Did Jesus follow the Torah? Did he change it?
How can we reach the next generation?
Here’s something to consider:
Tell it to your children
We recognise this short phrase. It’s from such places as here:
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
The ancient Jews committed much to memory. Along with most cultures of that day, stories were memorised and retold from generation to generation. There was a whole body of such stories and teachings that we read about in the Gospels. This was the Oral Law, supposedly given by God to Moses at Sinai in order to explain and supplement the Torah, the written Law. This Oral Law, also known as the agada, had the strictest prohibitions against being committed to parchment or manuscript. A saying at the time was, he who writes down the agada loses his share in the world to come. But as the Jewish community was dispersed far and wide it became necessary to do so and it became the core of the Talmud.
In Judaism there were two complementary principles that drove them forwards. The first was the performing of deeds, the mitzvoth, which was defined as the principle of halachah, “the science of deeds”. Then there was agada, “the art of being”. Science and art, two totally separate ways of looking at things. Another way of looking at them is as the law and the spirit and the task of an orthodox Jew was said to be maintaining a harmony between the demands of halacha and the spirit of agada. The methodology was centred on the principle of the laws and teachings of the written Torah (halacha) being interpreted through the teachings and stories of the Talmud (agada).
Our problem is that we regard the Torah, and by extension the whole Bible, as self-contained without the need of scholars or sages to interpret it for us, because of the danger of human reasoning (or even pagan philosophy) obscuring or even opposing the revealed word of God. We must be careful not to place the traditions of man – whether Jewish, Protestant or Catholic – above Holy Scripture. So does that mean that agada is not valid for us?
Agada is at the heart of being human, which can be a good or a bad thing. It depends on the quality of the story, teaching or interpretation and whether it gives glory to God by pointing to truths in His revealed Word. As a kid I remember David Kossoff, the Jewish storyteller, who was often on TV reading his Bible tales. Without putting any significance on the fact that he was a Jew, the scenario of a wise old man sitting on a chair drawing his audience into these Bible stories is comfortably nostalgic and makes me wish that we had a few more of these storytellers in our current generation (though I doubt if they would get any TV airtime these days).
Storytelling is indeed a lost art, lost among the noise of clattering games consoles, Youtube diatribes and endless streams of trivia pouring out of our smartphones and tablets and reverberating around our skulls, drilled into our brains by the ever-present headphones. Don’t we often pine for quieter, less frantic times, where the only intrusion would be the small black and white screen in the corner of the room and the transistor radio, with “off” buttons. You would sit as a family around the dining room table and Grandad would start telling one of his tales …
My son, Simon, works with the Chelsea pensioners, British army veterans who fought for our country in the Second World War and later conflicts. They love nothing more than to corner you and regale you with one of their stories. There’s a big difference between watching a collection of pixels on a TV screen or hearing immaculate sound through Bose speakers, and sitting next to a live human being, who has lived a life and wishes to share it with you. You will be sharing an unedited moment that cannot be recorded or rewound. It could be long-winded, rambling and repetitive, but it is real and, between Adam and Eve and the dawn of the 20th Century AD, that’s all people had. We miss this, but most of us don’t realise it.
This is an extract from the book, Hebraic Church, available for £10 at http://www.sppublishing.com/hebraic-church-101-p.asp