The TorahAs a new believer many years ago, attending a Christian church, the primary emphasis was on the Newer Testament. Very little time was spent on teaching from the Tanakh - the Older Testament. This was fine with me, as I had very little interest in things like Torah. I even proudly proclaimed myself as a "New Testament Christian."




     Much has changed since that time. Curiously, it was Miriam (my wife) who first got me interested in the Tanakh. As time went on, I grew to appreciate and love the "Older" Testament, which makes up about 78 percent of the Bible. Curiously, most Christians spend about 78 percent of their time reading the Newer Testament, which makes up only about 22 percent of the Bible.

     The most ignored part of the Bible in most churches happens to be the Torah - the first five books of the Bible, also called the Pentateuch, or the Five Books of Moses. This is the part of the Bible that Jews spend the most time with. There is an annual cycle of readings that occurs in most synagogues around the world.[1] The Torah is divided into Torah portions, each of which is called a parashah. In the period of a year, you read through the entire Torah. In addition, there is the Haftarah portion for each week, which is also from some other part of the Tanakh.

     This continues year after year. It is one of the things that binds Jews together, as Jews around the world are reading through the same chapters of the Bible at the same time. It might seem a bit strange to some. Why not skip the Torah portions, and go on to read the rest of the Bible this year?

     In Pirke Ovot ("Ethics of the Fathers") 5:22, Ben Bag Bag said this regarding Torah, "Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don't turn from it, for nothing is better than it."

     It continues to amaze me. Each year, as I read through the various Torah portions, I see new things that I never saw before, and I wonder how I could ever have missed it.

     In the Midrash Rabbah commentary on Numbers 7:19, it considers the offering of "one silver bowl of 70 shekels." Why is the bowl 70 shekels in weight? "As the numerical value of yayin (wine) is 70,[2] so there are 70 modes of expounding the Torah." [3] Western mentality tends to see only one "correct" way of interpreting each verse of the Bible. In the Hebraic mindset, you mine the text for additional interpretive riches. There are layers of understanding the texts, which are missing when done from a Western mindset. While there may not be 70 ways of interpreting each verse, it is a huge mistake to believe that there is only one "correct" interpretation.

     It is also sometimes astonishing to see how much we miss when we just use the English translations. The same Hebrew word may have other meanings which may not appear in the English translation. In addition, there is Equidistant Letter Sequencing, in which there are hidden messages in the text not apparent to the casual reader. (I hasten to add, the most important interpretation is from the text as written. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see these "hidden" messages.) [4] This reminds me of the movie Fiddler on the Roof. Two men are arguing about the meaning of a biblical text. One presents his argument, and the rabbi says, "You are right!" Then the other man presents a counter argument saying something very different. The rabbi says, "You are also right!" Many times there is more than one "right" answer, which drives the Western mind crazy, but is perfectly logical to the Hebraic mindset.

     Regarding the 70 modes of interpreting Torah, Rabbi Resnick writes, "It intimates that every verse of Torah is filled with meaning. The best Jewish minds throughout the ages will spend their best energies exploring its meaning and never come to the end to it. Further, says the Midrash, seventy is the equivalent to yayin, wine, according to the Hebrew numbering system. Torah yields sweet and even intoxicating meanings as we drink of it deeply." [5]

[1] There are also a triennial readings done in a small minority of synagogues, in which the Torah is divided into smaller portions in which it takes three years instead of one to read through the Torah.

[2] Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a numeric value. Therefore, each word also has a numeric value.

[3] As quoted from Gateways to Torah by Rabbi Russell Resnik, Messianic Jewish Publishers, Baltimore MD (c) 2000.

[4] One such book is Codes in the Torah by Daniel Michelson. I don't know the publisher.

[5] Gateways to Torah, p. 3.