Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Most Difficult Command

Of all the commandments which are enjoined upon us, the Sages consider the commandment to kivvud av v'em, honor your father and your mother, to be the most difficult to fulfill and to fulfill properly.   In fact, according to some of our Sages, the command is considered nearly impossible to fulfill properly. 

Beyond the practical challenges of fulfilling the mitzvah properly, people seem to have a profound difficulty with feeling indebted to others.  Man by his nature seeks to be independent and finds the need to be appreciative and to express that appreciation as an extremely constricting experience. 

In the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 5a) the Jewish nation is described as "an unappreciative people, children of unappreciative people."  When G-d said, "Who can assure that this heart should remain theirs to fear Me and observe all My commandments all the days?" (Deuteronomy 5:26), the Talmud tells us that they should have responded, "You assure it!", but they did not request this from G-d because they did not want to feel indebted to Him.  Parents are no exception.

The Talmud also teaches that when the nations of the world initially heard of the first two commandments  - that G-d said, "I am Hashem your G-d" and "You shall have no other gods before Me, etc" (Exodus 20:2-30) - they claimed that He had His own personal prestige in mind when He commanded these two imperatives.  But when they heard about the fifth commandment - that we must honor our parents - they came to realize that His intent in giving all of the commandments was to expose man to authentic and objective truth. 

The honor due to parents is similar to that which the first three commandments render to G-d.  We must acknowledge who our parents are, not do anything that might cause them to be disgraced or degraded, serve them unselfishly  and not for the sake of an inheritance or any other ulterior motive, and not swear in their names.  One must honor his parents in all possible ways as an expression of his thanks to them, for there is no character trait more dispicable in the eyes of G-d and man  than lack of gratitude.

Although the commandment to honor parents is based on the concept of gratitude, even when the parents give their children nothing, the obligation to honor them is in no way diminished.  We are commanded to honor our parents as Hashem youR G-d commanded you.  While the Jews were wandering in the desert, G-d Himself took care of all of the needs of His children, with almost nothing coming from one's biological parents.  Despite this, however, G-d commanded the Jews of the time to honor their parents. 

Respect for our parents is a cornerstone of faith in the entire Torah, for our tradition is based on the chain dating back to Abraham and Sinai, a chain which links the successive generations of parents and children.  Thus the fifth commandment becomes a guarantor of the previous four. 

For those who believe in Darwin and his theory of evolution in all its variations, every successive generation is more refined and developed than its predecessors.  Why then should the young honor the old?  However, in our tradition, every earlier generation is closer to the Sinai experience and the source of our specialness as a people.  In other words, parents are the real  "missing link."  Since our belief in G-d is based on the testimony of our antecedents who personally witnessed the Exodus and the giving of the Torah, we must therefore honor and look up to them.  Thus, one must strengthen his faith in G-d and his honor of parents for each one reinforces the other.

R' S.R Hirsch underscores this point:

One's children are not merely the extension of his physical continuity; they are links in his spiritual chain who serve as a conduit through which the tradition is passed on to the future.  If children fail to honor and obey their parents they can wreak physical and spiritual havoc, and even death, to the Jewish nation.  As Moses our teacher taught, if we do not follow the Divine imperative, we will not enjoy lengthy days upon our own land, for we will be eradicated from residing upon it (Deuteronomy 4:26).  It is this that the Torah teaches regarding honoring parents, "In order that you merit lengthy days upon the land' (Exodus 20:11).  Only through fulfilling this mitzvah will we, as a nation, be entitled to safely remain in our land." 

Although our parents are generally one's connection to his spiritual heritage, one must honor them even if they have provided him with no spiritual guidance whatsoever.  The entire congregation that was physically present at Sinai, both parents and children, heard the Torah directly from G-d or Moses.  Children did not need to receive the tradition from parents; they experienced it firsthand.  Nonetheless, they were enjoined to honor their parents. 

