I mentioned in my last message to you that I would be talking about which books really make up the Torah, and what I mean is the Torah that Moses knew to be the Torah.
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Yes, we all know that the Torah is the first five books of the Bible, but when I did a search using the Complete Jewish Bible (because many other bibles – most, in fact- do not use the word “Torah” at all) I found that it was used only a few times outside of the book of Deuteronomy.
So let’s take a look at Deuteronomy, where Moses uses this word the most times.
But before we do that, let’s review the other books: Genesis talks about creation through Joseph, Exodus tells us of how God brought his people out of slavery up to the establishment of the Priesthood and construction of the Tabernacle. Leviticus gives the laws regarding food, worship, the sacrificial system, and moral standards. Numbers is the narrative of the travels through the desert and ends with the preparations for dividing the land when the people enter it.
Each of these books is a separate narrative, each dealing only with one aspect of the history of God and his chosen people.
Now we come to the last book of the Pentateuch (Greek for “5 books”), Deuteronomy. The Hebrew name for this book is D’Varim, which means “the words”, and these are all the words Moses spoke to the people of Israel just before they entered the land God promised them.
Remember, this isn’t the generation that left Egypt, all of whom died in the desert; this generation, the ones entering the land God promised to their fathers, are the children that were babes when Moses led them from Egypt or who had been born and grew up in the desert. Moses takes this time, before he dies, to make sure that God’s rules and instructions are clear to them.
Within this book, we have Moses retelling how the people assigned Moses to be their intercessor with God. Moses reminds them of the sinfulness their fathers demonstrated throughout their travels, and how God punished them for it, yet here they are proving that God kept his promise to bring them, this new generation, to the land he promised their fathers.
In Chapter 5 he reviews the 10 Commandments; in Chapters 12 and 13 Moses instructs them about proper worship, warning against idolatry of any kind. Chapter 14 reviews the laws of Kashrut (Kosher), Chapter 15 is about societal rules, Chapter 16 instructs the proper celebration of the festivals of the Lord, and Chapter 17 instructs how to establish the government.
The remaining chapters deal with the penal system, torts, criminal and sexual crimes, and marital regulations.
At the end of this book, Moses tells the people that they are to confirm this covenant, and when they enter the land to write in on the mountains and declare it publicly to the peoples living there.
Throughout this book, Moses also promises that if they follow these instructions he is giving them that God will keep his promise to protect and bless them. If they choose life (i.e., to follow God’s instructions) then they will live long and happy lives; but, if they rebel and reject his instructions and live as the people that live there now do, then God will punish them and eventually the land will vomit them out, as it is doing to the ones there now. This is in Chapter 28, known as the Blessings and the Curses chapter.
This is important to Note: the instructions Moses constantly talks about throughout this book are the ones he is giving to the people then and there- these are found in all of the other books, but he is condensing them all in this one book and giving them to the people right at that moment!
Now we come to my original question: Which books make up the Torah, really?
My answer is that the Torah Moses speaks about is the book of Deuteronomy, alone. When he says to obey all the laws and regulations he is giving them that are in the book, he means Deuteronomy, alone. That one book has all the important aspects of worship and interpersonal relationships that God wants us to obey.
In the days when Moses first put all this down on parchment, although I couldn’t find any historical confirmation, I think it makes sense that we would not expect Moses to have written the entire Torah scroll we have today as a single scroll. Because of the diversity of the first 4 books, I believe that each was, at first, a separate scroll and only when they were put together did they become the one Sefer Torah (Book of the Torah) we use today. I believe that when we read in 2 Chronicles 34 how Hilkiyahu found the scroll of the Torah and it was read to the king, it seems to me that even though he had no plans to binge-watch Vikings on Netflix that night, to read the entire 5 books would have been too much at one time. However, to read through one book, Deuteronomy, would take only a few hours, if that much. And later, when they sought the advice of the prophetess Huldah, who said that Adonai will bring upon them all the curses written in this book, she must be referring to Deuteronomy, where curses are stipulated in Chapter 28, as well as in Chapter 11.
I believe the “Torah” Moses talks about throughout the book of Deuteronomy is just that one book, and the references to Torah in the other parts of the Bible were assumed scribal translations added later. The separate scrolls comprising the 5 books of the Torah we know, were probably put together sometime after the people entered the land, maybe in the time of Joshua or the Judges. The oldest known Torah dates back only to 1250 CE. The oldest Jewish manuscripts we know of, I suppose, are the Dead Sea Scrolls and they are all separate scrolls. According to Wikipedia:
Of the scrolls found, about a quarter (220 in all) are books of the Hebrew Bible, or what Christians call the Old Testament: all the books, in fact, except Esther and Nehemiah. The most common books found are Psalms and Deuteronomy.
So…Deuteronomy was, at one point, a separate scroll, which would seem to confirm my assumption that the scroll Moses refers to as the “Torah” is just the one book we know as Deuteronomy, which is the scroll found in the Temple by Hilkiyahu and read to King Yoshiyahu.
Does this message have anything to do with your salvation? Of course not, it is just something that I believe might help us better understand what Moses was saying to the generation of Israelites just before they entered the land, and also to help us better realize what Moses meant when he said that these laws were not so hard to know, or so far away from us. There are 613 separate commandments in the Torah we know today, the 5 books Moses wrote during the 40 years in the desert; however, all that Moses said we really need to know is found in the one book we call Deuteronomy.
Thank you for being here and I hope you found today’s message interesting, if not educational. Perhaps it will help someone, someone who doesn’t feel like reading the entire Bible but is interested in what it says. By reading Deuteronomy, they will get all they need to know.
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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!