Light from the Sidra


Exodus 21:1-24:18.Haftarah.Jeremiah 34:8-22,33:25-26

According to Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers): “Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgment. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.” (

The Torah of Pirkei Avot 1 is not so much the Ten Commandments or the written exposition of the Torah as laid out in Exodus 21 to 24 but a Torah God supposedly delivered verbally to Moses, which was passed down to the “Men of the Great Assembly” and from then on to the Rabbis. This “Oral Torah” did not appear in written form until Judah haNasi (Judah the Prince) edited it as the Mishnah (Repetition) at the beginning of the third century CE.

For many religious Jews the existence of the “Oral Torah” is indisputable, even though there is not a single reference to such a torah in the books of Shemot, Vayikra, Bemidbar or Devarim, or in the Nevi’im or Ketuvim. . Of course, there have been attempts to prove that the written Torah does hint at the existence of an Oral Torah but the number of verses cited are very few and of such a nature that only those who are already convinced of the Oral Torah find them convincing.

The Torah is essentially a written document for the very obvious reason that the faintest ink is more reliable than the best memory. A written revelation from God, known only to a select few is a recipe for spiritual fascism. It is not only Judaism, however, that believes in a revelation beyond the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church has its “magisterium”, Christian Science has May Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have the writings of their Governing Body and the Mormons have The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price and The Doctrines and Covenants. The leaders of these groups need a body of tradition beyond Scripture in order to control their people. And wherever you have the bible and Tradition, you can be sure that, like Pharaoh’s seven thin cows, Tradition will swallow Scripture but never be the better for it.

If Tradition was all it was cracked up to be, Tradition would agree with the Bible and so there would be little need for it. But, as with all Tradition, there are deep gulfs between the teaching of Scripture and that of the Oral Torah. Wherever there is conflict between the written Torah and the Oral Torah, Scripture will inevitably lose. A moment’s reflection, however, should make it clear that God inscribed his Torah on tablets of stone so it might be accessible to all and not to a cabal of religious leaders.

Exodus 24 is the incredible story of how Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel saw the God of Israel (whom no man can see and live) and eat and drink unharmed in his presence. They were protected, first, by the blood of the covenant and, secondly, by the fact that God spread a table for them at which they ate in his presence. The laws of hospitality in the East dictated that if someone fed you at his table, he could never raise his hand against you (and vice versa). That being true of men, how much more will the God of Israel fulfil his obligation of hospitality to Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders.

They saw God, looking up through “the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity”. As Moses went alone further up the mountain he would be shown the heavenly temple on which the design for the tabernacle, God’s dwelling place among his people, was to be based. In the New Testament book of Revelation, the apostle John was taken up into heaven and saw from that ultimate vantage point the throne of God, before which was a sea of glass. The elders of Israel looked though that crystal sea from below; Moses and John saw it from above.

The way to heaven was barred to everyone but Moses but since the greater and better sacrificial blood of the New Covenant was shed by Messiah, the way to heaven is open to all.

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