Likewise, all of us, whether or not our parents taught us the basic beliefs in G-d or His Torah, must honor our parents as Hashem your G-d commanded you. Although honoring parents is a form of expressing thanks for all they do on our behalf, we may never assume the attitude that since they do nothing for us, or even shame, humiliate, or embarrass us, we are no longer obligated to honor and obey them.

The Torah promises length of days to those who honor their parents.  Parents and children often live together for many years.  As the parents age , it can become more and more difficult for the children to take care of them.  Sometimes, as a result, the children become frustrated from the task.  Therefore the Torah teaches us that one's longevity is linked to the way he treats his parents.  One who views his parent's longevity as an imposition that cramps his lifestyle does well to realize that his own years are related to those of his parents.  The Torah therefore promises that all the time "lost" in tending to the needs of one's parents and honoring them will be made up, for its reward in this world is "so that your days may be lengthened."

A Light Shining in a Dark Place

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation,  for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of G-d spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.  (2 Peter 1:19 - 2:1)

Our Prophets are alive in our midst and must never be relegated to the relics of the past.  The words of the Prophets are inseparable from the words of the Torah and should never be evaluated as "historically and culturally significant" documents, mere voices from a past long gone.   The message of the Prophets is timeless and eternal (cf. Megilla 14a).

Our everyday lives can overwhelm us with its demands.  When our clarity and self-examination begins to fade, our Prophets stand at our side and become for us a source of spiritual fortitude and strength.  Our Prophets expose the lies and the deceit with which ignorance, indifference, and weakness seeks to deprive us of our most precious possession of life by falsifying it beyond recognition.  

Our Prophets lead us and pave the way for us: "Behold, I send My messenger, and He shall clear the way before me,"  (Malachi 3:1) leading to our salvation; they help remove the stones and rubble, the obstacles which hinder our proximity to G-d: "Lead upwards, upwards, pave the way, remove the stumbling block from the path of my people" (Isaiah 57:14).  Our Prophets heal the breach which separates "children from fathers, fathers from children" (Malachi 3:24).  This means simply: return to Torah.

The Prophets stand before us with the Torah in their hands, something we should never forget or ignore.  It is from the Prophets that we learn of the lofty ideals which the Torah seeks to teach us.  The Prophets present to us the Torah as incontrovertible evidence of Divine love (Malachi 1:2).  The Prophets stand at our side and gaze upon those who are no longer interested in what is pure and holy, who have nothing but scorn for the Torah, and who consider emancipation from G-d's Word the prerequisite for the happiness of mankind (cf. Isaiah 28).

The Prophets remind us of the curse which inevitably afflicts a life without Torah (Zechariah 5) as they hurry to protect us from the shipwreck of life.  Our Prophets prove again and again to be the Torah's most forceful and poignant interpreters.   The Prophets view the Torah in its entirety as being our great guide towards all that is good (Micah 6:8), towards total dedication (Habakkuk 2:4) and towards the search for G-d (Amos 5:4).  If we wish to be saved from the shameful compromise and from misinterpreting our own relationship with G-d and His will, let us attend to the words of the Prophets as a light shining in a dark place. 

All of this and more is what we glean from the Prophets - it is the Torah which we read with them.  This idea cannot be stressed enough.  There is not one single word, not a single thought, not a single concept that our Prophets have not derived from the Torah of Moshe.  Any attempt to read the Prophets any other way collapses under the weight of untruthfulness. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

For G-d so Loved the World

"Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When any one of you brings an offering to the L-RD, you shall bring your offering of the livestock -- of the herd and of the flock. (Leviticus 1:2) 

We have no word in Western languages that adequately conveys the concept inherent in the Hebrew term korban (commonly rendered 'offering' or 'sacrifice').  In the sense of  'sacrifice'  it has taken on the connotation of destruction, annihilation, and loss - a connotation that is foreign and antithetical to the Hebrew concept of korban.   

