-Paul Philip Levertoff
Love and the Messianic Age
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’
-Mark 12:28-33 (NRSV)
Hillel said: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn"
I know people who refer to Jesus as "the Living Torah"; the only being in human form who perfectly obeyed the will of God and did not sin. According to the early 20th century sage Paul Philip Levertoff, the true desire of a "genuine Chasid" is to imitate the Master and also exist as a living embodiment of the Torah; the will of our Creator. For a Jew, this means continual, scrupulous study of the Torah and Talmud and also living out that "knowledge" in one's day-to-day existence, striving to improve obedience with each passing moment.
But is obedience to the commandments the goal?
If a man is worthy, the Torah becomes for him a medicine of life, but if he is not, it is a deadly poison. This is what Raba explained. "If he uses the Torah properly it is a medicine of life unto him, but for him who does not use it properly, it is a deadly poison." -b.Yoma 72bThe aforementioned quote of the Talmud is taken from the commentary to Levertoff's book and may illustrate something for those of us who are non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah.
Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. -Galatians 5:2-6 (NRSV)Paul seems to be contradicting both Christ's and Levertoff's perspectives on the Torah, but look at what Levertoff's source, the Talmud, is saying. What is it to use or misuse the Torah? The Chasidic Jewish tradition teaches that it's not enough to mechanically obey the commandments. Your intention must be correct. It not only matters what you do, but why you do it.
The Gentiles Paul is criticizing, as recorded above, most likely weren't desiring to convert to Judaism for their love of Torah or even for their love of God, but rather, because they had been convinced by outsiders, that they must convert to Judaism and take on the full weight of the yoke of Torah, in order to be disciples of Jesus; in order to be "living Torahs", just as the Master is our "living Torah."
However, it's not wearing tzitzit or laying tefillin that allows a Gentile disciple of Jesus access to God, but rather the desire within us to reach up to God through faith and trust in Jesus, and out of that desire to offer ourselves as "little Messiahs" to the rest of the world, by doing deeds of compassion, charity, and kindness.
I'm not drawing a conclusion at this point regarding the level of Torah observance that is proper for a Jewish Messianic disciple vs. a Gentile Christian disciple, but it seems clear from what we can read of Paul the Apostle and Paul the Chasidic disciple of Yeshua, that our approach to the Torah must be more than obedience for its own sake (although there is some merit in this if our desire is to also honor God). We must approach the Torah as if we are approaching the living essence of God, with a motivation not to take, but to give. Just as Jesus gave everything for us, including his own life, we must strive to be like him, "living Torahs" in the world, giving back to others the things we have so graciously received.
I don't want to end today's blog post without reminding everyone that the nation of Japan is in dire need of our help. Whatever you can do by donating funds or goods, please extend yourself to those who need you. Be a hero. Act in the Spirit of Jesus. Pray for Japan.