This blog is an open journal of one person’s lessons, thoughts and insights as she makes her way through the annual Torah cycle. It isn’t meant to be a comprehensive teaching resource or anything like that; I’m just a layperson who’s been going through the writings of Moses yearly as part of her Bible study for about 4 years now, and I wanted to start recording the things which come to me out of the process.
Initially, I began following the cycle because I thought it’d give me a consistent, disciplined way of familiarising myself with the foundations of the Judeo-Christian faith. But over time, it actually sensitised me to the sheer importance of these foundations to one’s knowledge, comprehension and practice of Christianity. The Torah provides essential information on the history and origins of the world and the human race, the forefathers of the faith, the laws of God, and the defining interactions between God and man which form the cornerstone of Biblical theology. It also points us forward, in profound ways, to the coming Messiah of Israel and Saviour of the world, Jesus of Nazareth.
Which is not to say that the prophets, Gospels and New Testament letters etc. aren’t important. They are; but in my opinion, they’re like the sails of a ship – filled with the wind of the Spirit, they will take you where you need to go – but the Torah is the rudder. It sets the direction of one’s course. And to maximise the chances of understanding Scripture properly, you have to know it well (while applying sound hermeneutics, of course).
… Too many Christians, I’ve found, have incomplete, weak, or faulty theology simply because they aren’t familiar enough with the Old Testament, especially the Torah. So far from being relegated to the annals of irrelevancy, Moses is actually very important for the believer’s instruction and edification (personally, in fact, I think he’s indispensable) and shouldn’t be neglected. Every year I’ve read these books through, and every year I’ve gotten something out of it.
The word Torah (תּוֹרָה in Hebrew) means instruction, teaching, or doctrine. In its most specific sense, it refers to the first 5 books of the Bible that were written by Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy (Christian scholars more commonly refer to the Torah as the Pentateuch, which means “five books” in Greek).
In Hebrew, the books of the Torah are named after the first meaningful phrase in each book: Bereishit (“In the beginning”), Shemot (“Names”), Vayiqra (“And He called”), Bemidbar (“In the wilderness”) and Devarim (“Words”). But for convenience’s sake, I’ll be referring to them by their English names on this blog.
The Torah Cycle
The Jewish people have a practice of reading the Torah through once every year, at an average rate of 108 verses per week (there’s also a triennial cycle, but I won’t be going by it here).
Public and corporate reading of the Torah was first instituted as a commandment in Deuteronomy 31:10–13:
And Moses commanded them, saying: “At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess.”
Unfortunately this command was not followed, as indicated in 2 Kings 22, which details the discovery of the Book of the Law (another name for the Torah) during the reign of King Josiah. Josiah ruled for 18 years before he ever heard Moses being read with his own ears, because his forefathers refused to obey God’s direction and the Law became lost and forgotten in the recesses of Solomon’s neglected temple.
Upon rediscovery of the Law, Josiah’s reign was characterised by peace and obedience to the ways of God, but calamity was already promised because the Israelites had forsaken God and done wickedly for generations; judgement was due and could not be averted, and it arrived during the time of Josiah’s sons in the form of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion.
The Babylonian exile lasted 70 years, then Ezra the scribe reinstituted public reading of the Torah in Jerusalem upon the return of the Jewish people, as described in Nehemiah 8. Under Ezra, Torah reading became more frequent, and he’s traditionally credited with initiating the modern custom of reading thrice weekly in the synagogue.
The Torah Portion
In Judaism, the Torah is traditionally divided into 54 weekly portions, and each adopts its name from one of the first unique words in the Hebrew text. These portions are read in synagogues all over the world at Sabbath morning services over the course of a year, except for when a holiday coincides with the Sabbath.
I will be following this weekly pattern by blogging about each Torah portion as it’s being read by the Jewish people throughout the coming year. The plan is to write something weekly if I can (but if not, at least to write something about every portion) until the entire Torah is covered. And then I’ll repeat the cycle… blogging about each portion again, and adding to/building on the foundation of what was written and learned the year before, on an indefinite basis.
On Scripture Translation
As a rule, I will be using the NKJV here when I quote the Bible in English. For the Hebrew, I refer to a Hebrew-English Masoretic Text Tanakh (the Tanakh is the Jewish Bible, or what Christians call the Old Testament) compiled from the Aleppo Codex and related manuscripts.
While I don’t intend to get into the subject of preferable Bible versions here, I will say that I’m aware of the problems in this area, and that not all translations and manuscripts are equally reliable or desirable for the purposes of proper Bible study. So generally, my procedure is to check a Western English translation (in this case, the NKJV) against a Jewish English translation, compare them both to the original Hebrew, and look into what the discrepancies are.
This has helped me understand the Bible much better, and I owe a great deal of thanks to my husband, who’s always willing to help me find answers to my questions, and who’s been teaching me to read Hebrew for the last few years with great patience and long-suffering.
My Header Photo
The picture at the top of my blog is of a Hebrew phylactery scroll. Also known as tephillin (תְּפִילִּין), phylacteries are small black leather boxes worn by observant Jews on the forehead and arm during weekday morning prayers. They contain pieces of parchment with passages from the Torah inscribed on them. The Scripture on this particular scroll is Deuteronomy 6:4-9,
Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I am commanding you this day, shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the road, and when you lie down, and when you get up. And you shall tie them for a sign upon your hand, and let them be frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Which struck me as being beautifully appropriate for the purpose and content of this blog. :) … I like that it’s the first thing to greet the eyes when a visitor arrives.
Lastly, for those who’re interested to know more about me, I also keep a personal blog here.
Shalom to you, and welcome to this my second little corner in cyberspace~