At some point in the restoration of the Ancient Path, YHWH says He will facilitate our journey so that all who are Israel can return together:

   There will be a high road and a pathway there, and it will be called the
  “Way of Holiness”, and the defiled will not travel on it, nor shall it be for them. 
  Those who walk on the path, even [if they are] fools, will not go astray. 
  (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 35:8)

People’s handicaps will be removed so they can join the whole people on the walk back Home. Even "dummies" won't be misled if they keep to this path. 

How can we speed the process of bringing this about? By enforcing the guard rails YHWH gave us—the limits He has set on how to interpret His instructions, so that they don’t become impossible for some of His people to follow:

Be very firm about guarding and carrying out all that is written in the document of Moshe’s instruction, to avoid turning aside from it [to the] right or the left…
(Y’hoshua 23:6)

It’s easy to understand deviating to the left; that would mean loosening standards and letting lawlessness run free. But the other side gets you just as far out of balance. He warns us not to veer to the right either. But how could anyone go too far to the right from Moshe’s teachings?

By building a religion around them.

What is the “right wing”? The most conservative and pious—those most people would hold up as paragons of zeal, but even the best intentions are easy to take to extremes.

Y’shua railed more about people whose interpretations of Torah were getting so complicated that they put unnecessary burdens on the disadvantaged than he did against people who would have been called non-religious, to say the least.

Here’s something that most people aren’t aware is in the Bible:

Do not be overly righteous…Why should you destroy yourself?” (Qoheleth/Eccles. 7:16)

Who would have thought anyone could be too righteous for YHWH’s tastes? But even things that seem noble can be excess baggage—something not everyone can carry. He wants the burdens He lays on us to be something we enjoy carrying:

YHWH will return afresh to rejoicing over you …just as He rejoiced over your ancestors, if you listen to YHWH your Elohim to keep His commandments and His prescribed customs as written in this document of instruction, and return to YHWH your Elohim with all your heart and all your soul. (D’varim 30:8-9)

That’s what returning to YHWH is. Just keeping what He Himself said, not what men added. Anything else will keep some people from making it all the way down that highway. He never required us to be religious, only to keep His Torah. 

But isn’t Torah observance itself a form of religion? 

Only in the strictest sense. “Religion” originally meant “re-linking”, and we do need to reconnect to YHWH since we have become alienated from Him as a people. We’re certainly not saying to throw Him out with the proverbial bathwater. But we can be “too heavenly-minded” to bring deliverance on earth.

Putting more emphasis on spiritual things than physical appears wise. We seem to be upholding a higher standard. But can we change human nature just by becoming stricter? 

There are many who have claimed to be authorities on what the Creator wants from us. But a spokesman He actually endorsed described a conclusion many are drawing after assessing their legacy:

Our parents have inherited falsehood—a vapor, in which there is no benefit!” (Yirmeyahu/Jeremiah 16:19)

No benefit. The word he used means, “No gain. No profit. Something that does not let us ascend any higher.” And a vapor: That’s something with no substance—hardly more than an imagination,

“…as if we were giving birth to wind! We have not brought about any deliverance on the earth…” (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 26:18)

We had nothing to show for the “salvation story” theologians spent centuries devising. After 2,000 years, it has not done enough to solve the real problems of the world. The Hebrew word for “spirit” is the same as that “wind”. That’s got to tell us something about “spirituality”. Are we relegating our interaction with YHWH to an invisible, other-worldly realm where we can’t really know if it’s having any effect? If so, how can we be sure we’re accomplishing what YHWH wants?

So at this juncture it’s best to pare down to the most basic requirements to make sure our focus is right.

The Plain Torah

There has to be a “least common denominator” in what is required of everyone who walks this road. Particular communities may be able to take on stricter measures, but that has to be localized and voluntary, to keep us focused on a particular task; we cannot judge other communities by those standards, as long as they are actually obeying the direct, unembellished words of YHWH’s Torah.

If we strip away the added traditions and go back to what is actually written in it, the Torah is a treasure from YHWH that lets us avoid much trial and error in determining what will best keep interpersonal relations running smoothly. It is more effective at deterring crime than any other system in history. 

