Torah is returned to the ark, it is paraded through the congregation in order
to allow worships to pay reverence by kissing the Torah scroll. This is
done by first kissing the hand, or spine of the Siddur (Jewish prayer book),
and then touching it gently to the Torah scroll cover.
public reading of Torah is not enough. Studying Torah is also essential.
to study Torah is linked with the teachings of the rabbis as set down in the
Babylonian Talmud (a compendium of rabbinical interpretations of the Torah).
dictate reads: And the study of Torah is equivalent to them all
127a), meaning that it
is the greatest commandment.
explains the reason for this, saying of one who studies the Torah, He becomes a partner in
bringing the Divine Presence among the People of Israel (BT
The Aron Kodesh (Torah ark or closet) the Ponevezh
Yeshiva (Orthodox Jewish seminary) in Bnei Brak, Israel.
D'var Torah (a Word of Torah)
A darshan (interpreter or explainer) provides a d'var
Torah, a discussion or written essay based on the Torah portion for the week. The
explanation of the Torah portion, which might focus on certain words or verses
or be an overview, is called the drash (to seek out,
Often the rabbi
gives a d'var Torah instead of a sermon during a worship service, but anyone
can give one by reading the Torah portion and studying various other divrei
Torah (plural of d'var Torah).
In fact, it is
considered an honor to be
chosen to present a d'var Torah since presenting one fulfills
the commandments to study Torah, to teach Torah, and allows one to remind
others that the study and interpretation of Torah is for everyone and not
restricted to rabbis.
prepare drashes are part of a long historical line of people who have
interpreted the Torah.
The PaRDeS (garden or orchard) method of Jewish exegesis is
the traditional approach for studying Jewish text. In this method, the
darshan uses four approaches to the text, each one considered deeper than the
- Peshat-meaning simple, the plain, straight, literal meaning
of the text. This is considered the keystone to understanding Scripture.
- Remez-meaning hint, the symbolic or allegoric consideration
that hints at the depth of the text
- Deresh-meaning concept, from the Hebrew darah (inquire/seek) look at comparative or
- Sod-meaning hidden,
the secrets of the text or hidden meanings.
The d'var Torah can be provided in a variety of
Havruta: Learning in Pairs
Torah is studied in a group with at least one other person. This approach is
together members endeavor to apply the teaching to their own lives. It is
common for students to study together in a beit midrash (study hall) along with other havrutot (plural
for havruta), where the sounds of study and debate fill the air.
The idea of
this group approach to learning can be traced to the Talmud, which says that
understanding the Torah is only possible in a group,
Talmud [BT], Berakhot 63b).
The word haburah
has the same root as havruta-haver , which translates as friend in English.
of the Talmud's emphasis on studying in pairs is the verse, Two scholars
sharpen one another (BT
Ta'anit 7a) which interpreted means that two scholars, by their
discussion and debate, can help to sharpen each other's understanding of the
iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men study the Torah together.
Judaism there have been three approaches associated with Biblical
The first is
the Palestinian-Babylonian school associated with the Pharisees, the first
century rabbinical sect that ruled at the time of Yeshua.
The second is
the allegorizing Hellenistic (Greek) school as represented by Philo. When
compared to the interpretation of the Pharisees, it might be considered the
secular approach of the time (first century AD).
approach is the sectarian prophecy-oriented approach of the Essenes who are
believed to have written the Dead Sea Scrolls.
PaRDeS approach adopted by the Pharisees ultimately dominated and is seen in
the works of the Mishnah, Talmud, and other rabbinic texts.
approach ultimately led to the development of much lore in connection with the
characters of the Bible or Torah, some of which are very entertaining and
That lore is
written as stories or parables that attempt to answer ethical, practical, theological
or legal questions, to fill in gaps in the Scripture.
This body of
rabbinic literature is collectively referred to as midrash which
means exposition or investigation
from the root drash, referred to earlier.
story is also called a midrash.
one well-known midrash attempts to answer the question of how Abraham came to
be chosen by God.
The Bible tells
us nothing as to why Abraham was chosen by God; however, this midrash teaches
that one night Abraham was told to bring food to the many idols that his father
kept. Instead of distributing the food among the idols, he destroyed all but
the largest one and then placed all of the food at the foot of this idol,
placing a mallet in his hand.
father was faced with this scene the next morning, he asked Abraham to explain
what had happened. The boy Abraham told his father that the big idol smashed
the smaller ones and stole their food.
His father told
him that was not possible. This realization forced his father to change
his perspective on his worship of idols.
Torah scrolls are housed in a synagogue's Aron Kodesh
Yeshua and the Torah
Tanakh (Old Testament) continues to be important in the Brit Chadashah (New
faithfully attended the synagogue on Saturdays, the Sabbath, and read from the
Luke 4:16-19 reveals that Yeshua was given the honor
of reading from the prophets, the Haftarah,
when visiting His hometown of Nazareth.
There he recited a prophecy about Himself:
Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news
to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery
of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's
also Isaiah 61:1-2)
4:1-11 reveals that
both Satan and Yeshua were completely familiar with the Torah. After fasting
for 40 days in the Judean wilderness, Satan tempted Yeshua to turn stone into
bread, to jump off the Temple
so angels would save Him, and to receive the kingdoms of the world if he would
only worship Satan.
At each attempt, Yeshua used Scripture from the Tanakh (Old
Testament) to put Satan in his place.
when told to turn stone into bread, Yeshua responded with a verse from the
Torah when He said, It is written: a Man shall not
live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Deuteronomy 8:3)
In this and
many other places in the Brit Chadashah, we have ample proof not only of
Yeshua's knowledge of the Torah, but of its spiritual authority.
lost none of that authority.
Carl Heinrich Bloch's painting of the
Temptation of Yeshua (Chapel at
Jews devote their entire life to its study and interpretation drawing on such
texts as the Talmud (compilation of oral laws, supplemental laws to Scriptures
with midrashim and commentaries), along with the many other midrashim written
by scores of rabbis throughout the ages.
Today it is not
uncommon for a regular member of a congregation to present a midrash to the
congregation, carrying on the tradition of drawing wisdom from the laws of
Moses and the five books that form the Torah while filling in details as a way
to answer questions of our day.
question, however, will only be answered by those who boldly bring God's Word
to the Jewish People and the nations.
question is this: Was Yeshua a mere moral teacher or was He something
scholar of literature named C. S. Lewis writes in his book Mere Christianity how the
answer to that question is found in Scripture itself:
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus
said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic, on the
level with the man who says he is a poached egg, or else he would be the Devil
of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the
Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.
answers the question of King Solomon when he asked,
has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the
wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established
all the ends of the earth? "What
is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know! (Proverbs 30:4)
Open Torah scroll on a bimah.
Those who follow
Yeshua and believe that He is the promised Messiah and Son of God, as He
claimed to be, have access not only to the Words of God but also to the
ultimate teacher and interpreter of God's word, His Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit).
provides deep insights into Scriptures that even the prophets have longed to
said, It is written in the Prophets: They will
all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from Him
comes to Me.
6:45; see also Isaiah 54:13, Jeremiah 31:31-36)
As the Jewish
People come to know their Messiah and receive His Ruach HaKodesh, they will finally
understand the deep meanings in the Torah that they have longed to discover.
am bringing My righteousness near, it is not far away; and My salvation will
not be delayed. I will grant salvation to Zion,
My splendor to Israel."
Dr. Akiva Sherman- Israeli Messianic Minister
Santa Monica, California USA