Even the original meaning of the Latin offero, in the sense of "offering" does not correspond to korban in its full sense.  For the idea of an offering implies a prior request or need on the part of the one to whom the object is offered; the purpose of the offering is to meet his request or satisfy his needs.   There is no distinction between an offering, a gift, or a present.  The concept of korban, however, is far removed from all of these; it is never to be understood as a gift or a present.  It is found solely in the context of man's relationship to G-d, and can only be understood on the basis of the meaning of the Hebrew root korb

The meaning of korb is in accord with its plain sense: to draw closer, to arrive at a close relationship with someone.  It follows, then, that the purpose and the result of the korban is a positive attainment, the realization of a more noble existence, and that the opposite - destruction, annihilation, and loss - should not be ascribed to it.  It also follows that the korban serves to meet the needs of the offerer, and not the needs of the One to Whom the korban is brought near. 

The purpose of the korban is to seek G-d's nearness, which for us is the sole good (cf. Psalm 73:27) without which we feel like a beast stripped of the true calling of a human being (Psalm 73:21).  In G-d's sanctuary a man will understand that closeness to G-d is the sole criterion for shaping his outlook on life and for evaluating his true happiness and contentment.  In other words, the measure of one's happiness and contentment is determined by the measure of one's closeness to G-d. Any distancing from G-d brings ruin (Psalm 73:26).  The good is found only in closeness to G-d; moreover, only closeness to G-d is good for man.  In G-d's nearness, even suffering is sweetened and transformed into good.  

Rabbi Yosei says: Wherever [Scripture] speaks of offerings [korbanot] the Divine name that begins with yod heh is used, so as not to give heretics the opportunity to degrade the truths of Judaism to the level of pagan delusion.  The name Elohim is not associated with korbanot.  In such a context G-d does not refer to Himself by the attribute of strict, unrelenting justice, that of G-d of retribution.  G-d does not demand to be appeased through an offering, in accord with the blasphemous pagan delusion.  He does not seek vengeance and thirst for blood and accept the dying animal as a substitute for the man who deserves to die.

Rather, the name yod heh vav heh, Hashem, is associated with offerings; G-d refers to Himself by the attribute of mercy in this context.  He appears in the full force of His liberating love and mercy, which brings into being all of life, sustains its existence anew, and grants it a new future.  In other words, the essence of a korban is not killing, but rebirth and renewal of existence.  Spiritual and moral awakening and revival; entering into a life more noble and pure; renewing strength for such a life from the never-failing source of G-d's love - that is the Jewish understanding and concept of an offering. 

What dies there has died long before - namely, the part that is dead in the person.  What is lost there is a mere fleeting thing - but only so long as it remains far from G-d.  But when brought closer to G-d, it takes its share of eternal life, finding favor before Him.  The name, Hashem, associated with the offerings, the korbanot, silences the chatter of today's apostates about the so-called 'bloody, sacrificial cult.'  Their intention is to denigrate "Mosaic" Judaism from its ideal eternal heights, in order to recast the truth of G-d's Word as paganistic drivel, now obsolete.

With that, we render thanks to the One Who so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son into the world as the ultimate and all-sufficient korban, that whosoever would put their trust in Him would not remain far from Him and perish, but draw near to Him and have eternal life. 

The Ingrate and the Heretic

Our Sages teach:

Why does the Torah exact such retribution from ingrates?   Because ingratitude is a semblance of the denial of G-d.  And one who denies belief in Hashem is, in essence, an ingrate.  A person who denies the good that his friend has done for him will tomorrow deny the good that Hashem his Creator has done.  

In this teaching, our Sages equate ingratitude with heresy.  The most basic meaning of ingratitude is to cover, as in covering a pot.  An ingrate seeks to cover, to deny the fact that good has been done for him, to minimize another person's kindness towards him.  He rationalizes, "Why should I feel grateful to him?  He didn't really do much for me.  I owe him nothing in return." 