Our hope is to present the Torah in as clear and basic a way as possible, so even the simple can walk in it. The Torah is not chains or handcuffs, but a guardrail that allows us to walk in otherwise-dangerous places without harm. 

It holds the answers to world peace and hunger, once we get it out of our minds that it is a religion. He set it up as the most effective way to bring order out of chaos. If we follow its directions, all of creation can be brought back into line:

“…You must guard My customs, through which the man who does [them] will live. I am YHWH.” (Lev. 18:5)

When He says, “Do this; I am YHWH”, He is not saying, “Do it because I said so, and that’s all there is to it!” He is not interested in giving us hoops to jump through. Rather, what He means is, “Do it, pay attention to what you are doing, and you will find out what I am like.” 

YHWH says He gave us the Sabbath "so that they may know Me". (Yehezq’el/ Ezekiel 20:11-12) Are we really after having Him live in our midst, or do we just want a religious experience? If we really love YHWH, we will do things the way He wants them done. For any relationship to work, we have to anticipate what will please the one we love, as well as what turns him off. YHWH is infinite, but He wants us to know Him, so He gives us actions to carry out that give us a handle on what kind of people He wants to “hang around” with.  "If you are going to return," He says, "return to Me" (i.e., not something only purporting to be from Me). (Yirmeyahu 4:1)

So let’s look at some examples of what He actually asks for:

When you build a new house, you must also make a safety railing for your roof, so that you may not bring blood on your house if someone should fall from it. (Deut. 22:8)

Does that sound like religion to you? Torah also says to leave some of your produce for those bereaved of their breadwinner, and to keep your camp free from open sewage. Are these about mystical worlds or the afterlife? If anything, they’re about keeping any afterlife as far away as possible!

But they are about loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Surprisingly, religion is people’s most frequent excuse for not keeping that central command. (Leviticus 19:18.) The reason relegating faith to the spiritual realm is dangerous is because it distracts us from the immediate needs of the living, breathing people around us. Remember, adding to YHWH’s words can prevent us from keeping His commands. 

In Second-Temple times there was so much pressure to outdo one’s neighbors in religious zeal that some people were even using resources meant to provide for their elderly parents to make extra donations to the Temple. (Mark 7:11) Y’shua pointed out that they were confusing the obligations men had added with what YHWH Himself had said. By doing things He never really required, they were violating YHWH’s higher-priority command to honor one’s father and mother.

The way YHWH says He wants us to worship Him is not with extravagant gifts or high-sounding doctrines, but by taking care of His other people. What parent doesn’t enjoy it when his children tell him they love him? But it sours everything when he sees them mistreating each other.

How can someone who does not love his neighbor, whom he has seen, love YHWH, whom he has not seen?  (1 Yochanan 4:20)

What that person loves is just something in his own mind—that vapor that accomplishes nothing real.

When Eliyahu (Elijah) the prophet became burned out while serving YHWH (1 Kings 19), he went back to where he could find out what YHWH really wanted. He followed in Moshe’s footsteps.  

After he let YHWH strip away all his assumptions and bring him back to the basics, what he found was that YHWH didn’t seem to care very much that altars built for Him had been torn down; what He was concerned about was the people who were still loyal to Him, and He set Eliyahu about doing things to restore order for their sake.

The bottom line is that the Torah is a manual on how to relate to other people. Even the part about loving YHWH first can only be expressed through how we treat one another, because He doesn’t really need anything we can bring Him. The heart of the matter is not what kind of knowledge it brings us, or how much, but what kind of people we become when we carry out its directives. It makes us people who love justice and mercy and find the right balance for every situation.

When David wanted to show His immense appreciation for the great things YHWH had done for him, he wanted to express it in the form of religion—by building a temple. But YHWH said, in essence, “Did I ever even ask for a House?” (2 Samuel 7:7)

A tent, yes, so He could dwell tangibly among His people. That’s what He wants, not grandeur or anything particularly spectacular.

It’s Not in Heaven

For most Israelites, the Temple was not part of everyday life anyway; it was a place to visit three times a year. But Torah is about how we treat our neighbors every day. 

