Teenage Girl Confused by Missionary Accusation
I received an email from parents concerned about their teenage daughter. She was confused by a YouTube video that appeared Jewish but was produced by missionaries.
What upset their daughter was the missionary’s accusation that Jews must accept Jesus because the God-given commandments are impossible to observe.
Sadly, this belief is held by many Christians.
The apostle Paul promoted this idea in the New Testament with statements like, “those who rely on the law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10). Considering the Torah’s many positive statements about the law, Paul was faced with a dilemma he admitted, “if righteousness comes through the law, Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:21).
To validate his belief that Jesus replaced the law, Paul had to discredit the Torah.
However, in this week’s Torah portion Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9–30:20), there is a powerful passage that puts Judaism’s detractors in their place.
God declares that the commandments of the Torah are not impossible to keep. They are actually “very easy for you to carry out with your mouth and heart to do them” (Deuteronomy 30:14).
Additionally, God does not demand perfection. God desires that we try our best and if we falter, we should correct our ways and return to God. This is stated clearly when the prophet Samuel witnesses the Jewish people sinning and tells them, “Even though you have committed all this evil, do not turn aside from following God, but serve God with all your heart.” (1 Samuel 12:20).
Repentance is a cornerstone of Jewish belief. In Hebrew it is referred to as Tshuvah–תשובה which means to “return” as in the verse, “return to Me and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:3). In addition, the prophet Ezekiel says, "When a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life." (Ezekiel 18:27).
Missionaries argue that without sacrifices we cannot do Teshuva. However, they are mistaken and ignoring this prophecy, "For the sons of Israel will remain many days without a king or prince and without sacrifice or sacred pillar… Afterwards, Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God and David their king” (Hosea 3:5). (Note that God and David their king [the messiah] are separate entities)
This passage demonstrates that Jews can return to God even when sacrifices are unavailable. Furthermore, the prophet Hosea tells the Jewish people that they can return to God by offering “their prayers in place of sacrifice.” (Hosea 14:1-3).
Judaism and Christianity have very different views of the law as outlined in the Torah. This difference is highlighted in the way the different religions translate the word Torah. The New Testament was written in Greek and translates the word Torah as Nómos–νόμος which simply means “law.” However, the Jewish bible was written in Hebrew and when translated into Aramaic the word Torah was rendered as Oraita–אורייתא which means light. The difference is striking.
The Torah is not merely rules and regulations. It is light [instruction] and life. The root of the word Torah is “horaah–הוראה” which means an instruction as King David said, “I have not departed from your laws, for You have taught [הורתני] me” (Psalm 119:102).
Furthermore, David’s son King Solomon refers to the Torah in this way, “the commandments are a lamp, and the Torah is a light.” (Proverbs 6:23).
Rather than seeing the Torah’s laws and commandment as impossible obstacles, the mitzvot are an amazing opportunity to connect to our infinite creator, refine ourselves and perfect the world. This is alluded to in the word mitzvah which is related to the word Tzavta–צוותא which means a connection. We connect to God through the commandments that God gave to us.
It is ludicrous to think that we should do away with laws and commandments simply because someone thinks they are too difficult to observe.
Image a king who oversees traffic court for his country. One day, the bailiff brings into the courtroom a young man who broke every traffic law on the books. Rather than disciplining the young man and requiring that he correct his behavior by attending traffic school, the king makes an astonishing ruling.
Since the lawbreaker is the king’s only son who he loves, the king rules that it is too difficult to keep the traffic laws and they should be abolished. Releasing his son without consequence might seem like an act of compassion, however, the opposite is true. Not only does the young man fail to take responsibility for his actions, but a society without traffic laws will quickly dissolve into chaos.
If a king’s decision to abolish traffic law would be absurd, how much more so is the Christian belief that God would abolish the Torah laws which are “a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed” (Proverbs 3:18).
The importance of keeping the law is stated by King Solomon when he summarizes the purpose of mankind saying, “The end of the matter, when all has been heard. Fear [be in awe of] God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
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