Do You Have to Keep Torah to be Saved?
Judaism v. Christendom
James Scott Trimm
I have often been asked, does one have to keep the Torah to be saved? Surprisingly, the answer can be fond in the Rabbinic literature. When we look at the basic emphasis of Judaism* and of Christendom, we find that there is a core difference at their very root. This core difference is closely tied to the two inclinations within man, the Yetzer Ra (the evil inclination) and the Yetzer Tov (the good inclination).
R. Nahman b. R. Hisda expounded:
What is meant by the text, Then the Lord God
formed [va-yetzer] man? [The word va-yetzer] (Gen. 2:7)
is written with two yods, to show that God created
two inclinations, one good (tov) and the other evil (ra).
It has been taught: R. Jose the Galilean says,
The righteous are swayed by their good inclination,
as it says, My heart is slain within me. (Ps. 109:22)
The wicked are swayed by their evil inclination,
as it says, Transgression speaks to the wicked,
methinks, there is no fear of God before his eyes.
(Ps. 36:1) Average people are swayed by both
inclinations, as it says, Because He stands at
the right hand of the needy, to save him from them
that judge his soul. (Ps. 109:31) Raba said: People
such as we are of the average.
Likewise we read in the Wisdom of Ben Sira:
It was He who created man in the beginning.
And He left him in the power of his own inclination (Heb: yetzer).
If you will, you can keep the commandments,
and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.
He has placed before you fire and water:
Stretch out your hand for whichever you wish.
Paul writes of the two inclinations as well saying:
14 For we know that the Torah is of the spirit,
but I am of the flesh and I am sold to sin.
22 For I rejoice in the Torah of Eloah in the inward son of man.
(Romans 7:14, 22 HRV)
Because of this, we are not weary, for even if our
outer man is corrupted, yet that which [is] inside
is renewed day by day.
(2Cor. 4:16 HRV)
for the flesh desires a thing which is opposed to
the Spirit and the Spirit desires a thing that is
opposed to the flesh and the two of these are
opposed to each other, that you do not do the thing
which you desire.
(Gal. 5:17 HRV)
And as we read in Tanya:
Just as two kings wage war over a town,
which each wishes to capture and rule,
that is to say, to dominate its inhabitants according to his will,
so that they obey him in all that he decrees for them,
so do the two souls— the Divine and the vitalizing animal soul…
wage war against each other over the body and all its limbs.
(Tanya Chapter 9)
Now through our intellect, we receive the Wisdom of the Torah, and having heard the Wisdom of Torah we subject it to Understanding. When Wisdom (chochmah) is subjected to Understanding (binah) the result is Knowledge (da’at)… it is Knowledge that brings Wisdom and Understanding together. When we receive as Wisdom a precept of Torah, and that precept like a seed enters into Understanding then that precept becomes part of us as our Knowledge. As we read in the Tanya:
Specifically: the faculties of ChaBaD in his soul are clothed in the comprehension of the Torah, which he comprehends in Pardes, to the extent of his mental capacity and the supernal root of his soul.
(Tanya Chapter 4)
Now, when an intellect conceives and comprehends a concept with its intellectual faculties, this intellect grasps the concept and encompasses it. This concept is [in turn] grasped, enveloped and enclothed within that intellect which conceived and comprehended it.
The mind, for its part, is also clothed in the concept at the time it comprehends and grasps it with the intellect. For example, when a person understands and comprehends, fully and clearly, any halachah (law) in the Mishnah or Gemara, his intellect grasps and encompasses it and, at the same time, is clothed in it.
(Tanya Chapter 5)
And after a bit more we read:
Since, in the case of knowledge of the Torah, the Torah is clothed in the soul and intellect of a person, and is absorbed in them, it is called “bread” and “food” of the soul. For just as physical bread nourishes the body as it is absorbed internally, in his very inner self, where it is transformed into blood and flesh of his flesh, whereby he lives and exists— so, too, it is with the knowledge of the Torah and its comprehension by the soul of the person who studies it well, with a concentration of his intellect, until the Torah is absorbed by his intellect and is united with it and they become one. This becomes nourishment for the soul, and its inner life from the Giver of life, the blessed En Sof, Who is clothed in His wisdom and in His Torah that are absorbed in it [the soul].
This is the meaning of the verse, “Yea, Thy Torah is within my inward parts.”
It is also stated in Etz Chayim, Portal 44, ch. 3, that the “garments” of the soul in the Can Eden (Paradise) are the commandments while the Torah is the “food” for the souls which, during life on earth, had occupied themselves in the study of the Torah for its own sake. It is [similarly] written in the Zohar. As for the meaning of “For its own sake,” it is [study with the intent] to attach one’s soul to G-d through the comprehension of the Torah, each one according to his intellect, as explained in Peri Etz Chayim.
(Tanya Likutei Amarim 5)
And as we read in the Zohar:
Rabbi El’azar said, “Whoever engages in Torah for her own sake,
does not die by means of the Yetzer Ra (Evil Inclination),
since he grasps the Tree of Life, never letting go.”
