Torah 101

Over the centuries the people of God have developed two different views about the Torah (the Law of Moses). Christians pick and choose which parts of the Law they want to obey and religiously avoid the rest. In this view, Sabbath can be just about any day you like and there's no problem with ham, but murder and blasphemy are out. Jews, on the other hand, try and obey it all and even go so far as to add a bunch of stuff just to make sure they don't inadvertently violate even one of its most obscure provisions. In that view, cheese burgers are out and matzoh must be baked within 18 minutes in order to be valid. Both of these views are motivated by fear. The Christian may fear the idea of 'works salvation' and (perhaps) loosing his salvation. The Jew may fear offending God and (perhaps) bringing ruin upon himself.

Consider for a moment that the rules in the Torah can broadly be classified into five categories:

- Rules that change one's distance from God - Don't worship idols, they will draw you away from Me. Keep Shabbat, it will draw you closer to Me.
- Rules that effect your health or well being - Don't eat frogs, they're not food. Keep Shabbat, you need your rest.
- Rules that effect relationships and community - Don't commit adultery, it will ruin your marriage. Honor your parents, it will go better for you.
- Rules about worship - how to approach God and safely be in His presence.
- Rules about what to do when you mess up - Murderers get stoned. Sheep rustlers repay 4 for 1.

As with Shabbat, many rules fall into multiple categories, but those 5 pretty much cover it. (There are a few rules like the red cow which are difficult to classify because no one really understands them.)

Analogies are imperfect, but can be useful in grasping a complex subject. So, let's consider a sporting analogy. In a sport, the rules are generally written down and agreed to by all players. The rule book describes the shape of the playing space, the duration of a match, the moves allowed, the penalties for infractions, etc. So in American football, the rule book talks about the height of the goal posts, what constitutes a forward pass (as opposed to a lateral), what sort of contact is allowed between players, etc. The rules in the Torah corresponding to the categories above are the rule book for the 'game of life'.

As useful as a rule book is - without it, one is likely to get injured or thrown out on penalties - it really doesn't give much idea of how to play the sport. You could stand in the center of a regulation football field wearing all the proper gear and have no idea what to do next. You know that a forward pass is a legal option, but the rules don't tell you when it is a good move verses when it is dumb. Should you kick on the first down? The rules don't say. You can call a time out three times in a half; when should you do so? Again, the rules are no help making that decision. To make matters even worse, if the game were lacrosse or hockey, your equipment depends on your position. The rules are no help determining whether you are attack, defense or the goalie.

Once you have read the rules, it would really be helpful to be able to watch a few games, perhaps in the company of someone who has a bit of playing experience and can explain the finer points. God has thought of that and arranged for Moses to record several classic matches from the past. These are the stories in the Torah. To make the stories even more useful in learning the 'sport', they are usually arranged in pairs. In each pair of stories, there is one player doing relatively well and one player not so well: Cain and Able, Abraham and Lot, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, Joseph and Judah.

Once you've got the rules and read over a few matches, the next problem is to figure out what your position is, how to play it and what the goal is for your portion of the match. (If you don't know the answers to these questioins, don't be discouraged. You're far ahead of most people in the world who haven't even read the rule book, much less undertaken to discover what is expected of them.) Assuming God hasn't taken you by the scruff of the neck and explained exactly what He wants you to do - ala Jonah - how does one figure this out?

Start by studying the play book and the classic matches from the past. Every serious athlete spends great amounts of time studying both his opposition and the great players and games in his sport. Here the Bible is the bible of the game. It's not sufficient just to read through it, you must really dig. Here some of the great analysts of the past can be a great help in shining light on the action. Consider particularly that the whole book from Genesis to Revelation was given to and through Hebrews. So learn about Hebrew thought and culture - it's very different from the Greek mind-set you probably grew up with.

As you study, you will begin to see patterns. These patterns are the equivalent of, 'When there are 8 yards to go for a first down and it's early in the game and it is fourth down, the proper play is a punt.' The rules won't tell you that, but the patterns will.

Simultaneously with study, pray. Prayer is your connection with the coach and it does several things - all good. First, prayer changes you. As you look back over years of prayer, you will realize that you are not the same person you were. Your perspective will have changed as will your goals and the things that you want out of life. These changes in you are part of God's way of communicating what position He wants you to play.

Prayer also changes the world around you. In that sense, it becomes part of your equipment, every bit as important as a football player's helmet and shoulder pads.

Act. By getting off of your blessed assurance and doing things, you will provide God with opportunities to move you into situations where you can make plays. He is perfectly capable of placing people in your path and placing you in situations where you can learn, grow and advance His interests. For this to happen, you must be alert as you go about your day. In every situation, ask Him, 'Why have you placed me here.' 'Why are these others here also.' 'What do you want me to accomplish at this time and with these people?' If you ask those three questions of every situation, you will be amazed at how often there's a chance to advance the ball and score.

An important component of action is to do the things that the Torah says to do. Keep Shabbat; keep the feasts; give thanks to God for all things; visit the sick; encourage those who are down; etc. In doing these things, you will be changed; you will also be moving the ball in the right direction while you are awaiting more specific direction from God.

Finally, attitude. Life is difficult. This is not flaw in the system, it is part of God's design to cause you to grow and develop your character. In sports, anyone can cross the goal line on a deserted field. Running down the field and scoring is only meaningful if the opposing team is trying to stop you. Speaking of scoring goals, that only happens when you play offense. Many folks who start taking Torah seriously become focused on following all the rules and not making any mistakes. Early on while learning, that's fine, but the objective is to have the rules 'written on your heart' so you can quit thinking about the rules and just play the sport.

Strive for joy in all that you do, both the easy and the difficult. Once you get into the habit of joy, there is no possibility of defeat - you may come out on the short end of the score occasionally, but you cannot be defeated because when "The LORD is with me, I'm not afraid. What can man do to me?"

When your feet hit the deck each morning, you want Satan to say, "Oh crud, he's awake."