Many of us grew up being told we could never obey the whole Torah. But YHWH Himself says it not only can be done, but it is not so hard to understand:

This command I am giving you today is not hidden from you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, so that you should say, 'Who could go up into heaven …and get it for us, and explain it to us so that we might carry it out?' Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea and fetch it for us, and explain it to us, so that we can carry it out?' Rather, the Word is very close to you--[right] in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can carry it out.” (Deut. 30:11-14)

It is not up in the heavens; it is right here. It does not require a scholar; these commands can be carried out by shepherds, farmers, or former slaves. One need not be a mathematician to spot the new moon. We do not have to figure out prophetic visions. The commands are simple; they are not in legalese. They are simple if we are in the right context to receive them, because we have prepared ourselves mentally and physically. That is the real challenge. 

But when we are properly prepared, they are not so difficult; indeed, sometimes the preparation—clearing away the obstructions--is the hardest part. The secret is not locked away somewhere. It is all written down plainly, and it boils down to loving one another. Taking care of one another is the heart of the covenant. That we can do. At root, it is treating people the way you want to be treated. If we think about how we would feel if our ox was gored by someone else’s, we will take steps to keep our ox from getting out of its pen.

"Today I have set in front of you [a
choice]: life and benefits or death and
harm.” (Deut. 30:15)

That’s not just symbolic language, but
something extremely practical. It says the
alternate path will literally kill you; this is
what will keep you alive. We are told to
keep these ordinances

so that it may go well with you and you may prolong [your] days” (Deut. 6:2; 22:7; 25:15)

This is not so much a “spiritual” principle—that YHWH would see our obedience and let us live long as a reward. Long life, here, is a direct result of obeying Torah commands like not to cut down fruit trees during a siege, because we’ll need them later for food. In fact, every physical act can have an effect in the spiritual realm, either feeding the Kingdom or energizing its enemies. Even eating, as mundane as it seems, is the transfer of energy from one being to another, and to fail to recognize this as a gift from YHWH makes it actually a profane act rather than a merely neutral one. So don’t make a dichotomy where there is not one. That is Greek thinking, not Hebrew.

"What does YHWH ask from you, except to respect YHWH your Elohim, and walk in all His ways, and serve YHWH your Elohim with all your heart and all your soul--to guard YHWH's commandments and prescribed limits which I am laying on you this day for your [own] benefit?” (Deut. 10: 12-13)

They are pretty simple once we get in the right context. How can we restore a borrowed item we have broken or what has strayed from its owner, if he is nowhere near us to lose it or to lend it to us? When true neighbors are in close proximity, we can practice Torah without it seeming burdensome. Who is our neighbor? In Hebrew, it is not just anyone who lives next door, but “someone from the same flock, who eats from the same pasture” as you do (i.e., a fellow Torah-keeper).

See how concepts become much clearer and less complicated when you describe them in Hebrew? That’s one way Torah can be “right in your mouth.” Hebrew is an action-oriented language, where even “worship” is a physical act—falling on our face before one who deserves honor. Torah simply means “instruction” –a manual to keep us out of all kinds of trouble. And “heaven” is the same as the sky.

That’s not to say there isn’t a “spirit world” of some kind. It doesn’t seem that humans are built to just cease to exist when we die. Daniel hints at a resurrection, possibly to ensure that there can ultimately be complete justice, but who can really prove what form that will take? He certainly doesn’t say we’ll become angels! The “next life” is the focus of so much religion, but the Torah says little if anything about it, which tells us YHWH doesn’t want us to spend much time or energy on theories about it. A few thoughts about death may be wise if they get us to do things that will outlast us. But being preoccupied with what will become of us personally uses up precious time that could be spent doing just that.

Prophetic visions can inspire courage and strength to keep going and finish a task. But they are like dreams—full of symbolism, mainly meant to jar us into changing our ways so He doesn’t have to carry out the scenarios they threaten. Jonah shows us that the outcome isn’t set in stone, but dependent on our response. So don’t major on the details. The order of events in prophecy, fascinating as it may be, is not a fruitful pursuit unless they are right on top of us and we need to do something about them.

