Learn As You Go

In this week’s Parashah[1], the dialogue between the intercessor [Moshe] and the people of Israel continues. The most interesting thing I’ve discovered was at the end of both last week’s and the previous week’s Torah portions:

You speak to us, and we will listen.[2]

Everything that Hashem has spoken, we will do, and we will obey. [3]

When the Children of Israel listened to the Commandments from the mouth of Hashem, it was too much for them. They understood – without a shadow a doubt – their G-d was holy; the sound of His speech was such that they feared the presence of the Voice was enough to cause their death. Therefore, they asked Moshe to be their intercessor.

These two quotes from the Torah have spoken volumes to the Jewish people for 3,500 years. The people only needed to hear a few commands to understand the holiness of their new covenant and the importance it held. Once realized, they agreed to listen to G-d and to take on further commands of Torah as they became aware and understood their application. “Everything Hashem has spoken we will do and obey.”

The concept is simple, actually. So simple, the Council dealing with converts in the Newer Testament used the same principle to indoctrinate those from outside the Jewish gene pool:

Therefore, I decide not to trouble those from the Gentiles turning to G-d, but to write them to keep from the pollution of idols, sexual immorality, of strangled meats, and of blood. For Moshe from ancient generations in every city, has men reading and teaching him in the Synagogues on every Shabbat.[4]

The letter to the synagogues encourages the new converts to Judaism to begin with a few commands.  Before this conversion, they knew some Jewish History as well as the weightiest commands [loving G-d and providing love to our neighbor]. As time goes on [week by week], the Torah is taught, the convert learns the hows and whys of Torah observance, and he takes on a larger yoke of love as time progresses.

Where did James come up with this idea? Was this a new concept? These, of course, are rhetorical questions, for the answer is found in the Babylonian Talmud:

The Rabbis taught in a baraisa: When a prospective proselyte comes to a Jewish court to convert to Judaism in the present era, we say to him, “What did you see that prompted you to come to convert? Do you not know that nowadays the Jewish people are afflicted, oppressed, downtrodden, and harassed, and that hardships are frequently visited upon them?” If he responds, “I know, and I am unworthy of joining them,” we accept him immediately. We also inform him of some minor mitzvot and some major mitzvot, and we also inform him of the sin of failing to observe the laws of leket [gleanings], shich’chah [forgotten produce], pe’ah [the edge], and maaser ani [the tithe to the poor]…[5]

The Talmud passage, again, assumes the new convert is provided room to learn and to grow. Likewise, in the Synagogue during the first Temple period [as shown from the Acts 15 passage], the new convert was provided room to learn and grow. These two systems [identical as they are] stem from one parent: Hashem, through Moshe, allowed the people of Israel to learn and grow into the Torah as it was taught and as it was revealed.

[1] Exodus 25:1 – 27:19 [ Parashah Terumah]

[2] Exodus 20:16 [from Parashah Yitro]

[3] Exodus 24:7 [from Parashah Mishpatim]

[4] I refrain from using this verse to encourage anyone who wants to follow Jesus to begin following Torah in order to show love for him. After all, the commandments within the Torah of Moshe are expressly given to Israel and not to the nations. The commands given to all the nations are found in Genesis 9:1-7 [from Parashah Noach].

[5] Yevamot 47a

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