One who is ungrateful towards Hashem denies all of the good that Hashem does for him.  His ingratitude implies that all the good that happens in his life is not granted him by Hashem.  This is a form of heresy. 

Abraham, in a generation of idol worshipers, came to recognize the one true G-d.  He did this by contemplating the world, with its infinite blessings, its symphony of creations working together in perfect harmony, and asking himself: "Can it be that this palace has no director?" The Director gazed upon him and said, "I am the master of the palace." (Yalkut Shimoni, Parashas Lech Lecha)

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler comments, that in truth there are no real heretics.  Someone who denies belief in a Creator does so because he refuses to acknowledge Hashem's goodness.  If he did acknowledge His goodness he would feel obligated to obey His Word - and the "heretics" of this world are not willing to do that. 

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,  because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  (Romans 1:20-21)

Hakaras hatov, literally 'recognizing the good', commonly rendered 'gratitude', means appreciating everything - the small things as well as the great.  Grasping the magnitude of hakaras hatov will transform a person's life. 

On the third day, G-d commanded the earth to bring forth trees and vegetation, and so it happened.   But later, the Torah states:  . . . now all the trees of the field were not yet in the earth and all the herb of the field had not yet sprouted, for Hashem G-d had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to work the soil (Genesis 2:5).   

The verse says that the reason plant life had not appeared was because there had been no rain and no man.  This puzzled the Sages and they wondered what this could mean.  Rashi suggests that the trees and the vegetation were indeed created on the third day, but were still below the surface of the earth.  They could not come to fruition until there was rain, and that G-d did not let the rain fall until there was a man to appreciate the need for it, to pray for it, and to feel gratitude for it.  Hakaras ha tov - recognizing the good and being grateful for it.

Without vegetation, life could not exist - and without a human being to be grateful for it, there could be no rain and no vegetation.  G-d created the potential on the third day, but the potential could not come to fruition until there was a human being to pray, to appreciate, and to express his thanks.  Only man can understand G-d's goodness and thank Him for His blessings. 

I truly believe that hakaras hatov will fortify all our relationships.  Nothing is due us.  Nobody owes us.  If we learn to acknowledge G-d's constant kindnesses, we will love Him and forge a powerful connection to Him.  Hakaras hatov ennobles us and enables us to be true servants of Hashem and forms the basis of all our relationships. 

Atheists believe that  the world 'just happened'.  The fundamental belief of an atheist is his lack of a relationship with a Creator.  Living a life of gratitude rectifies relationships and makes it impossible for one to believe that blessings 'just happen' - every gift has a giver.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Perfection Through Suffering

"In the days of Ahasuerus," when the monarchy of Persia and Media began its peaceful development, those Jews who remained in the territory of Persia and Medea were to learn what they might expect if they assimilated into the life of such an alien nation.  All the people of the empire had access to the king's court and this included the Jews.   A Jewish woman became queen, a Jew became the king's minister, and the Jews were given entrance into the inner circles of royal politics and court life.

Th elegance displayed at the royal banquet suggests no small degree of culture and refinement, and the state, with its complex hierarchy of officials, its provincial governments, and its sophisticated network of communications, appears to us a well-organized entity.  No attempt was made to eliminate ethnic differences within the empire but rather, every province was most generously granted the right to preserve its own individuality and language.

We refer particularly to the emphasis that was placed throughout the empire on "law and judgment" (Esther 1:13).  By no means do we observe an absolute Oriental dictatorship.  Rather, we see before us a political entity with its written "Common Law of the Persians and the Medes" and its judges and jurists, and its "chronicles and chroniclers who knew the times," a state based on the rules of law and well aware of its place in history.

Ahasuerus himself does not appear all that evil.  He seems to have had a penchant for luxury, but then nations tend to fare better if their princes take pride in the development of royal pomp in an atmosphere of peace than if they aspire to the blood-soaked laurels of military glory.  Ahasueras likes to drink, but he never drinks alone.  It does not merely please him to have all his princes and nobles dine with him but he is so gracious and affable - a quality not often found among rulers of his day - that he does not think that he has done enough for "the people" if he and his companions feast at an open banquet and merely permit the people to watch them dine.

