Even the Torah Knows
As a rabbi, it is no secret that I love connecting our world to the Torah. As progressive Jews, we look at the Torah not only has a record of the history of the Jewish people, but as a document with remarkable insights into the human condition. When ben Bag Bag wrote, “Turn it and turn it, for everything is contained therein,” he encouraged us to read and re-read the Torah, bringing our life and experiences to the timeless words of our Torah. It is in this way, that the ancient text becomes timely.
There is much about the Torah that is mysterious or even baffling. But one thing that is crystal clear to me is that it was never intended that we read the Torah literally. The Torah begins with two stories of creation (the seven days of creation, followed by the story of Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden). These two accounts do not seem to acknowledge the other’s existence. When sacred literature begins with differing stories of how we got here, then it may very well be that we are being told to look for what is consistent, but not worry too much about the historical accuracy of the entire story. In other words, God created the world, and the rest–well the rest is a discussion. It’s not about how, but why.
This month, we read the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy. This fifth book version differs from the original language used for the Decalogue in Exodus. The most famous example is that the Exodus commandment about Shabbat states “Remember the Sabbath day….” while the Deuteronomy version commands: “Observe the Sabbath day.” Our tradition acknowledges that these words are not synonyms. We even have a prayer that suggests the difference can be attributed to God uttering both at once on Sinai to Moses, and that we needed the 10 Commandments to be repeated in Deuteronomy to allow for the second to be documented. It is how a fundamentalist approach to Judaism allows for an inconsistency.
We Jews have a long and wonderful history of being a faith that interprets God’s words rather than demanding that everyone understand Torah one and only one way. It is one of the many things I love about Judaism. I hope you’ll be with us for the many times during the year when we’ll have a chance to confront Torah’s words and try to find meaning (and even Truth) in them.
Rabbi Sandford R. Kopnick