Yeshua’s Interpretation of Torah

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This Shabbat is one of the very important Torah portions for a better understanding of one of the interesting stories in the New Testament. The readings this Shabbat are from a portion that is called “Shoftim” (“judges”). It is from Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9. From the prophets we will be reading from Isaiah 51:12-52:12, and from the New Testament the reading will be from the Gospel of John 1:19-27.

If I would be choosing what to read from the New Testament this Shabbat it would be from the Gospel of John 8:1-11. The reason that the reading from John 8:1-11 is much more relevant is that the whole story of the woman accused of adultery is connected directly with our Torah portion this Shabbat.

Here is the text from Deuteronomy 17:2-7:

“If there is found among you, within any of your gates which the Lord your God gives you, a man or a woman who has been wicked in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing His covenant, who has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded, and it is told you, and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently. And if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination has been committed in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has committed that wicked thing and shall stone to death that man or woman with stones. Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness. The hands of the witnesses shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So, you shall put away the evil from among you.” — Deuteronomy 17:2-7

The question always comes up: “What did Yeshua write on the ground that changed the minds of the accusers of this woman?” I don’t know for sure, but looking at the Torah text the only question that would be relevant and would stop the deception and trickery of those people who came to trap Yeshua, would be in my opinion: “Who are the witnesses?”

This would automatically get two points of the Torah-prescribed proceedings into the action:

  1. Who are the witnesses?
  2. They would have to be the first to start stoning this woman.

Probably this woman was someone with a “reputation around town”. Probably they pressured her to cooperate with their scheme in order to entrap Yeshua and prove Him not worthy to be considered a rabbi with Torah authority.

But Yeshua proved well-versed in the Torah and in the commandment of the Torah in our reading of this Shabbat,

“You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” — Deuteronomy 16:20

The Hebrew text is much more interesting than the English. The English text says: “follow what is altogether just.” The Hebrew texts repeats the word “just” (justice) twice, “justice justice you will chase, pursue!” Any time that in the Hebrew text of the Bible you have the same word repeated it indicates for perpetuity. Always, forever!

So, what do we learn from this text in Deuteronomy, and what do we learn from Yeshua?

We learn that the enmity and conflict between Yeshua and some of the scribes and Pharisees was really a Halachic dispute (a legal conflict of how to interpret the Torah and put into practice). The disagreement was regarding the way to practice the Torah and the interpretation of the Torah in the difficult situation of living under Roman occupation, and the hate and enmity that existed between the different factions of the Jewish society in the land of Israel.

It is interesting that we have even in Talmudic literature several stories when Yeshua is asked how to interpret complicated legal issues from the Torah. Here is one of the most important ones:

“Our rabbis taught on Tannaite authority: When R. Eliezer was arrested on charges of Minut [being a Christian], they brought him up to the judge’s tribunal to be judged. The hegemon said to him, ‘Should a sage such as yourself get involved in such nonsense as this?’ He said to him, ‘I acknowledge the Judge.’ The hegemon supposed that he was referring to him, but he referred only to his father who is in Heaven. He said to him, ‘Since I have been accepted by you as an honorable judge, demos! You are acquitted.’ When he got to his household, his disciples came to him to console him, but he did not accept consolation. Said to him R. Aqiba, ‘My Lord, will you let me say something to you from among the things that you have taught me?’ He said to him, ‘Speak.’ He said to him, ‘Perhaps some matter pertaining to Minut [heresy meaning Christianity] has come into your domain and given you some sort of satisfaction, and on that account, you were arrested?’ He said to him, ‘Aqiba, you remind me! Once I was going in the upper market of Sepphoris, and I found a certain person, named Jacob of Kefar Sakhnayya, who said to me, “It is written in your Torah, ‘You shall not bring the hire of a harlot… into the house of the Lord your God’ [Deu. 23:19]. What is the law as to building with such funds a privy for the high priest?” Now I did not say a thing to him. “So,” he said to me, “This is what I have been taught [by Jesus of Nazareth], ‘For the hire of a harlot has she gathered them, and to the hire of a harlot they shall return [Pro. 5:8]. They have come from a filthy place and to a filthy place they may return.’ Let them build a bathroom for the High Priest with this money!’ And that statement gave me a good bit of pleasure, and on that account I was arrested on the charge of being a Christian, so I violated what is written in the Torah: “Remove your way far from her” — this refers to Minut; “and do not come near to the door of her house” [Pro. 5:8] — this refers to the government’ [T. Hul. 2:24].”

As we can see there are other texts in rabbinical literature that show a very famous and powerful rabbi from the early part of the Second Century AD who hears of Yeshua’s interpretation and solution of a Torah conflict and is impressed from Yeshua’s Torah knowledge and understanding to resolve the Torah conflict.

The conflict in this case is a contradiction within the Torah commandments. On the one hand, it is stated that everyone (without an exception) has to bring his tithes and dedicated them to the Lord, and on the other hand, in Deuteronomy 23:19, the text says that the price of a dog and the hire of a prostitute are not legal to bring as a tithe to the house of the Lord. Yeshua solved this Halachic conundrum by accepting the tithes of a prostitute and the price of a dog that was sold, and to use the money to build an outhouse for the high priest.

The second important lesson that we learn from this text in John 8, is that again after Yeshua challenges the scribes and the Pharisees that came to text Him to trick Him, these people just turned around and walked away from Yeshua. They also left Yeshua and the woman alone, and didn’t continue their enmity toward Yeshua. This is an important principle that we all must learn from Yeshua and from our Jewish brothers who are against us, because we believe and teach Yeshua the Ultimate Jew of all ages!

In the First Century in the land of Israel, and today in the land of Israel, we have some of the same Jewish elements that are against us for following Yeshua and teaching His ways and His Messiahship in Israel and around the world. If we could be wise and smart as Yeshua wanted His disciples to be in the First Century. and knowledgeable in our own familiarity of our heritage and scriptures as Jews, and as Paul and the other apostles and followers of Yeshua, we might be able to also have better success and more effectiveness.

The reading from the prophets this Shabbat is also very important to me and my family because it has in it the following words of Isaiah the prophet that in times of persecution have given us strength and courage. Today, most of the disciples of Yeshua in this land and around the world don’t have the experience of being persecuted physically and harassed in the streets of Jerusalem, and at home, and being physically beaten, and having bombs blowing up at the door, and damage to property, and having your children being persecuted and harassed in their school.

I know that there are only a few who remember those days of the 1960’s and 1970’s in this land. I can mention the family of Victor Smadja, and Shira Sorkoram, and the Shulam family, who experienced physical persecution and attempted murder and violent beatings, and damage to property. So here are the words of Isaiah that gave us strength and continue to give us strength.

“I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you should be afraid Of a man who will die, And of the son of a man who will be made like grass? And you forget the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens And laid the foundations of the earth; You have feared continually every day Because of the fury of the oppressor, When he has prepared to destroy. And where is the fury of the oppressor?” — Isaiah 51:12,13

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.