Preface to the Torah (the Five Books of Moses)
Torah means instruction, and comes from the Hebrew root hry, which means to teach, to instruct, to direct, and other related definitions (such as to throw, to toss, to shoot arrows, etc). The Torah contains the story of the world, and of the Jews leading up to their entry into the land of Canaan to possess it. It incorporates the code of behavior that God requests of Jews, as well as some general rules of conduct for the nations other than Israel. The code of conduct is considered to be eternal. In other words, none of the commandments has been rescinded, and they are all as valid today as when they were handed down. As has been acknowledged by many individuals, the Torah is the basis for the most honorable aspects of modern western society.
Strictly speaking, the title, Torah, for this part of the web site is not completely accurate. You will find the Hebrew of the Torah. Nevertheless it is a translation and interpretation of the Torah, not the Torah itself. It contains every verse of the Torah in both Hebrew and English, but much conversational explanation and observation is interspersed between Torah passages. The Torah itself is composed of sheets of parchment containing ancient Hebrew letters strung together in words across and down each page without punctuation and few spaces. The Hebrew you’ll find on this web site is in Unicode (UTF-8).
It is said that the Torah communicates 613 laws of God to us. Through the centuries, there has been a great deal of controversy among the sages over the wording, interpretation, and choice of these commandments. As far as I am concerned, the number 613 is completely arbitrary. The commandments I identify, and their possible implications as I view them, will be found as they are encountered at the end of each chapter in which they appear. I have identified 559 commandments.
Before you start reading my translation of the Torah, I must caution you that you will find many controversial and troublesome remarks expressed. I will question the legitimacy of some of the laws that Moses promulgated as if they came directly from God. I will question the interpretations of some laws that underlie much of traditional Judaism. I will offer supportive arguments for defying their legitimacy. While I value and respect tradition, recognizing that it has been one of the means by which Judaism has been preserved over the centuries of persecution, exile, and dispersal, I do not agree with many traditional interpretations of the Torah. Right at the beginning, in Genesis 1:5, you will find my first arguments questioning a crucial traditional view.
Now a number of different beliefs about the authenticity of the Torah are espoused among Jews. The most liberal view is that, along with much of the rest of Mikra (or Tanach), it was written about the same time by priests or Levites, during the early period of the second temple. It was reconstituted myth, or possibly fiction, intended to inspire renewed public worship and observance. The God described by them served as their justification and source of authority. The miracles, the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan by Joshua, and other events never happened, and Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, and Solomon were probably fictionalized heroes or symbolic figures, and God is a fiction.
A second, less liberal, view is that the entire Tanach is a collection of inspired writings by scribes who imagined themselves as servants of God. The thirty-nine books it contains were probably written over a period of several centuries. The stories the Tanach contains may be based on historical fact, but many of them are exaggerated or concocted for effect. Those holding this view don’t necessarily believe or disbelieve in God or the miracles, although I suspect many of them lean toward disbelief or agnosticism.
A third, more conservative, view also rests on the belief that the Tanach is a set of inspired writings, but that they are authentic experiences of communication from God, usually occurring in dreams and visions, and sometimes as more or less miraculous signs. God and His miracles are real and, while the scribes who wrote the scriptures may have exaggerated at times, it was in keeping with the practice of their day or of their predecessors, and not intended solely to create effect. In this view, the scribes were sincere and believed what they wrote with all their hearts. Their intention was to explain to, communicate with, and inspire current and future generations.
Lastly, those holding the most conservative view believe that the entire Torah (and the oral law as well) was handed down to Moses by God and was inscribed by Him on Mt. Sinai. The Torah and the oral law are the authentic and direct word of God, as passed along by Moses. God chose the Israelites as His people and gave them the land of Canaan for a perpetual possession. Most of these believers accept that the Temple in Jerusalem was God’s residence on earth and, because the Temple was destroyed, God is now distant from us. Yet He still hears and may answer prayers.
If you haven’t guessed (or carefully read the introduction) yet, and are wondering which group I am part of, I belong to the third group. I think it’s important at the outset for you, the reader of this work, to understand the basis for my translation and interpretation. I believe your own view may be influenced favorably by that information. At the least, you may better understand as you go along why I lean toward certain arguments regarding esoteric or difficult texts. I admit here that my intention is sincere, and it is to influence. I want to make the Torah, and later the Tanach, meaningful to you, perhaps a lay Jew. I want to inspire your belief in and reverence for God, Lord of the Jews and the world. I want nothing more than to give glory to His name.
Before you wander beyond this page please understand that my translation is based on the following two extremely controversial beliefs. First, I believe that God does not “desire” our fear of Him. The biblical Hebrew word, arey, that is translated as to fear almost everywhere in the bible, also means to revere. I'm fairly certain that the word should be translated as to revere far more often than as to fear. Why do I believe this? For a very simple and elegant reason. God tells us to love Him with all our soul and heart and might. This statement appears in the Torah, in our prayer books, our philactories, and in our mezuzot on our doorposts. It is one of the most important messages in the bible (I believe it to be the most important). Well, that statement is inimical with the idea of our fearing God. How can we love the Lord if we fear Him? It is not possible. Either we love Him or we fear Him. It can't be both. Those who claim to love the Lord, yet fear Him, do not understand that the two emotions are virtually opposite. One cannot love whom he fears. One may be dependent on whom he fears. One may need whom he fears. One may want to love whom he fears. One may try to love whom he fears. One may believe he must love whom he fears. But he does not love the object of his fear. Only one who reveres can love the object of his reverence. In fact, love in its pure form embraces reverence and despises fear. And God “wants” and asks for our love. [Return to Genesis 42:18]
The second reason I don’t believe the Lord “wants” our fear is this: In keeping with the understanding that Torah means instruction or guidance, I believe that the laws of the Torah as dictated or inscribed by Moses are not “intended” by God to be as strict and immutable as Moses laid them down and our sages interpreted them (Oh boy! Here I go! Absolute heresy!). I believe that Moses exaggerated or extended what God required of the Israelites. I know that in the bible those who challenged Moses' authority were destroyed by God. Nevertheless I find that I have to challenge him. If I am wrong, may the Lord strike me down. You will find that there are several places in the Torah that support my belief, so I'm not totally off the wall. When you get to those places, you will encounter the reasoning that led to my belief. [Return to Exodus 3:18]
I expect that, among you who visit this site, I will be deemed naïve by most, a fool by many, mad by some, a scholar by few, and a prophet by maybe one or two. But ... that’s life on the extreme edge!
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