The concealed things belong to YHWH our Elohim, but those which are open are for us and our sons forever, so that we may carry out all the words of this instruction. (D’varim/Deut. 29:29)

When the great mysteries of the world were revealed to one so wise as Daniel, they only confused him and even made him sick. He was told not to worry about them, but to go on getting his part of the work done. The rest would eventually come to light, but he would never have to deal with it. The better way to prepare for the Kingdom is to keep the commandments that are clear. This is what does belong to us. They will keep us more than busy enough. Then when the Kingdom does come, you’ll fit right into it.  

The kind of answers we actually need don’t require psychics or palm readers, so YHWH goes so far as to forbid them. (Deut. 18:9-22) He gave us concrete instructions, and a system of real judges to interpret them. What is too hard for them we bring to the Levites, who possess the Torah scrolls. (Deut. 17:9) If the decision is particularly complex or emotionally-charged, He will provide a prophet, not tea leaves.

Y’shua's brother Yaaqov (James), his “successor to the throne”, summarized "pure, undefiled religion" as "aiding the widow and orphan in their need”. (James 1:27) 

All of life, not just its “spiritual” parts, is meant to be elevated to a higher standard worthy of a people who belong to the Creator of justice and order. YHWH doesn’t speak of Himself as “the Great Invisible One” (though He is that), but in terms we are familiar with—Father, General, Provider, King—and the way He can be seen and wants to be interacted with is through the other people who both need what we have and have been given the answers and resources we need.

Religions are based on the teachings of particular personalities—Christ, Muhammad, Buddha—but Torah is not a personality cult. It is about bringing order. It is not even about a deity, though YHWH is its progenitor and ultimately our reason for following it. But He puts our focus elsewhere—on how we treat each other. He keeps Himself too vague to define. He is not like the deities who can be embodied in an idol because they are about one concept or another—fertility, weather, or wealth. The center of this people of Israel is One whom we cannot see, and whom we cannot even fully understand. He cannot be put in a box. He is not about only a rock or tree or a piece of gold—something we can make an image of. He does not have to be just a storm deity or a god of fertility. He is not even a deity as such; He is just “what is”. His very name, YHWH, signifies “the One who exists” (as a composite of all the tenses of the verb “to be”—hayah, hoveh, and yihye—and elsewhere He is called “the Living One”. There is no tight definition. 

Trying to define Him in a tangible way is what angers Him most, as we see in incidents like the golden calf. The name by which He revealed Himself to Moshe means “I am becoming what I am becoming” or “I will be whatever I need to be”. Sometimes He will be El Shaddai, our provider and nourisher. Sometimes Elohim, our judge. Sometimes El Elyon, the highest, etc. If we want Him to be involved in our lives, we must get in the proper order. How we behave is where we will find Him intervening in our lives. The “all”—the universe itself through which we know Him—responds to us according to how we interact with one another based on the words in this book! 

He lets the nation as a whole get close to Him in a way, but even in that He is far beyond our understanding. Seeing Him endangers our very lives. He seems to do all He can to discourage the idea of getting too close to Him as individuals. Even when His presence was tangible in the Tabernacle via the pillar of cloud and fire, He placed boundaries between us and Him, partitions to keep anyone who didn’t have particular business to deal with there out. The cohanim, or priests, were designated to be mediators between individuals and YHWH, lest we have a false sense of “I have a relationship with the deity and that is all that matters.” We have to go through one another to see Him. 

YHWH did not even institute the regular offerings at the Tabernacle until He saw that Israel was much too interested in foreign religion. (BaMidbar/Numbers 28) He added a little religion to keep us busy so we would stay out of other people’s religions!

His way is not a mystery in which only a few initiates are included; we choose how close we want to get to YHWH's presence. The “secret place of the Most High” (Psalm 91) is tied to sitting in a sukkah together in Psalm 18:11. Do that, and you will pave the way for the Kingdom. 

The way to seek His presence is not through rituals that no one can understand. What exists in the “heavenly realms” is reflected on earth as we follow His simple instructions. Things we do physically can affect unseen realities, but indirectly: pay attention to the shofar, and it will benefit the next generation. Repent in season, and it will be easier for our children to do the same.

In the doing, we are enabled to see into some very profound truths, like “Ritual uncleanness represents selfishness”, and the applications multiply into every part of life. But the purpose of seeing the deeper significance is not to stimulate your ego, but to better carry out YHWH’s intent. Bring it back to the practical, and we can be certain we are doing what He wants, rather than being left to wonder.