This is the key. The basis of true Judaism is studying and observing Torah “for its own sake” as we read in the Mishna:
Antigones of Soko received [Torah] from Simeon the Righteous. He used to say, “Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of wages, but be like servants who serve their master with no thought of a wage – and let the fear of Heaven be upon you.”
The main basis of true Judaism is to study and observe Torah “for its own sake” out of the love and awe for Elohim that naturally results and unites us with Elohim. This does not mean that there is no reward, or that there is no afterlife, but it means that we are not motivated by that reward. So if we do not observe Torah as one wishing to earn something, what is our motive? The Torah answers this question:
…you shall diligently keep all of these commandments
which I command you, to do them, to love YHWH your Elohim,
to walk in all his ways, and to cleave unto him.
You shall walk after YHWH your Elohim,
and fear him, and keep his commandments,
and obey his voice, and you shall serve him,
and cleave unto him.
(Deut. 13:5 (13:4))
We must observe Torah as one cleaving to YHWH. The Hebrew word for “cleaving” is DEVEKUT (DEVEKUS in Ashkenazi). When we observe Torah it should not be an empty act, but an act of DEVEKUT, of cleaving or communion to YHWH.
The motive of Devekus is a pure motive, “for its own sake” and this is true Judaism. nThis was the core teaching of Pharisee-ism, especially that of the House of Hillel as opposed to the House of Shammai. One of the first disputes recorded in the Talmud, is a dispute between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai, over the recitation of the Shema:
The House of Shammai says: In the evening one should recline in order to recite the shema, and in the morning they should stand. As it is written “when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7)
But the House of Hillel says: Everyone may recite the Shema in his own way, as it is written: “And you shall go by the way” (Deuteronomy 7:7)
The House of Shammai required that the Shema be recited in the evening while reclining. However the House of Hillel was not concerned with whether one was laying down, or standing up, but with the intent of their heart. Likewise the Talmud teaches that in making offerings, it is not the size of the offering that is important, but that one directs one’s intention to Elohim:
“…all are the same, the one who offers much and the one who offers little, on condition that a man will direct his intention to Heaven.”
Christendom has a very different guiding motive. When I speak to Christians about Torah observance, their first question is “Do I have to do those things to be saved?” And if they are told that they do not have to do those things to be saved, then they are totally disinterested in them. In short, Christendom tends to be primarily interested in what they do or not have to do to obtain a reward. This is the complete opposite of Judaism.
This agrees well with what we read in the Talmud:
Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai said to his disciples: My sons, what is the meaning of the verse, Righteousness exalteth a nation, but the kindness of the peoples is sin? (Prov. 14:34) R. Eliezer answered and said: ‘Righteousness exalteth a nation:’ this refers to Israel of whom it is written, Who is like thy people Israel one nation in the earth? (2Sam 7:23) But ‘the kindness of the peoples is sin’: all the charity and kindness done by the heathen is counted to them as sin, because they only do it to magnify themselves”
(b.Babba Batra 10b)
The Talmud (based on Proverbs) is telling us that even when the goyim do good things, it is always with a selfish motive, and thus it originates from the Yetzer Ra, not the Yetzer Tov. Can “good” originate from the Yerzer Ra? The Midrash Rabbah has an interesting insight on this:
Nachman said, In the name of Rabbi Shmu’el: “and behold it was very good” (Gen. 1:31) refers to the YETZER RA’. But can the YETZER RA’ be “very good”? Amazingly enough, yes– were it not for the YETZER RA’ no man would build a house, take a wife and father children, or engage in buisness; as Solomon said, “I considered all labor and excellence in work and concluded that it comes from a man’s rivalry with his neighbor” (Eccl. 4:4).
(Gen. Rabbah 9:7)
And the Zohar says that had had it not been for the Yerzer Ra and Adam’s fall, Adam and Havah would never have populated the world:
For indeed, if Adam had brought offspring with him out of the Garden of Eden, these would never have been destroyed, … and all would have lived for ever; and not even the angels would have equalled them in illumination and wisdom, as we read, “In the image of God he created him” (Gen. 1:27). But since, through his sin, he left the Garden by himself and bore offspring outside it, these did not endure in the world, and this ideal was, therefore, not realised.’ Said R. Hizkiah: ‘How could they have begotten children there, seeing that, had the evil inclination [YETZER RA] not enticed him to sin, Adam would have dwelt for ever in the world by himself and would not have begotten children?
So is it with Christendom, the goyim may at times do good deeds, their primary focus is on “being saved” which in their vocabulary is synonymous with having a reward in the afterlife. The primary focus on Christendom is a selfish motive, rooted in the Yetzer Ra, while the primary focus of true [Nazarene] Judaism is to cleave to YHWH through studying and observing Torah “for its own sake” and is rooted in the Yetzer Tov.
( * Though out this article I refer to “Judaism” and “true Judaism”- be aware that I see Nazarene Judaism as “true Judaism” – The Nazarenes being the original Jewish followers of Yeshua ),
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