Living Torah : A series of teachings to enhance learning and living G-d’s Torah

Living Torah-Class One

It is readily believed that Torah is beyond human accomplishment. Torah is not beyond this world for Torah itself proclaims this, saying of itself, Lo va’shamayin chi, “it is not in heaven.” Torah is also not an activity to just look good to others.

The premise of Jewish Law, Halakhah is to point you toward derekh hatov.

The definitive authority as pertains to Halakhah is the Shulchan Aruch, “Prepared Table,” the sixteenth century code prepared by Rabbi Joseph Karo. It is the daily guide for Jews everywhere.

Our first lesson concerns whether we are to be a full time of part time Jewish believer. How can you tell if you are a part time Jewish believer?

• If you only keep Shabbat, you are a part time believer
• If you only observe the High Holy days, you are part time believer
• If you keep the mitzvot between HaShem and man, but you don’t act decently toward other human beings you are a part time believer
• If you are a nice person but don’t keep the mitzvot, you are a part time believer
We should not act like a Jewish believer only at special times, such as Shabbat, bar mitzvah, or Pesach. This is being only a part time believer. The full time believer recognizes that HaShem created weekdays as well as Shabbat and special days. We as full time Jewish believers know we are to acknowledge Him every day as the Creator of all time.

Why part time doesn’t work

You cannot be a part-time mother or dad. A husband or wife cannot be a part time partner in a marriage. A part time worker does not commit himself totally to a job. A part time doctor can’t be effective as a healer and for us to be effective in our relationship to HaShem we need to do it fulltime. That is what He wants from you a full time Messianic Jewish Believer.

These classes are structured to show you how to do that from an Orthodox Jewish perspective. Class Discussion will revolve between Rabbinic “Law” and YHVH’s written Torah.

Our first lesson begins with a “New Day.” Psalm 16:8 states “I put G-d always before me.” The biblical day starts at sun-set but we are going to begin at sunrise and examine the Halacha for a 24 hour day.

Sacred Names of G-d.

There are seven proper names for G-d in Hebrew. These names are all sacred and may not be erased or defaced. Jews avoid spelling out the name of G-d. The name of G-d is considered too holy to place on paper or in a book. We will not swear by His name or use it casually, even to use it sincerely on special occasions. The Talmud says: “Everyplace where the unnecessary mention of the Divine Name is found there, poverty will be found (Ned. 7b). Even in the Torah itself, and in the Siddur, G-d is referred to by a code word of four Hebrew letters which combines all the tenses-was, is, and will be – to mean eternal or everlasting G-d. When books containing G-d’s name grow old and worn, they must not be destroyed. Instead, we bury them, even as we bury a human being.

What does this use of a special Hebrew name like HaShem reveal? It is proof that we are in awe of G-d, even as we love G-d. G-d controls the entire universe, but at the same time He cares for us, and our personal destiny. He is so close to us that we call Him by many names as we would someone we love.

Rabbi Sabbetai ben Meir MhaKohen a 17th century rabbi in his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch that in everyday languages the names of G-d used are most often based on adjectives or attributes rather than nouns. English names such as “Almighty” or “Compassionate” describe G-d’s qualities and as such may be erased, unlike G-d’s seven proper names. Yet, the Geonim rabbinic scholars of eight-century Babylonia defer and caution that all books, which specifically refer to G-d, even by names based on adjectives must be treated with special respect. Throughout Halacha you will address both prevailing and dissenting views.

So, what guidance should we follow in referring to G-d in English? Since G-d is an English word and not one of the sacred Hebrew names, we should be able to use it freely. But, on the other hand since G-d in English is a proper noun and not an attribute name, we run the risk of violating the warning against using G-d’s name needlessly, as the Geonim cautioned.

Since, there seems to be various opinions concerning the use of G-d’s name we have another alternative used by many Jews and that is by employing the word HaShem when speaking or writing about G-d. We are told that when reciting a berakhah, reading scripture we may use the sacred name written.

HaShem in Hebrew literally means “the name”. This use of HaShem began because Jewish people needed a name to refer to G-d in everyday language without actually pronouncing the sacred name, so for example when they wanted to thank G-d, they said, barukh HaShem, “Praise to G-d.”

By using the name HaShem I am not only telling you I love G-d but that I respect Him. He is close to me, yet at the same time beyond my power and comprehension.

The Shulchan Aruch tells us many things. It tells us what to eat and how to dress, what is work, and what is prayer, what we should do and what we should not do on Shabbat and the festivals. Yet, the Shulchan Aruch does not have the answers to all questions that come up in every era. We must look at a wide range of authoritative writings.