He invites all his subjects to be his guests at the palace, where he entertains them with royal hospitality.  He is careful to observe the forms of law in whatever he does.  He keeps near him at all times his experts on national history, the writers of the chronicles, those who know "law and judgment."  His choice of queen might suggest that he is free of racial and social prejudice.  He generously shows his gratitude for personal service rendered to him.

And yet, all this culture and refinement has one denominator: the craving for worldly delights.  It is completely subservient to the objects of sensuality which are accorded the same serious thought as the most important affairs of state.

And what about the role of law and justice in the empire of the Persian king?  These laws are little more than meaningless rules mainly enacted to serve the passions, feelings, and moods of the king.  With all its executors and interpreters, this "law and judgment" affords very little security to the people of Persia and Medea.  If a queen commits a breach of court etiquette, her case is heard by jurists and wise men who know historical precedent.  But if an ordinary human being has incurred the displeasure of one of the king's favorites, it takes little effort to have the offender hanged.  In fact, a simple decree signed and sealed  in the name of the king is sufficient to permit the slaughter of an entire population, including women and children, "for political reasons."

And Ahusueras himself, who seems rather good-natured, becomes a completely different man when he is aroused by anger and strong drink.  Everything hinges on his mood and temper of the moment.  If the queen wishes to plead with the king, in the name of justice and humanity, to spare the lives of thousands of innocent people, she must give a banquet and wait for a moment when the king is in a good mood before she may safely dare to state her request.

In reality, Ahasueras himself has very little control over his empire.  How little of the evil that is done in his name is really his work.  This man who reigns over 127 provinces can be swayed easily by courtiers.  Ahasueras is dominated by that very same all-powerful favorite who rules in the king's name.  Haman, casting lots in the name of the king to decide the life and death of the king's subjects, misuses his position of supreme power to satisfy his own base lust for revenge under the guise of protecting the welfare of the State.

All this time the heart of the man upon whom the nation's fate depends remains aloof from his subjects in unapproachable majesty.  Whoever comes near him without being summoned is condemned to death and summarily executed.  No one may appear in the king's presence in sackcloth and mourning; the sorrows of the world outside must not encroach upon the rooms of the royal palace.  Any order written in the name of the king is irrevocable, so that not even the king may change a decree once issued in his name, and he nonchalantly allows others to write and to seal in his name documents  which he has never seen.

Haman has nothing but contempt for the king who has elevated him.  He considers this king incapable and corruptible.  He delivers to the king a most statesmanlike lecture on the pernicious character of a people on whom he wants to take his personal revenge, and he explains to the king how the welfare of the state requires that this people be annihilated.  Haman knows only too well how little the welfare of the state means to the king.  To lend emphasis to his sinister plan, Haman has the effrontery to offer the king a generous donation bribe of 10,000 pieces of silver for the royal treasure.  The mere fact that Haman made such an offer, and that he expected the king to accept it, is perhaps one of the most shocking aspects of this treacherous story.

The Jews were taught an unforgettable lesson by the events of Purim.  They experienced the full impact of the misery that lies in store for them wherever the weal and woe of men depend on the pleasure or displeasure, or the moods and whims of the ruler.

However, at the same time, the Jews came to know the faithfulness of the King in heaven Who protects them.  They came to know the one sole path in which they would have to walk through the centuries amidst the misery of exile.  They learned to rejoice with redoubled fervor in the light of their own truths, their own festivals, and in the ultimate satisfaction in their covenant that bound them to their G-d.

Much suffering lay in store for them over the centuries that were to follow.  The story of Ahasueras and Haman would repeat itself countless times throughout history.  But even in the darkest periods G-d preserved for the Jews their own light and joy, their own salvation and honor.  And this could come to pass only because, as history, unfolding before our eyes from year to year, tells us: They learned this lesson from the days of Ahasueras.