He Has Told You

We do pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, because that gives us the right focus: rid the world of some chaos and make it more like Eden again. But in Hebrew, “pray” (hitpalel) means “judge yourself”. It is not so much asking YHWH to do something for us as asking how we should be the answer to our own prayers, especially for our neighbors in need. Prayer itself can be impractical if we already have our marching orders; why keep asking when He’s already told us what to do? And He has:

With what should I prepare to meet YHWH [when] I bow down to the [high and] lofty Elohim? … Will YHWH be pleased with thousands of rams? With tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Should I give my firstborn son [in payment] for my trespass? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has informed you, O human being, what is right. And what does YHWH expect from you except to carry out right legal rulings, love kindness, and walk humbly with your Elohim?  (Micah 6:6-8)

These are the big issues to Him:

Justice—making sure people are treated rightly, based neither on their ability to pay nor to conjure up sympathy, but testing each case on its own merits. Kindness—looking for ways to help one another get through the inconsistencies of life. This is so rare that those who actually practice it are seen as heroic! Yet it is the essence of YHWH. After all, what does He need with us, except someone to be kind to?

Walking humbly—now that needs a little more clarification, because a lot of religion involves the kind of self-deprecation that’s really just another way to get attention, and doesn’t help anyone ascend.

True Humility

The Hebrew word for “humble” does mean “low”, but it’s not about how much abuse one can heap on himself. YHWH tells us to choose life! There are extreme times that call for drastic measures, but even Y’shua wanted to find a way around the cross if it were possible. Solomon said that in the final analysis, wisdom comes down to enjoying life—just not at someone else’s expense. It is more pleasant for those around you if you smile rather than beating yourself down. Be grateful for YHWH’s gifts. Experience the merriment, but share it. Love yourself, then treat your neighbor the same way.

Pay attention to those around you and respond to them rather than to something you have never seen and no one can prove. Take care of one another. Honor those who are over you. Treat your neighbors responsibly and with equity. These are the high and lofty, yet also plain and down-to-earth basics. 

The lowliness YHWH wants is more about being close to the ground—not groveling but being firmly grounded, seeing things as they really are. YHWH wants us to serve Him “in completeness and truth”. (Y’hoshua 24:14) In Hebrew that’s tamim and emet. Tamim means “mature” or “fully grown”, not just in knowledge, but in our actions. It means serving Him “like a grown-up”—being stable, not tottering between two opinions like toddlers, but finding the perfect balance between justice and mercy. That may mean removing the training wheels--religious props that kept us from falling while we learned to walk. 

The “preservatives” that were helpful for a while have adverse effects when used for too long. The healthiest thing is to go back to raw Torah, unflavored by the “additives” of human morality. Fences are built to keep us further from potential danger, but if there are too many of them, they can keep us from seeing the reality on the ground. And when rules are too restrictive, people tend to spend more time and energy finding loopholes around them than on understanding what the core commands are really about.  

Moshe knew this. He said,

You must not add to the thing which I command you, or take anything from it, so that you may keep the commandments of YHWH your Elohim…”  (D’varim/Deuteronomy 4:2)

The Torah’s commands are meant to keep things in perfect balance, and taking one part too far will inevitably diminish another. If we insist on more than YHWH actually requires in one area, we will make it impossible to do what He wants in some other arena

Emet means being real. The Torah is for living, breathing human beings, not angels. Honest humility means both recognizing where we are weak (and then working to change that) and acknowledging where we truly are strong (so we don’t rob the rest of the community of gifts we genuinely have that will help us all get where we need to be).

Hope That Can Get Us Somewhere

The sad reality is that we really don’t have a covenant right now, because we broke our side of it. There are promises of a renewal of the Covenant, but we are not there yet. There is no covenant until there is a nation. Individuals cannot have covenant with YHWH. And, as much as Yehudah has done to form a nation again, one tribe alone is not enough to qualify for covenant. Right now, like someone who has filed bankruptcy, we have to rebuild our credit. 

