Is there really such a thing as “Torah Observant”? Does God expect us to try and keep the 613 commandments of the Sinai covenant while we are under the New covenant of Yeshua? (*Tip: read all the way until the end!)
When we renovated the second floor of our facilities, we forgot to take into consideration how much we love coffee; for this reason, you will find a tiny kitchenette poorly situated in the middle of a narrow hallway. This hallway is always messy and crowded with thirty of us walking by and, of course, stopping to make coffee. One day we hope to replace this tiny kitchenette with a spacious, beautiful, perfect, fully-functioning kitchen. But until that day comes, we must make do with what we have, and make the extra effort to keep things in order. Our boss established several rules regarding the kitchenette: Keep quiet so as not to disturb your co-workers working nearby; clean up after yourself immediately, because the sink is so tiny; and do not prepare meals in the kitchenette—meals result in noise and unwanted odors. These rules will help us maintain order (and keep our boss happy)—until that glorious day arrives when we have a new kitchen! When that day comes, there may be new principles we can implement in our lives and in our new kitchen, but most of the old kitchenette’s laws will no longer be applicable to the beautiful new kitchen. Basically, Keeping the Law Has Become Impossible! But what if you really wanted, with all of your heart and mind—just for the sake of argument—to keep the Law (be “Torah observant”)? Well, it is simply impossible. There is no priesthood, no temple, and no sacrificial system—all of which comprise the heart and essence of the Law (the commandments are all associated with it). You see, we cannot separate the Sinai Covenant from the Law. The laws are merely an outgrowth of the covenant; they cannot stand on their own, just as eating mayonnaise and mustard is pointless without the sandwich itself. The covenant was ratified by the shedding of blood (Exod 24:8) and was maintained by the blood of the sacrifices upon the altar (Exod 30:10). Without the sacrificial system we are unable to keep the Sinai Covenant. All we can do is keep a few leftover laws, which are not related to the temple, the priesthood or the sacrificial system. Moreover, while these laws continue to speak to us as inspired Scripture, many of these laws were given to Israel 3,500 years ago in order to establish a nation in the context of the Ancient Near Eastern world. If we were to establish a new nation today, we would give its people laws and rules (traffic, family, taxes, torts, civil, labor, etc.) according to their situation, lifestyle, era and location. However, many of Moses’ laws are practically impossible to keep in our day and age, due to the current reality in which we live: for example, issues concerning slavery or purification rituals are no longer relevant.
In modern terms, asking if someone can be justified by keeping the Law is like giving someone an old laptop without its motherboard or processor and asking them to live their lives with its assistance. Even though the laptop might be able to “do” a few things (such as typing on the keyboard), there is no point without the motherboard and processor (the blood of the covenant). Furthermore, the new and upgraded laptop we received as a gift is meant to be the exclusive mechanism!
As we show in our new book “Reading Moses, Seeing Jesus” there are many implications in the Law to our lives today. However, there really is no such thing as “Torah observant”, as most of the 613 commandments are impossible to keep even if we wanted to try. Those that are left, are usually being cherry picked from, ignoring most of them and ending up with only a few.
If somebody is telling you he is Torah observant, try to randomly pick a few commandments and see if he really observes them or not, for example, you may ask them:
– Do you keep your diet 100% animal fat free, as in accordance with Leviticus 3:17 ?
– Do you stone your children if they curse you, as in accordance with Leviticus 20:9 ?
– Do you never shave your facial hair, as in accordance with Leviticus 19:27 ?
– Do you support the killing of gays and lesbians, as in accordance with Leviticus 20:13 ?
– During the Shabbat, do you not drive or BBQ? (and if you lived before the nineteenth century, will you not turn on lights nor start the heating in the winter if you are cold?), as in accordance with Exodus 35:3 ?
– Do you always wear only one kind of fabric on your body so not to mix between linen and wool, as in accordance with Deuteronomy 22:11 ?