Happy Purim!

[Adapted from the Collected Writings of Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, Volume II]

The Descent of the Divine Glory

The descent of G-d's glory to earth was debated among the Sages.  Curiously, the Sages who believed that Moses ascended to heaven also taught that G-d descended to earth.  In the eschatology of I Enoch, great significance was attached to G-d's descent on Mount Sinai.  It is recorded there that in the End of Days the G-d of the universe would descend on Mount Sinai to pass judgment on everyone (1:4-9).  G-d would also descend down to Egypt from heaven to rescue the people and to lead them on their journey, "with countenance radiant and glorious, and awesome to behold" (89:16, 22).  The apocalyptic vision of Ezra says: "You [G-d] folded the heavens and descended to earth" (81:19).

The basic question that troubled many of the Sages was: Does the Holy and Blessed One, whose very heavens cannot contain Him, reduce Himself in size to the dimensions of this world?  Bound up with this question is another matter that is no less profound: what is the nature of G-d's revelation?  Is it verbal communication?  Is it the revelation of G-d's will alone?

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananiah and Rabbi Eleazar ben Arakh discussed this very question.  They both asked: "How is it that the Holy One, blessed be He, Who is manifest from the highest heavens, spoke with Moses in a bush?"  According to R' Yehoshua, there was no alteration in the Divine essence here.  The Shekhina (visible glory of G-d) is always with Israel and the theophany at the burning bush was not a unique event.  Rabbi Eleazar, on the other hand, taught that the revelation at the burning bush was an exceptional event, arguing that: "G-d humbled Himself and spoke from the burning bush" (cf. Midrash Hagadol on Exodus). 

It was a problem that continued to occupy the Sages.  Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi pondered it also.  What is the revelation of the Shekhina all about?  "Face to face the L-rd spoke with you" (Deuteronomy 5:4) - how can the Divine face be on the same level as the human face?  One of two things is assumed: either the higher partner has become humbled, or the lower partner has become elevated.  Which is it?  The Scripture tells us: "The L-rd came down upon Mount Sinai" (Exodus 19:20).  From this, we learn that the higher partner humbled Himself. 

In the Seder Eliyahu Rabbah we read: "He descended from the abode of His radiant glory, from the highest heavens."  Rabbi Meir elaborated: "The mystery of how G-d revealed and the people comprehended when the Torah was given is this: The Divine Glory descended on the Mountain.  There is nothing astonishing about this.  Did not G-d Himself say, 'I will go down with you to Egypt'? (Genesis 46:4).  Do not be misled by those sowers of  confusion who weigh with their deceitful reason the words of Torah that emanate from our blessed Creator and can only be properly grasped from His mouth.   All the rest of their words and arguments which are ostensibly aimed at exalting G-d, are thus all for nought.  Of them the Psalm says: "Who invoke you for intrigue and lift You up falsely" (Psalm 139:20).  What then was the purpose of building a Tabernacle and a Temple here on earth in the design of the heavenly chariot, if not to provide a dwelling place for Him below such as the one He had on high?  We, the believers, truly believe that G-d's glory came down on Mount Sinai, for the Torah itself testifies to that fact, and the 'Testimony of the L-rd is trustworthy' (Psalm 19:8)."

Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai taught that no fewer than ten descents of the Shekhinah are mentioned in the Torah, ten separate occasions on which the Shekhinah was said to descend to earth.  He also maintained that from first creation the Shekhinah was present on earth, as it says, '[Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the L-rd moving about in the garden' (Genesis 3:8).  The descent of the Shekhinah at the dedication of the Tabernacle was another one of ten such occurrences in history.  The Sages also teach us that the Torah itself belongs to the heavenly realms.

