For the week of February 5, 2000 / 29 Shevat 5760
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 21:1 - 24:18
Haftarah: Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26
Replaced by: I Samuel 20:18-42


These are the laws you are to set before them (Shemot / Exodus 21:1)

As we read through the Torah, we are confronted with many rules. The Hebrew word "Torah," which is how we refer to the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, literally means, "law." We are told that in the Torah there are 613 commandments. That's a lot of rules!

Why did God give these rules? For many people having to follow rules is something restricting and controlling. Anarchists believe that society would be better off without authorities imposing regulations upon us. And yet almost every community develops rules. Families, schools, businesses, sports leagues, and towns, for example, all create rules to enable its members to live together effectively and harmoniously.

God, as the creator of the universe, has also established rules to show us how to live. In fact the word Torah would be better-translated "direction" - God showing us the way to live.

So rules don't exist to restrict and control. They are provided to enable us to run our lives smoothly like tracks for a train. To neglect God's rules is to derail ourselves so to speak.

But there is much more to God's Torah than its rules. The Torah is more about God himself than what he has commanded us to do. While we are called to obey his word, we must also grasp his intentions. His greatest desire is that we should love him and love others. His laws help us to do just that. But sometimes in our zeal to fulfill his commands, we fail to do so in the way that he wants.

It is not good enough to focus on God's rules. As we read the Scriptures, we see how we were meant to live them out. Isolating God’s rules from the larger context of the Bible changes their God-intended meaning and application. As we get to know God better, we grow in our understanding of how his rules work.

Understanding God’s rules includes knowing what he requires of us in our day. Some may find comfort in insisting that all that Moses received at Mount Sinai is for all time. But that is a most difficult conclusion, since much of what was given cannot and is not being done by anyone. Some of the most observant adherents of the Torah fill their lives with substitutes for many of the commandments. God is not fooled, and he does not accept our religious activities in place of his commands.

Others choose to neglect God's rules under the guise of our cultural and historical distance from the time of the giving of the Torah or due to a misunderstanding of the Messiah’s teaching. Yet much of the Torah is enduring throughout changing times.

The Torah was given so that we could know God, not just follow his rules. If we make the Torah an end in itself, then that is how far we will go. But if we allow the Torah to direct us in the way God intended, then we will be led to God himself. And it is there that we will be able to really understand his Torah.

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