– Do you never buy fruit in the supermarket as their producers do not wait until the 5th year to start selling them? (not to mention the fact that the majority of today’s supermarket food products includes corn or soy), as in accordance with Leviticus 19:23-25?
These are only 7 examples of the hundreds of Sinai commandmends, and remember, if in Yeshua we still under the authority of the Sinai covenant, we can’t just keep some commandments, we must keep them all: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:10)
But the more important question is – are you convinced that God is really interested in us following these commandments and being under their authority today under the new covenant? If the answer is “yes”, then you don’t believe in a New Covenant, but in a Renewed Covenant. And that would be in contradiction to Jeremiah’s words:
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
Some in the Hebrew roots movement appeal to John 14:15 to support their position that Yeshua’s followers are obligated to keep the Law. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15; see 14:21, 23-24). There is absolutely nothing in the immediate context, however, which would lead one to conclude that “my commandments” refers to the Law. Biblical interpretation relies heavily on context and the immediate context clarifies the specific commandments to which Yeshua refers. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you….These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:12, 17; other commandments given by Yeshua in the immediate context include John 14:1, 11, 27; 15:4, 7, 9; 16:24).
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)
So, are we throwing the Torah out of the window?
Of course not! The commandments of the Sinai Covenant continues to function as inspired Scripture. The Law witnesses against us, points us to Yeshua, teaches us about God, offers us wisdom and insight, deepens our understanding of the person and work of Yeshua, and challenges us to love God and our neighbor. As we continue to meditate on the riches of the Torah, may we, like David, desire its teachings more “than gold, even much fine gold.” May it be to us “sweeter also than honey and drippings from the honeycomb” (Ps 19:10) After all, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)
Question: “So now I can murder? And with the Law, how does one knows how to love his neighbor?”
Answer: That would be to take what we’ve said out of context! As followers of the Messiah, we were given a perfect example of perfect life. A role model. Did Yeshua teach us to murder? Did he not show us in His life and actions how to love others?
Remember, God promised a New Covenant, which will “not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors” (Jer 31:31). This one He says, He will: “write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33).
Why? because “when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also…Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7)
Why? Because “the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal 3:24)
So how do we now know how to please God?
“…When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13)
You see, it’s the Holy Spirit in our hearts which now tells us not only how to love our neighbor, but even how to love our enemies!
Question: “Do you eat Kosher? if you don’t you broke his commandment!”
Answer: Why stop there? He also said not to eat rare steaks (blood) or any kind of animal fat. Keeping the food laws of Leviticus 11 is an essential component of what people mean when they speak of “Torah observance” today. What people often fail to see, however, and what the writer of Hebrews has so perceptively observed, is the connection between the food laws and the tabernacle. Leviticus 11 is part of a larger section in Leviticus (Lev 11–15) called the Laws of Purity, all of which are tied to the purity of the tabernacle (Lev 16). Beyond the fact that there is no longer a functioning tabernacle/temple, followers of Yeshua are now the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), the purity of which is no longer contingent upon following the Laws of Purity in Lev 11–15, but upon the final and perfect sacrifice of the Messiah Yeshua. Yeshua has fulfilled all the Laws of Purity for us, including the food laws! For this reason, both Paul and the writer of Hebrews are able to declare to Yeshua’s followers, both Jewish and Gentile, that all foods are clean (Heb 9:8–10; 13: 9; 1 Tim 4:1–5).
The continuous operation of the tabernacle with its sacrificial system, the Levitical priesthood, the ceremonial washings, etc. (i.e., the Sinai Covenant), was specifically designed not to last. And as we meditate on the description of the tabernacle and its significance as found in Scripture for all believers today, its symbolism and built-in limitations are designed to point us to a better high priest, a better sacrifice, and a better temple to which we now have direct access in Yeshua. Elsewhere we also see that even the feasts were specifically designed with the Messiah in mind. “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col 2:16–17).