Sunday, March 19, 2017

Didn't Jesus do away with all the rules? part 2

Continued from last week...

Again, natural law is the fulfillment of our humanity, not a limit on our freedom. If our Christian theory is correct, that man is made in the image and likeness of God, then we are human only to the degree that we reflect the divine nature. If God is the author of life, then the murderer diminishes the divine image in himself, and is thus less fully human. God is undying and faithful love. Thus the adulterer is less fully human. The enslavement to passion and pleasure of which our generation is so fond, is not freedom. It is suicide. It kills the eternal person made in the image of God.
 
Jesus said “I have not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.” (Matt 5:17)  There are Christian sects that maintain Jesus meant we must still obey all the minutiae of the Old Testament, No pork, no shrimp, worship on Saturday instead of Sunday, etc. This completely misses the point as far as I am concerned. I believe that Jesus not only fulfills the law, but Messiah Jesus IS the fulfillment of the law. I once said this to Rabbi Lefkowitz.

He said quite pointedly, “What does that mean?”

Good question. How can a person be the fulfillment of the law? First what is the law? The word translated law in English is Torah. Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible, sometimes called the Pentateuch. The word “Torah” does not quite mean what we mean by the word “law.”  “Torah” in Hebrew means “teaching”, or “instruction.” Webster defines law as, “…a binding custom or practice of a community: a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority.”

In our understanding, then, law is to be defined as “the rules.” There are rules in the Torah, certainly, but Torah is a lot more than rules enforced by an authority. Torah is divine instruction on how things work here on spaceship earth. It is meant to be the user’s manual for human life.  Perhaps the idea is made clearer by the Hebrew word “Halakha.”  “Halakha” is the collection of Jewish religious laws derived from the written and oral Torah. It includes the 613 mitzvoth. Mitzvoth means “commandments.” This is an important word. As I understand it, a mitzvah, (singular of the word “mitzvoth”) means not only a commandment but also implies that its very observance is a blessing. The Halakhot are found in Talmudic legal interpretation and the customs gathered in the book, “Shulchan Aruch” (Hebrew for the prepared table, the Torah being a banquet).  All this comes from a Hebrew verb, “halakh” which simply means to walk.  The Jews often speak of Halakhic law, no meat and milk together, no cheeseburgers no shrimp tacos.

The Torah thus teaches us how to walk, how to make our way in the world.  If one understands that Torah is infinitely more than a rule book, but an instruction about how to walk in the world, how to live, then to say that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law is much more understandable, at least to one who is His follower. Moses gave us a book to teach us. In Himself, Jesus gave us a vision of the Almighty.  “He is the visible image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15)  One might say that He is the Torah come to life. His way of life is the perfect instruction.

The Torah is not a rule book, but it most certainly contains rules, or mitzvoth, 613 of them to be precise. I maintain that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of all of them together and each of them individually. There’s the word again: fulfillment. What does that mean? I was at Passover at the Rabbi’s house one year a while ago, and though the little congregation in my neighborhood was very small and very poor — mostly old Russian exiles —they splurged and got a fancy schmanzy Khazzan (cantor) for the Holidays. The cantor, a bit of a stickler (actually he stickled a lot) was also at the Passover Seder (Seder, Hebrew for order of service). At a certain point in the dinner the cantor started to stuff as much Matzo (unleavened bread) in his mouth as he possibly could. I thought we were going to have to perform a Heimlich maneuver as he turned red and continued to jam matzo into his already stuffed mouth.

I asked the Rabbi’s son, Levi, what the cantor was doing. Levi said, “He’s fulfilling the mitzvah. Moses told us to eat unleavened bread during Passover, He didn’t say how much. The cantor is trying to make sure that he has fulfilled the mitzvah by doing as much as possible, just to be on the safe side.” 

Bingo! Light goes on over my head! In my soul I am doing the dance of joy.  To fulfill the law! To do more than is required. Most of us want to know the rules so we can do the bare minimum. To fulfill the law is to want to do the maximum. If the law is a good thing, and teaches us how to live and walk, we want more of it, not less. “Teach me, O Lord, your ways!” (Psalm 86:11) The Torah and its mitzvoth are not rules applied by an external authority. They are insights into the very nature of reality. It is fascinating that in the very attempt to fulfill the Law of Moses, the cantor admitted its incompleteness.

Moses told us to eat unleavened bread. He didn’t say how much. The Torah is thus lacking. Jesus answers that question when he says, “I am the bread come down from heaven…. The one who eats my flesh will have life eternal.” (Jn 6:54) the verb here is very strong. It literally means not eat, but “to chew continuously.”  That pretty much answers the cantor’s question.  Exodus (13:6) says, “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.”  Thus Jesus fulfills one of the mitzvoth by becoming bread, and by bread becoming the messiah.


Now we only have 612 more laws to explain.

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