Without being able to live in the Land of Israel and without an altar administered by Levitical priests, what can we do to again qualify for a covenant? The best we can do may be to make “partial payments”. How? The Ten Commandments are a great place to start. Most people don’t even carry them out!

Reality is sometimes hard to face. To keep slogging through for the long haul, we need to be convinced that things are going to get better. Religions thrive on that need, but they move the basis for hope to another time or to “heaven”, where no one can test it. If we put words in YHWH’s mouth, promising things He never did, sooner or later the wise will see through it, and may lose all hope, since the only hope they’d ever known was founded on legends that grew up around the facts, not on the solid reality itself.

Emet doesn’t refer to things we can only take on faith, but certifiable facts we can be sure of because we can confirm them by experience. No one can take responsibility for wishes that are still out of reach.

Even young people may faint and grow weary, and choice young men may stumble and totter, but those who pin their expectation [on] YHWH will trade in their power for a fresh supply. They will run and not be weary; they will walk and not faint. (Yeshayahu.Isaiah 40:30-31)

The religious “johnnies-come-lately” may appear stronger and more attractive, but when the race gets really long, only those who are actually returning to YHWH Himself will get that “second wind” and be able to accomplish deliverance not in heaven, but on earth.

Knowing the Torah well is the dose of realism that puts us in the position to prove what YHWH wants. It does not drain us of hope, because it shows us the right way to dream. What we can envision is indeed more likely to come to pass. But realistic hope is not about a world to come, but the one we can actually affect. It’s the kind that leads us to act—to take concrete, measurable steps, so that the world actually does become a better place for our children.

The answer to “Where does our covenant stand?” is “What are we doing?” It is not really about what we believe. YHWH desires obedience more than He wants offerings. (1 Shmu’el 15: 22) We don’t even have to like YHWH’s leaders as long as we do the right thing for them and do it well. That is what we are judged on. Bankers do not care whether you hate them or appreciate the loans they give you, as long as you make your payments.

Our credit report is how we are treating one another. Is it with oppression? Selfishness? Are we faithful in what is least?

Torah-based community is the fastest track to making it a reality. As we learn to live with one another and bring the Torah to bear on what’s here today, the kind of tomorrow that He wants can actually arrive.

Should we let the lack of a Temple be an excuse to delay action to do what needs to be done to make conditions ready for the covenant? There is actually no Temple mentioned in the Torah, our covenant. 

The covenant has much less to do with rebuilding of a monumental sanctuary than with rebuilding a people. If we focus too much on the Temple, it could easily become another golden calf. According to Jewish writings, YHWH apparently left the Temple 40 years before the Romans destroyed it, because its patrons were no longer loving one another. The Temple is overrated, at least until we get the order back. And though Y’hez’qel says the Temple will play a prominent role again one day, at times a smaller-scale Tabernacle would do just as well, and maybe even better, because it is actually in the Torah and thus part of our most genuine covenant.

He does not even specify Yerushalayim as the “place where He will set His Name” in the Torah itself. The prophets establish this, and it will be the case again; the stage is being set. But Torah as such leaves it open-ended, maybe so we can again know His presence in the wilderness—a presence that moves from place to place, because He Himself is really the only “Place” that ultimately matters.

The only place He actually commanded His name to be put in the Torah itself is on the high priest’s turban-plate. So wherever he is, that is the place YHWH set His Name. And he moves along with the Tabernacle.

Israel is designed to be a “kingdom of priests”—not a “temple of priests” or a “religion of priests”, but a physical nation on a particular Land that YHWH designated for us.

We’re on firmer ground (literally) if our expectation is to return there, rather than to an ethereal “Zion” that lies over only a figurative “Jordan”. But let’s not romanticize it either. It has a special place in YHWH’s heart. But it’s not Disneyland or a Garden of Eden. Just ask Joshua—the real work only begins when you get there!

That Land may still be a long way off, maybe even beyond the lifetime of at least some of us. At present we are no readier for it than it is for us. If we can’t be kind to one another here, why do we think we would act any differently there? By letting the Torah govern all that we do, we can prevent spiritual impurity from spreading. Setting boundaries for ourselves based on the Torah is what will allow us to one day live within our tribal boundaries again. 

