Simchat Torah

In the tradition I grew up in, Jews celebrate the gift of the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, that tradition says were transcribed by God’s own hand and given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Simchat Torah means, literally, “joy of Torah.” The Forward has an editorial that might be useful for all people, Jews, Christians, and unbelievers to consider.

[In the Torah, the Jews] will see a narrative of how the Jewish people came to be: the first moment of awareness of the infinite mystery and majesty that is our universe; the slave revolt that gave birth to the idea of freedom; the fiery prophetic visions of righteousness and social justice. They will see a moral code that has been passed along through thousands of years and managed to retain its power to inspire. And although we live that code today in ways that differ dramatically, its central truths retain their overarching power. We value the day of rest from labor. We cherish the family. We value the individual worth of every human being. We proclaim the rights of the poor. We recognize the dangers of worshipping false idols.

We Christians have added to this marvelous narrative of God’s gifts to His people the ultimate gift of a Jewish savior. A savior who came, in one sense, to make all the nations Jewish by faith, as opposed to Jewish by the flesh.

It is useful to see that today’s Jews struggle with the meaning of Scripture just as today’s Christians do. Some Jews regard every word as the literal truth, meaning precisely what it says. Others (most, I suspect; certainly most Jews I’ve known) regard the truth of Scripture as being in the underlying concepts of God’s mercy, God’s justice, and what God expects of us.

Christians, likewise, with our Scriptures — Old and New Testaments. We may not all be fundamentalists, i.e. believe that every word in the Bible must be the literal truth, but most of us (again, I can only really speak with even limited authority for those Baptists I hang around with…) believe that the Bible is without error, since it has God as its ultimate Author.

Without error, meaning, at least to me, that the underlying concepts of God’s mercy, justice, and expectations of us are true.


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