Why Obey Torah?

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Why Should I Obey Torah?

Some leaders within the Messianic Restoration Movement teach that HaShem has two completely different “standards of righteousness” — one for Jews and one for non-Jews. They teach that obedience to Torah is only “required” for Jewish people and that non-Jewish Believers are only obligated to obey the so-called Noachide Law that is incumbent upon all humanity. Others go so far as to teach that non-Jewish Believers in the Jewish Messiah are not allowed to even try to obey HaShem’s Divine Instruction, that “Torah is only for Jews.” What the Scriptures teach, however, is that HaShem “is no respecter of persons” and that in Messiah there is no difference between Jews and non-Jews, as far as salvation and righteousness are concerned. The Scriptures say there is neither slave nor free, while at the time they were written there were, in fact, masters and servants, and there continue to be both employers and employees to this day. The Scriptures say there is neither male nor female, while there is a very obvious difference (thankfully). The Scriptures say there is neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile), when there are obviously those who are the physical descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov and those who are not.

I believe and teach that HaShem has but one single standard of righteousness for all mankind: the Torah. If you have read the chapter on the Jerusalem Council in my manuscript of The Model for the Messianic Community you know that I believe that the record of the Jerusalem Council demonstrates that they specifically did not decide that Messianic Gentiles would be expected to obey only the Noachide Law; in fact, the “minutes” of the Jerusalem Council as recorded in the book of Acts do not even remotely resemble the Noachide Law.

Some teach that all mankind will be judged according to the Torah for their salvation; that both Jews and non-Jews must obey every “jot and tittle” of the Torah, and that that one's eternal destiny (salvation) depends upon obedience to Torah. I believe and teach that all mankind will be judged according to the Torah for their reward or punishment, but not as a condition of salvation.

If Torah obedience is essential to salvation, then salvation obviously depends upon obedience to every provision of Torah that it is possible to obey; the smallest provision of Torah is as important as its whole. It needs to be noted, however, that many mitzvot (commandments or provisions of Torah) are specific to gender, or to those who have servants or employees. Other provisions are for those living in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) under a theocratic government. Still other mitzvot require the presence of a functioning Temple and Priesthood. It is obvious that not everyone can, or should, obey every single mitzvah (commandment), and that nobody can obey those mitzvot that require a theocratic government, a Temple, and a Priesthood.

Some teach that Believers in Messiah who are not Torah observant have no place in the Kingdom, and that a Believer who violates Torah and dies without repenting will be eternally lost. To which specific provisions of Torah can they possibly be referring? If all provisions of Torah are equally important to HaShem, then violation of any of those provisions would be equally heinous to HaShem (except, of course, those provisions which are physically impossible for us to keep).

If it is possible for one to lose (or fail to gain) eternal salvation for committing an act of homosexuality or homicide (for example) and failing to repent of that act, then it is just as possible for one to lose (or fail to gain) salvation for committing an act of greed or gluttony (or failing to wear tzitzit [fringes on the “corners” of the garment] or eating a ham sandwich or a single shrimp) and failing to repent of that act. If one can not lose one’s salvation for greed or gluttony (or failing to wear tzitzit or eating a ham sandwich or a single shrimp) then how is it possible that one can lose one’s salvation for homosexuality or homicide? If Torah observance is a condition of salvation, then which specific provisions are mandatory and which are not? Do we get to pick and choose which provisions of Torah are important and which are unimportant? What if I am all “prayed up” and all “repented up” and I am driving in my car and look up and see a Mack truck bearing down on me; and I swear a blasphemous oath at the truck driver just as he plows into my car and kills me? Am I then eternally lost for that one utterance? (I know that this sounds an awful lot like, “Can God create a rock so big that He Himself cannot lift it?” It is not intended to be a facetious question.) My point is that either Torah observance is a condition of salvation or it is not. It can’t be either a “maybe” or a “sometimes” or a “kind of.”

If Torah observance is not a condition of salvation, then Torah observance is not mandatory for either Jews or non-Jews, and to teach that one must obey Torah is incorrect; but to teach that one should obey Torah is correct. If Torah observance is not a condition of salvation, then why should it be a condition of fellowship? But if Torah observance is a condition of salvation and of fellowship, then who gets to pick and choose which specific provisions of Torah are imperative and which are not? If one is to be denied fellowship in the “Messianic Community” for failure to “correctly” observe Shabbat (or for having a Christmas tree in the living room), then one should likewise be denied fellowship for incorrectly counting the omer or for failing to wear tzitzit or for “trimming the corners of the beard.” If wearing tzitzit and observing the dietary restrictions is critical, then so is the correct method of counting the omer and the wearing of a beard. If the correct method of counting the omer is not critical and if men are not required to wear beards, then neither is Shabbat observance critical.

Who is more righteous? The one who wears tzitzit and observes the dietary restrictions and observes Shabbat but counts the omer incorrectly, or the one who observes Shabbat and counts the omer correctly, but neglects the wearing of tzitzit and eats shrimp at the Chinese buffet? Obviously, it is preferred to wear tzitzit and to observe Shabbat and to observe the dietary restrictions and to count the omer correctly!

I recently read the teaching of an Orthodox rabbi on the subject of Torah observance; unfortunately, I have not been able to find that writing again, and don’t remember where it was that I read it, but it went something like this: Walking Torah is like walking along a forest path strewn with rocks. Some of the rocks are lying on top of the ground, some are half-buried in the dirt, and some are deeply buried so that only their top surfaces show. As we walk along the path, we pick up some of the rocks, examine them, and set them down again. Others we pick up, examine them, and choose to carry them with us. After carrying them for a while, we find that some of them are too burdensome, so we set them down. From time to time we will stop and dig up one of the rocks that is partially buried, dust it off, and put it in our pocket. Some of the rocks are so deeply buried that we cannot dig them out at all. But each of us on our own path must decide for ourselves which of the rocks we will carry with us.

Of course we should obey the Master’s instruction to teach and obey Torah: “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” But each Believer must be given the freedom (but not license) under HaShem’s grace to choose whether (or how much) to obey and be called great, or to not obey and be called least, and to answer directly to HaShem for the result of that decision. Believers should be taught the love and joy of Torah observance, not its “yoke” and “burden.”

Recall the words of Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our Teacher) just before his death:

See, today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I am commanding you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the Lord your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not listen and you are led astray to bow down to other gods and worship them, I tell you today that you will certainly perish and will not live long in the land you are entering to possess across the Jordan. I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, love the Lord your God, obey Him, and remain faithful to Him. For He is your life, and He will prolong your life in the land the Lord swore to give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." (Deut. 30:15-20)

Choose Torah; choose life!

Page revised on Sunday, 17 April 2016 06:28 PM

Page last updated on Saturday, 27 August 2016 04:35 PM
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Major content changes after May 3, 2015 are identified as "Revisions”)