A list of these major Halakhic authorities are as follows:

1. The Rif: an acronym for the author’s name. Rabbi Isaac al-Fasi (1013-1103)
2. The Rambam: Maimonides Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon. He is famous for the law code, the Mishneh sometimes called the Yad HaHazakah, which literally means “The Mighty Hand.”
3. The Tur: The four Turim or “rows,” by Rabbi Jacob ben Rabbenue Asher (1270?-1340), for the basis of the Shulchan Aruka. Written before the Shulchan Aruch about 200 years. It describes Jewish practice from morning to night.
4. The Shulchan Aruch: Means “Prepared Table” is based directly on the Tur and was written by Rabbi Joseph karo (1488-1575). This code remains today the most authoritative source of all Jewish law. It has four divisions:

• Orah Hayyin (The Way of Life) Describes Jewish conduct in daily life, Shabbat, and festivals
• Yoreh De’ah (Teaching Knowledge) Teaches traditions and laws that require rulings by authorities, such as kashrut, mikveh, brit milah, and mourning.
• Even HaEzer (The Rock of Help) deals with male-female relations and with families. It covers the laws of marriage and divorce.
• Hoshen Mishpat (The Breastplate of Judgment) Covers not only religious practice, but civil and criminal disputes covering laws of evidence, judges, personal injury cases, and other legal matters.
5. The Rema: Polish rabbi Moses Isserles (1525?- 1572) known as the Rema. It is famous chiefly for its “glosses” or additions to the Shulchan Aruch. His additions are called the Mapah (Tablecloth) to Karo’s “Prepared Table.” Karo wrote mainly for Sephardic Jewry (Jewish communities of North Africa and the Middle East, The Rema wrote his glosses for the Ashkenazic communities of Germany and Eastern Europe.

Later Codes:

1. Shulchan Aruch HaRav, by Habad Lubavitch Hasidism, Rabbi Shneur Aalman of Lyady (1747-1813)
2. Hayyet Adam, By Rabbi Abraham Danzig (1748-1820)
3. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, a condensation of the original work by Rabbi Solomon Ganzfried (180401866)
4. Aruch HaShulchan, written by Rabbi Yehiel Michael Epstein (1829-1908) which includes all halachic decision down to his day.
5. Mishnah Berurah, by the saintly Hafetz Hayyim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hakohen Kagan (1838-1933). This work is a detailed commentary of the Orah Hayyim section of the Shulchan Aruch.

Opening Your Eyes

The Shulchan Aruch begins with the morning and how to get started in a HaShem centered day. Shulchan Aruch means a “Prepared Table” and it starts with a menu of ways we can remember the important things even as we are engaged in the trifling and small things such as brushing your teeth, washing, getting dressed and so on. By showing us at the very beginning how even the little things we do can reflect our most important principles, the Shulchan Aruch helps us live up to the great ideals we set for ourselves. The first words in the first chapter are:

“I put HaShem always before me.” Ps. 16:8

“To put HaShem always before you” means, to keep in mind, at all times that HaShem is near.

I’m going to tell you a story to illustrate my point.

A rabbi was walking along the road when a man driving a cart stopped to pick him up. They drove a short distance when the driver brought the cart to a halt, and said “Look, there’s a nice orchard with many apples on the trees. Surely no one will notice if I take one for me and one for my horse. You keep and eye out, and if anyone comes, yell, ‘Someone is looking!’ and I will hurry back to the cart.”

As the driver approached the gate to the orchard, suddenly the rabbi yelled out, “Someone is looking!” the driver ran back to the cart and in a flash drove away.

They had not gone very far when the drive stops again. “Look,” he said, “There’s a barn full of oats, and so close to the road. I will just get a few oats for my horse, No one will miss a few oats, but if anyone comes along, yell out and warn me.”

Just as the driver reached the barn door, the rabbi yelled out, “Someone is looking!” With a jump and a bound the driver was back on the cart and ready to drive off, but this time he pauses and looked around. “There’s no one coming at all!” he said to the rabbi. “Why did you yell out, ‘someone is looking’?”

The rabbi glanced upward, then smiled at the driver and winked, “Someone is always looking,” he said.

So how can thinking that HaShem is near change your behavior? The answer is obvious. You behave very differently when you think no one important is watching you than when you know someone important is watching.

Next Lesson we will examine Jewish Law as it pertains to your arising in the morning. We must keep in mind that we must always compare Jewish law to G-d’s Torah for validity and accuracy.

Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart as originally presented by Rabbi Phil Davis