“Holy Convocations”
Rabbi Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy
Minor Feasts

(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)

(Rejoicing of the Torah)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth”–2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)

Simchat Torah is not one of the biblically prescribed feasts, such as the Mikra’ey Kodesh (Holy Convocations, Leviticus Chapter 23) that we looked at in a different study.  Actually, it is a rather practical solution to an otherwise semi-mundane chore.  According to custom, the final reading of the book of Deuteronomy had just taken place, and a reading from the first chapter of the book of Genesis immediately followed; the Torah scroll needed to be re-rolled to facilitate another year’s worth of reading and study.  Rather than allow room for complacency, or foster complaints about how much work was involved (re-rolling a Torah scroll was no easy task!), the rabbis decided to turn this time into a reason to rejoice—we have gracefully completed another complete reading of God’s Holy Torah!  The eighth day of Sukkot (called Sh’mini Atzeret) was already a Biblically mandated assembly time, complete with festivities (see Numbers 29:35).  As was the tradition since before the Common Era, the yearly cycle of reading was completed and restarted at this time also.  The root word, “simchah”, means “rejoicing”.

Like so many other practices in Judaism, the rabbis have also standardized the suggested reading schedule for this minor festival.  The usual verses are: Genesis 1:1-2:3; Numbers 29:35-31:1; Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12 (Parashah: V’Zot HaBrachah); and Joshua 1:1-18.  If you have a Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, he recommends the following portions from the B’rit Chadashah (New Covenant): Matthew chs. 5-7 (especially 5:17-20); Mark 12:38-34; Romans chs. 7-8; and Revelation 21:1-22:5.  I want to break with tradition and look at the verse quoted at the onset of this teaching, 2 Timothy 2:15.

In HaShem’s order, acceptance is based on identity: Who are you?  This question is of great significance to the Jew especially, but equally to the Gentile (Romans 1:16b).  A study of the Torah will reveal the identity of both of these individuals.  To be sure, misunderstanding who you are according to the Torah can have detrimental results.  I want to start by briefly examining the meaning of the word “Torah”, and it’s definitions.

Definition: Torah = from the root Hebrew word “yarah” meaning “to shoot an arrow” or “to hit the mark”.  Properly used, the word “torah” means, “to teach”.

In a broad sense, Torah is the revelation of HaShem to His people.  Within this framework, and depending on the context, the term “Torah” can mean:

 (1) The five books of Moshe;
 (2) that, plus the Prophets and the Writings;
 (3) that, plus the Oral Torah, which includes the Talmud and
  later legal writings;
 (4) that, plus all religious teaching from the rabbis,
  including ethical and “aggadic” materials; or
 (5) all of the above as understood and interpreted in light
  of what Yeshua the Messiah and the rest of the New
  Covenant Scriptures have said about it.
 *  For the most part we will be using definitions 1, 2, and 5

According to God’s Torah, there are at least two very important covenants that both Jews and Gentiles need to understand.

YAvrahamic: (Genesis 12:2, 3; 13:14-18; chapter15; 17:9-14; Matthew 1:1-16; Romans chapter 4; Galatians 3:6-18)
Y Moshaic:  (Exodus 34:27; Deuteronomy 29:1; Psalm chapter 119; Matthew 5:17-20; 23:1-3; Acts 21:19-26)

(the following explanation was taken from Torah Rediscovered, Ariel and D’vorah Berkowitz, FFOZ Publications):

     ‘A person cannot appropriate the full blessings of the covenant with Moshe (the Torah) unless he first enters into the covenant with Avraham.  The latter is done by faith and faith alone.  The covenant of promise (through Avraham) gave Israel the physical promises.  Not only are these physical promises a reality; they are also pictures of the spiritual relationship we have with HaShem.  Moreover they are illustrative of the spiritual promises of inheritance obtained by all believers through faith in Yeshua.

    ‘For those who trust HaShem for the promises, the proper order for faith and obedience is set by the sequence in which the covenants were given.  In other words, faith must precede obedience.  But the kind of faith accepted by HaShem is one which naturally flows into obedience.  True obedience never comes before faith, nor is it an addition to faith.  It is always the result of true biblical faith.  To rephrase this in terms of the covenants: the covenant of promise (Avraham) must come before the covenant of obedience (Moshe).  If we were to put Moshe first, attempting to secure those promises by obedience, we would be going against HaShem’s order.  (This, by the way, is the key to unlocking the difficult midrash used by Sha’ul in Galatians 4:21-31.)  All we could hope for would be a measure of physical protection and a knowledge of spiritual things.  But we could not receive justification or a personal relationship with the Holy One through obedience to the Torah; it all had to start with faith.  Avraham came before Moshe, but Moshe did not cancel out Avraham!  The two complemented each other—as long as they came in the proper order.’

What does this mean for the Jew as well as the Gentile?  Apart from a being well reasoned theological argument for combating legalism, the concept taught here defines our identity, as, not only being grounded in the Torah—but it is who we are in Messiah!  If the blood of the Sinless One has redeemed us from sin and unrighteousness, then we now have been clothed in his holiness!  We now have a new identity—the righteousness of HaShem!  The old man has died with the death of our Messiah; the new man has been raised unto life everlasting just like him (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)!  And all of these promises are secured for us within the pages of God’s Torah!  We can study the Torah year after year, but if we fail to grasp this central truth, then our study is in vain!  It was never HaShem’s desire to have his children study the Torah as a means unto itself!  To be sure, many well-meaning people, Jew and Gentile alike, are doing just that.  In my opinion, this is tantamount to idolatry.  How dare we turn God’s Holy Word into something it was not intended to be!  I would like to challenge the reader not to fall into this very easy and dangerous trap.  We as believers should be worshipping the God of the Torah, and his Messiah—not the Torah itself!

Rejoicing in the Torah?”  Yes, by all means!  In Messiah, there certainly is something to rejoice about!  “Study to shew thyself approved….?”  You bet!  The goal or aim of the Torah is the Messiah (Romans 10:4)!  How else are we to recognize who we are?

“Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,
asher natan Toraht-emet,
uv’suraht-yeshu-ah l’amo Yisra’el
ul’chol ha-amim al-yadey bano Yeshua HaMashiach, Adoneinu.”

(Blessed are you O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
who gives the Torah of truth,
and the Good News of salvation to his people Isra’el
and to all the peoples through his son Yeshua the Messiah, our Lord.)

May your study of Torah be filled with blessing and joy!