What is the Purpose of the Torah (Law)?

Rabbi Yaakov Ades writes: “The more we know about the value of the Law and of our soul, the more strength we will have to strive and overcome in the work of the LORD. Therefore, we need to know the great value of the Law and the commandments. The Vilna Gaon explains, that the entire purpose of creation, the giving of the Law and the choosing of the people of Israel is that we connect to the LORD, blessed is He, and the Law is the medium, and is the most important in the world, and the entire world is nothing compared to studying the law, and compared to keeping a commandment, as nothing compares to the Law.” (Yeshiva.org.il)

We have no doubt that the biblical Law is the word of God, but from the rabbi’s words, and from what the rabbis have been saying for thousands of years, they seem to have got the impression that the commandments of the Torah (Law), are THE most important and central thing to God. But would God agree that the commandments are the main point of these first five books?

The Sages claimed that the Law was given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and that Adam was busy studying the Law all day long. Maran Hagaon Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky wrote: “Adam, the first man, studied the Law. The world was created for the Law.”

Have you ever left after watching a movie without really understanding it all? Feeling like you must have missed something, and that you only understood a fraction of the entire story? But the second time you saw the movie, suddenly you realize that the central theme of the movie, is not at all what you thought it to be. But wait a second, how is this related to the Law? The Pentateuch (Law) is an impressive and an artistic work of art and its writing was directed by God. Like in most of the best literature, the central message is usually found under the surface.

In order to appreciate such a profound work of art, we must to conduct an artistic, literary analysis while considering the work of art as a whole, with all its angles and layers. We cannot understand a good story without considering the whole story and without paying attention to all the details presented by the author – especially details that may seem insignificant. This is how we need to approach the Pentateuch (Law). We cannot ignore the dominant genre of the Pentateuch, which is narrative. The Pentateuch is first and foremost narrative – a story – and when commandments and rules do appear, they always come inaddition to the main story. The commandments are not the essence. The problem is that we look at the Pentateuch through the eyes of the rabbis, and we might think that it is about an array of commandments that one day suddenly appeared in complete ignorance about what it is that links them together: the narrative.

See for example what Rashi (sage) said: “It was not necessary to begin the Torah (Pentateuch) except from “This month is to you, (Exodus 12:2) Which is the first commandment that the Israelites were commanded…?” Did you notice what Rashi is actually asking? Why the doesn’t the Pentateuch start off straight away with the commandments? Why does it have all this unnecessary story at the beginning? The answer is, like most rabbis, Rashi missed the purpose of the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch is not a book of commandments that includes occasional stories, but rather the Pentateuch is a narrative that also includes commandments. For some of you, it doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but for us this understanding explains the purpose of the Pentateuch in a completely different way. The stories in the Pentateuch create one large narrative framework, which begins with the story of creation and the Garden of Eden, and concludes with the death of Moses before conquering the Promised Land. This framework points to the unity of the Pentateuch, and helps us analyze and discover the true, central theme of the Pentateuch.

So, what is its purpose? As in any literature work of art, the opening scene is the key to understanding the rest of the story. The first scene of the Pentateuch is Creation and the Garden of Eden. In this scene, we are presented with the two central figures of the Pentateuch – God and man. Adam is the prototype of us all, of humanity. In the Garden of Eden, we are exposed to the ideal vision of God for Adam and for humanity: Man’s authority to rule over Creation. Co-existence between human-beings, and a direct relationship between human-beings and God. But the story goes downhill very quickly… Adam and Eve fail in their task, and instead of having authority over God’s Creation, the character of the snake, representing the inciter and seducer, is the one who leads them to rebel against the Creator. As a result, sin entered the world. God punished Adam and Eve and cursed them; the direct relationship between them and God, between human-beings themselves, and between man and Creation.

The next chapters continue to describe the fall of humanity. We are exposed to the first murder and to the wickedness of the human heart which climaxes during the time of Noah, when God decides to wipe out humanity and start all over with a new hero, with Noah. But just like Adam, Noah also fails, and again, we see another deterioration of humanity that climaxes at the tower of Babel. But this time, God decides to scatter humanity. This time the hero is Abraham, will he be able to conquer the effects of the original sin, and put an end to God’s curses?

The covenant with Abraham marks a turning point in the narrative of the Pentateuch (Law). If until now, there was a decline, now, Abraham and his descendants are able to fill and conquer the earth. God decides to bless Abraham and gives him the promise that through his seed, all nations and peoples in the world will be blessed. Through his seed, will come the solution to the problem of the original sin. In Jewish thought, that one later received the name “The Messiah”. And He is the One who was prophesied of by the prophets and kings in the Old Testament. He is the greatest of all, greater than the Law, the core purpose of God, and the solution to the sinful heart of men. Even the Sages agreed, as they said: “All the prophets which have spoken have foretold the days of the Messiah.” (Talmud 1992, p. 22)

The commandments, which were meant to help the people of Israel to understand how to live in holiness, are not the purpose of the Law. The purpose of the Law is to turn us and direct us to the One who would be the solution to the original problem of sin; to the Messiah. He is the purpose of the Law, and only through Him, our direct relationship with God can be mended and re-established.

By the way, the attempt to force the Law into the story of Creation, is also illogical and creates many contradictions, for example, according to the Sages, Adam had sex with the animals. In our opinion, this is a disgusting idea on its own, but also contradicting, after all, if Adam really knew the Law, he would have known Exodus 22:19: “Whoever lies with an animal, shall be put to death.”

To conclude, the purpose of the first five books is not the commandments, but the Messiah.
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Eitan Bar

Eitan Bar is a native Jewish-Israeli who was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel (1984). Graduated with his B.A. in Biblical Studies from Israel College of the Bible (Jerusalem, 2009), his M.A. in Theology from Liberty University (2013) and is now pursuing his Doctorate with Dallas Theological Seminary. Eitan currently serves as ONE FOR ISRAEL's Director of Media & Evangelism. (From 2006 to 2013, Eitan worked for CRU, in which his roles included serving as Israel's VLM-SLM leader.)

Eitan's professional background is in "Multimedia Design and Visual Communications" working for various secular advertising agencies in Tel-Aviv.

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