Adrian’s Midrash (A-Drash)
This Week’s Torah Portion: Vayakhel/Pekudei’ “He Gathered/Countings”
When Moses gathered the whole community of Israel together he told them, “These are the instructions (HaDevariym-the sayings, words) YHWH has commanded you to follow” (YHWH mine, Exodus 35:1, NLT). He then states the Sabbath as the first thing to follow. With this command, he instructs the Israelites that they are not to even light a fire throughout all their homes (v.3).
It’s pretty easy to see why many fences of rabbinic traditions (halakhic-rulings) have been added or placed into position to help keep the children of Israel from being found guilty of breaking the least of the commandments. Close to two-hundred years prior to the first-century (191 B.C.), the Great Sanhedrin consisting of 71 members was established. They were considered the Supreme Court of the Israel, while the Lesser Sanhedrin, consisting of 23 members, ruled in every city, which then helped to define and establish these traditions. However, the Mishnah (rabbinic tradition) teaches that the Great Assembly actually started with Moses when he laid hands upon Yehoshua (Joshua) with the 70 elders; hence, the 71 member court also known as Beyt HaMidrash (House of the Study, or Interpretation) to avoid persecution in the later part of the 3rd Century.
These, fences, which are called “ma’asim” were decisions or rulings, which are the basis for much of what we now know as modern rabbinical Judaism. And, the rabbinical court took these fences very serious. The Mishnah states, “Moses received Torah at Sinai and handed it onto Joshua, Joshua to elders, and elders to prophets. And prophets handed it onto the men of the great assembly [Great Sanhedrin]. They said three things: (1) ‘Be prudent in judgment, (2) ‘Raise up many disciples, and (3) ‘Make a fence for the Torah‘” (b. Abot 1:1, I: a, b, c).
Therefore, these fences started out with all the best intentions that man can muster! However, like every man-made institution, our laws become the Law regardless of what the actual Law says. For example, the Jewish head covering, the kippah, has no basis in the Torah; yet, it has become a symbol of reverence for observant, religious Jews (b. Kiddushin 31a). Thus, by the late Middle Ages the kippah became a fence to keep the traditions of the rabbis, which to Orthodox Jews is on the same level as the Written Word. I remember while I was celebrating Sukkot (Tabernacles) at the house of an Ultra-Orthodox rabbi, we began to discuss something about the Word, when I said, “Yeah, but isn’t that an oral law and not a written law?” He quickly responded, “Oral! . . . Written! . . . It doesn’t matter, they are the same; they are one!”
So, although the Written Word doesn’t say that Jewish men are required to cover their heads, it has become such an oral tradition (a binding fence) that even secular Jews will not be found going without the kippah during special occasions, such as, weddings, funerals, and many of the holidays.
These man-made fences were exactly what Yeshua was standing against when he often collided with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Yeshua’s focus was to reinterpret the Written Word back to its initial intentions, which were being nullified by man-made traditions! This is exactly what should be expected by the Messiah! And, although no work must be done on the Sabbath, which includes “building” a fire, the shadow (focus) of the Sabbath was the Lord (Master) of the Sabbath, Yeshua (Mark 2:27-28). It was given as a gift (Gen. 2:2-3). It was set aside (holy) to be a day when we meet with YHWH (Leviticus 23).
Has our Sabbath-rest become an idol—a god, with what we can and cannot do, or is it what it was meant to be: An appointed time (Leviticus 23) to meet with YHWH through the Messiah, and in the power of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) so that our souls would be revived and we can gather the strength to press forward with the work of the Master?