And while our covenant is tied to that particular Land, it is big enough for the world at large. Its principles are meant to carry over to everyone’s situation. The Land is “Set-apart”, but it’s not closed off in the hardest-to-access place on earth. It sits right in the middle of everything. 

The intent was to be an influence on the surrounding nations without being influenced by them, other than to adopt new technologies they introduced. How could they develop the “immunity” required to be in the presence of so many “germs” and not be affected—and how can we accomplish it in our context? The strong leadership of the “judges” was the only thing that restored order; sadly, people did not seem to have the internal motivation to maintain the resistance on their own. They were not just teachers, but people with leverage to enforce their rulings—an inflexible “rod of iron”. Other keys are to teach our children the right balance of all aspects of life so that the overemphasis on some does not cause the depletion of other important parts of life that must of necessity return with a vengeance later, to expose them to just enough of each threat and teach them why the Torah’s perfect balance precludes the need for other deities (thus inoculating them so later onslaughts will not overwhelm them), and to be the kind of people our children will want to be like (so they will not seek elsewhere for satisfaction).

Things in themselves are not evil; it is when they are taken too far and put everything else out of balance that they become wrong. Nothing is completely negative or positive. Too much light can be as harmful as too much darkness. We are most productive when we can use both right and left hands, and if one side is denied, nature seeks balance again. The universe tries to restore balance through heat transfer, ionic bonds that neutralize the “extremes”. Children who are overly sheltered eventually rebel because they know something is missing. They want more of it than is healthy, just to restore the balance, so they go overboard. Religion defines purity in unrealistic terms, for nothing is purely white or black. But it controls people by creating such “red herrings”. 

To be a light to all nations—to teach them justice and order—we must have it together ourselves. Right now, what we need most is training in what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves. The best way to get along is usually not the way we’d expect. The Torah is the textbook on how to live in harmony. Only when we have that right can we let it spread, so the light won’t be obscured by what was meant to enhance it. Truth is easier to “export” if we bring it down to the least common denominators. 

It is almost as if He did us a favor by removing the Temple, so we would concentrate on becoming the kind of people He wants to have in His home. There are people right in front of you who need your mercy, your knowledge, your help, your sound judgment, or your companionship right now. So today, that’s where the Kingdom is for us.

The prophets do say the Temple will be rebuilt. Although it was not YHWH’s idea originally, He seems to think it’s beneficial to us if He allows it. But what it represents—being built corporately into a “place” where YHWH can feel at home—is much more important. Each milestone becomes another building block in this “project” that is His higher priority.

And that is something we can work on anywhere in the world. So whether we live to see it physically rebuilt or not, that is where we can and should focus. Then our lives won’t end up being wasted on mere vapor and wind.

*Any other structure gives con artists a wide open door to “fleece the flock” of monetary tithes, which are at best an analogy of the real agricultural tithes. Torah does designate some people as professionals in the service of YHWH. But they don’t beg for money so that they can study all the time, when they are able-bodied enough to work. There is a need for a few who will truly need to focus on becoming experts in the Torah, but a format for how they are to be provided for is already set up so that their honor is preserved. And that position is not open to just anyone. Only the Levites are assigned to receive tithes—of real food that they can eat, as opposed to money so there’s no temptation to be in it for the money). And work they most certainly do.

To restore the ancient paths, we need to go back further than the Second Temple period. We have the most detailed records from that sanctuary, but by that time, Israel had already long since departed from YHWH’s original intent. The restoration of a Sanhedrin may be a step in the right direction, but the 70 elders in the Torah were more Moshe’s cabinet of special advisors, but the Levites are supposed to be the judges. They are the only ones authorized to rule on the finer details of Torah, so they need to be trained again to be the ones most knowledgeable in the Torah. We are grateful for those who have worked hard to fill in for them in the meantime, but they need to defer to the order YHWH Himself set up now that it can be restored.  We have to start from where we are now, which is a framework that has been in place for 2,000 years, so it will not change overnight, but there are no rabbis in Torah or the prophets, and they are the standard.  It is no coincidence that the line of Aharon is the only one with an unmistakable genetic marker, so there is no longer any excuse that we cannot accurately identify who is qualified. 
Torah for Dummies
(What Does Yahweh Really Want?)
Ritual Has Its Place

To get a handle on some of the Torah’s judgments and rulings, especially at first, we do need a particular framework. Ritual is one such structure that can help keep order in the camp—as long as we keep in mind that it is tradition, not command.

