For God So Loved
the World That He
Gave Us the TorahI came across a very interesting article written by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, co-founder of Mechon Hadar, an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva for both men and women. He wrote an article called, "Speaking in the Captor's Language." I liked this article, because it took on some myths commonly taught in Judaism, Christi-anity, and even in much of Messianic Judaism. Both Jews and Christians often insist that the Torah is "just for the Jews." Rabbi Kaunfer tackles this myth head-on.

     The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai is sometimes compared to a wedding ceremony in which God is the Bridegroom, Israel is the bride, and the Torah is the ketubah.[1] This may all have validity. However, it makes it also sound too exclusive. Rabbi Kaunfer brings forth a narrative on the giving of Torah that he calls "a narrative of universal relevance."

     One of the things that I had never thought of was the language of Torah as it was originally given. I always assumed it was Hebrew, and that the Jewish people all understood Hebrew. However, in the USA we have people from many different ethnic backgrounds whose grandparents came to these shores from many countries around the world. After two or three generations, the language of the descendants of these immigrant grandparents is almost completely forgotten.

     The Jews were in slavery in Egypt for 400 years. It is doubtful that they were able to maintain any kind of meaningful schools to teach them of their heritage. Everything was passed down informally from word of mouth from one generation to the next. However, Rabbi Kaunfer makes the declaration that the Hebrew slaves no longer spoke Hebrew! Shocking! And he quotes Midrash (Pesikta DeRav Kahana BaHodesh 12:24 and Pesikta Rabbati 21) to address the question, "What is the language of revelation?" The answer blew my socks off: "R. Nehemia... claims that G-d revealed to the Jewish people in Egyptian." So G-d revealed the Torah in Egyptian!?!

     The Midrash suggests that the choice of language (Egyptian) reflected an act of love (leshon ahava, leshon hibah). "G-d loved the people so much that G-d chose to speak in their language." Torah is meant for those who speak other languages. It is designed for a population enmeshed in a larger culture. It isn't designed for Jews to isolate themselves from the wider society. "G-d will take any step necessary, even speaking in the language of the captors, to get the mes-sage to the people."

     A second Midrash narrative is much more widely known, preserved in Midrash Tehillim 68. God offers the Torah to the various nations of the world. They all refuse the Torah, some because they object to the prohibition of stealing, some because the object to the prohibition of murder, some because of adultery, etc. However, the children of Israel were chosen to merit Torah because, unlike the other nations, they accepted all of the words unconditionally.

     However, "When G-d spoke the word (on Sinai), G-d's voice split into seven voices. Those seven voices split into the 70 languages of the world, so that everyone could understand." The thunder (kol - "sound") in Exodus 19:19 was the Torah going forth in the 70 different languages of the 70 nations that existed at that time. God intended Torah for all the nations! It wasn't designed to seal an exclusive relationship between God and the Jewish people. And God intends that it be comprehended by everyone, regardless of language (although we recommend the study of Hebrew for a better understanding of Torah). Rabbi Kaunfer said, "Torah is relevant not just for every Jew, but for every person on earth."

     Rabbi Kaunfer writes, "And what if we took to heart the possibility that the Torah is saying something of universal relevance? Would we stop being embarrassed by the demands of revelation? Would we feel confident that living a life in accordance with G-d's will expressed at Sinai has enduring value for all people?"

     I agree with Rabbi Kaunfer. I understand that most Orthodox Jews believe the Torah is just for the Jews, and I also understand that most Christians (and most other non-Jews as well) don't even want the Torah. They often consider the Torah as bondage, or even a curse! However, Proverbs 28:9 says, "He who turns away his ear from listening to the Law (Torah), even his prayer is an abomination." If you don't want your prayers to be an abomination, I suggest listening to the Torah! Numbers 15:16 says, "There is to be one law (Torah) and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you."

[1] Jewish marriage contract, which the groom presents to the bride, as prenuptial contract promising to provide for her and protect her.