Simchat Torah – the sting of death & the fulfilment of the Law

While Judaism celebrates the Law with great rejoicing, particularly on the days of Shavuot and Simchat Torah, few would be left to dance the Torah scrolls around the synagogue if the Rabbis enforced its requirements with any truth or sincerity.

The Law of Moses, like any other law, imposes a penalty for transgression. What modern Judaism calls ‘Torah’ is actually an abstraction of its 613 commandments, which the Rabbis have disarmed of their penalties and sanctions, at least in practice, and to which they have added a proliferation of rules of their own making. While Moses required, for example, the death of Sabbath breakers and adulterers (Ex. 31:14; Lev. 20:11), the Sanhedrin deliberately ceased to impose the death penalty forty years before the Temple’s destruction in AD70 (Avodah Zarah, 8b).

Webster’s Dictionary defines law as ‘imperative or mandatory, commanding what shall be done; prohibitory, restraining from what is to be forborne; or permissive, declaring what may be done without incurring a penalty’. Law is not law without its penalty.

God’s first word to Adam contained both a commandment (מצוה) and a penalty (משׁפּט) – ‘of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eat of it thou shalt surely die.’ (Gen. 2:17)

A similar formula is found in the Law of Moses. First Israel is told to enforce all its commandments and penalties: ‘Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the LORD’ (Lev 19:37). Then it is told that if it follows after other gods or fails to heed the voice of YHVH, ‘you shall surely perish’ (Deut. 8:19-20).

The consequence ‘thou shalt surely die / be put to death’ applies for many transgressions of the Law, including manslaughter, adultery and Sabbath breaking (Ex.21:12,15,16,17; 22:19,  Lev. 20:9,10,11,12,13,15,16, etc.).

In both the Torah of Adam and the Torah of Moses it is thus clear that God’s verdict on the sinner is death. The only true worship of God from Genesis onward stems from man’s acknowledgement of his sin and its consequence. This distinguished Abel’s sacrifice from Cain’s and formed the basis of all the sin offering prescribed by the Law: For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life’(Leviticus 17:11). (For more on this topic see our article on the Atonement.)

That the Rabbis have effectively replaced the Torah of the Bible with an ‘aspirational code’ for the preservation of the Jewish identity, and for its ‘material and spiritual progress’ is self-evident. But in this perverted application, the Law can no longer achieve what God ordained by it – namely, to convict the sinner and lead him to the Mercy Seat and the Tree of Life, both of which typify Messiah. Ironically, thus, the Law without its death penalty cannot impart life.

Rabbi H. Chaim Shimmel writes in his book, ‘The Oral Law’:

The Jewish People are frequently called ‘the People of the Book’; yet if one were to search out a people who follow the teachings of the Written Law literally, one might be led to the Samaritans, who still practice their religion on the outskirts of Shechem, or the Karaites, who are now settled south of Tel Aviv, but never to the Jewish People. The Jewish People do not follow the literal word of the Written Law, nor have they ever done so. (Third, revised version, Feldheim Publishers,  Jersusalem / New York, 2006, p.3. This book carries the endorsement of a former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom.)

No wonder thus that YHVH lamented:

‘My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’ (Jer. 2:13)

Of which He said earlier:

“‘These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.’” (Isaiah 29:13)

While many Christians are now falling away from the New Testament faith to become ‘Torah observant’, they are in fact only joining the Talmudic sect in its hypocrisy. They simply reveal by this pretence that they do not accept the Law’s penalty of death and have thus not attained the resurrection life of Messiah. Paul, the ‘Hebrew of Hebrews’ testifies that through the Law I died to the Law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal. 2:19-20). Thus, ‘if I build again the things I threw down, I constitute myself a transgressor’ (Gal. 2:18). That is to say, if I should set up the Law again as an obligation for myself, I will show myself to be a law-breaker.

Jesus warned that ‘not a jot or tittle’ would be removed from the Law. This does not mean, as the apostates pretend, that we must continue in some half-baked observance of it, but rather that the Torah continues to stand fully intact in its unaltered, original form, as the immutable Word of God, with all its penalties to condemn the sinner. And so it will, for those whom Jesus warned ‘Moses will be your judge’. All the supposed alterations and modifications effected to God’s Law by the Rabbis over the past 3000 years are ‘additions and subtractions’ in transgression of Deuteronomy 4:2. These are consequently null and void and anyone who relies on rabbinical lore to escape God’s verdict of death will – alas – find that he built his house on the sand.

The Law can be fulfilled in one of only two ways:  Either through perfect obedience, or by accepting its penalty. None but Jesus ever fulfilled the Law through obedience. Having done that, he could then also fulfil the Law, on behalf of ‘those under the Law’, by paying its penalty of death on their behalf.

We who believe in the efficacy of His work, share in His death through baptism (Rom. 6:3). Converts to faith in Messiah accept death as the consequence of sin – a consequence that both Judaism and false Christianity are at pains to avoid –  and then live a new life, no longer for self, but for ‘him who died for them and rose again’(2 Cor. 5:15). The Jews, those under the Law, were redeemed from the Law so that they might serve in the new way of the Spirit. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the Law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code’ (Rom. 7:6). For the Law does not apply to the dead, as even the rabbis are willing to confess:“Rabbi Yochanan said: What is the meaning of the verse (Ps. 88:6), ‘Among the dead, free?’ When a person is dead he is free of the mitzvot (commandments)” (Niddah, 61a).

Biblical Christianity is thus the only faith that upholds the Torah as the immutable Word of God, by accepting its penalty. Why, then, should the faithful in Messiah feel the need to come under its yoke and pretend to fulfil it through obedience? Why, also, this clamouring to obey its ritual feasts, which were a ‘type and shadow’ of the Christian reality? Should Christians not rather share in YHVH’s indignation: Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates’ (Isaiah 1:15). The ritual without the Spirit is an abomination. Let those who have received the Spirit rather live out the eternal reality to which these types and shadows were pointing.