The notion that G-d humbled Himself by descending to earth was also articulated by Rav Sha'ul:

"Who, being in the form of G-d, thought it not robbery to be equal with G-d: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:  And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the tree"  (Philippians 2:6-8).

The concept also pervades the Gospel of John and highlights the role of the Shekhinah, the visible presence of G-d:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d.  he same was in the beginning with G-d . . . and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt [lit. tabernacled] among us, (and we beheld his glory [the Shekhinah], the glory [the Shekhinah] as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1:1; 14).

In Hebrews we read:

"G-d, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory [the Shekhinah] and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . ." (Hebrews 1:1-3).

The idea of Torah min hashamayim, Torah from Heaven, is not foreign to Judaism.  One of the basic lessons of the first Mishneh in Sanhedrin chapter 10 is that whoever denies Torah from heaven has no share in the world to come, and this includes more than just the ten utterances [i.e. the Ten Commandments].  Rabbi Akiva consistently held the view that the entire Torah, with all its details and minutiae, was from heaven - that is, it was given in full at the revelation at Sinai.

In a Midrash on Deuteronomy 14:7 it says:

'The following, which bring up the cud or have hooves which are cleft through' - Was Moses an expert hunter, that he should know all these species?  This is a refutation of those who say, the Torah is not from heaven (cf. Sifre Zuta to Numbers15:31).

The Talmud also addresses this idea of Torah from Heaven:

  • Our rabbis taught: "He has spurned the word of the L-rd" refers to one who says there is no Torah from heaven. Another interpretation: It refers to the Epicurean.
  • An alternate tradition: "He has spurned the word of the Lord" refers to one who says the Torah is not from heaven. Even one who says, "All the Torah is from heaven except for this one verse, which Moses said on his own," spurns the word of the L-rd.
  • Rabbi Ishmael says: this refers to idolatry. We have the teaching of the school of Rabbi Ishmael: "He has spurned the word of the L-rd" refers to the first utterance of the Ten Commandments.

The Sages also likened the people in Israel who said there was no Torah from heaven to the fool in Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 who said in His heart there is no G-d. 

And so, the concept of the possibility of G-d and His Torah descending from heaven to earth in physical form is not a concept that is foreign to normative Judaism.  These were concepts with which people of the Second Temple period would have been very familiar.  The ten utterances were eternal and not distinguished from G-d Himself.  They were believed to be His very essence, and yet these eternal, divine words were engraved on stones that were hewn from the earth. In fact, there is a tradition which tells that when Moses smashed the first set of tablets at Mount Sinai that the words inscribed thereon ascended back into heaven.

Bearing all of this in mind, Y'shua's words in John 6 are profoundly powerful:

Then Y'shua said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.   "For the bread of G-d is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." (John 6:32-33)

[Remember, man does not live on bread alone, but on every WORD that proceeds from His mouth.  Bread is a symbol for Torah, spiritual food].

"Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead.  This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.  "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."  (John 6:49-51)

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?"  When Y'shua knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, "Does this offend you? "What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? (John 6:60-62)

Be sure to note carefully Shimon Kefa's conclusion after this 'hard teaching':

Then Y'shua said to the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?"  But Simon Peter answered Him, "L-rd, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. "Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Messiah, the Son of the living G-d."  (John 6:67-69)

Just a short time later, at the Feast of Tabernacles, Y'shua would declare:

Then Y'shua cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, "You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. "But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me."   (John 7:28).  

He is the Torah from heaven and Y'shua Himself contends that to deny this truth, means they are not unlike idolators who have no share in the world to come or fools who say in their heart, "There is no G-d."  By contrast, Peter concluded that Y'shua had the words of eternal life and was the promised Messiah.

Just as Hashem sent the manna to our forefathers in the wilderness to test us, to see whether or not we would believe in Him and obey Him, so too did He send the Messiah, the living Torah, the true manna that came down from heaven, to make the same determination.

Does He have the words of eternal life or do we want to leave too without thoughtfully considering His claims?