Strict religion is like boot camp. It is meant to discipline us so we are ready for crises and able to get in order quickly, but it is not for all of life. Even most military service is rarely as regimented and structured as boot camp was.

Religion is often a necessary stage to bring order for a life that is out of control, but it is an immature stage. Any order is better than none, but the proper order is the best. We have to keep seeking greater accuracy. The Torah is a more mature order, if we limit our standards to what it stipulates and insist on nothing more in an absolute sense.

“Torah” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cast forward”—to put something in motion. This suggests that those who follow it need to keep moving, to flow like a river over many different types of terrain, covering a lot of ground.

YHWH’s presence in the pillar of fire and cloud stopped at many places on the way to the Promised Land, and the stones that supported the altar at each site would stay there as a memorial to what He had done. But He would not necessarily speak there again. He even told us we’d stayed long enough at Mt. Sinai, and it was time to keep moving. (D’varim/Deut. 2:3) If we stay there when He moves on, it will become nothing more than a museum. 

It is important to remember where we came from. That’s why YHWH gave us practices like the Passover—but only once a year. 

Yesterday’s miracles were for yesterday. We should indeed recount them, but for the sake of motivating us to do what Israel needs today. And to really stick in our children’s memory, we probably won’t want to do it the same way every time. That is like freezing the river. It’s no longer flowing. That’s not quite death, but it is suspended animation. A dammed-up river is no longer a river, but a lake, which can’t do the whole job of a river.

A “ruler of fifty” might tell us to walk toward a particular mountain, but when we get closer, we find that what he was really leading us to is the stream that runs from the mountain, from which we can get a much-needed drink. We just could not see the stream from the starting point, so he had to aim us toward what we could see. If we are mature, we will not fault the leader for now telling them that the mountain is no longer the goal; the stream is—and really was all along.

While in exile and while there is no sanctuary, by necessity we have had to substitute some practices for straight Torah. But now, as more of the ancient ways are restored, we can often do the real thing, which does the job much better. We can receive reports directly from Israel when the New Moon is sighted there. So why hang onto the substitutes?

It may surprise you how many practices that we assume come from YHWH’s own mouth actually arrived on the scene much later. Blessings before a meal may help us pause to remember where it ultimately came from, but the Torah only actually commands us to give thanks after we eat. 

Even the root meaning of “blessing”--bending the knee to YHWH--was not commanded until King David. Now, as “a man after YHWH’s own heart”, his opinions count for something. His directives show us that YHWH likes a wide range of celebration styles, often in sharp contrast to each other, from “let all the earth keep silent before Him” to loud cheering in shrill, high-pitched tones. This does give us a well-rounded approach to worshipping Him.

But still it’s not pure Torah. We can find examples in Torah of using music in worship, but no command. Many traditions prove worthwhile when scrutinized, but the fact that they’re not Torah is the solution to our tendency to condemn those who don’t do things the same way we do.

Lighting candles to mark the beginning of the Sabbath is a beautiful tradition. But despite what the blessing says, YHWH never actually commanded this. What He says is that the Sabbath is to be set apart, not that we have to kindle lights to set it apart. That custom began because we are forbidden to kindle a fire on the Sabbath; the practical necessity for centuries was that if we wanted to have light that evening at all, we had to light as many lights as possible before the onset of the Sabbath. 

But what if we now have electric lights? (They involve no flame, only a closed circuit.) The ceremony is still aesthetically pleasing, but if for some reason we are not able to light candles in time for sundown this week, we must not imagine that we have failed YHWH! There are other ways by which we could just as well set the Shabbat apart, and sometimes it’s wise to vary things just to remind ourselves of that.

For some, keeping the Sabbath will involve nothing more than “stop working and rest”, and that is just about all that the Torah actually demands.

It is also okay for the rituals to be more involved than that. The Jewish concept of beautifying the commandment is a worthy one. Worship does not have to be plain and boring. And when we are in someone else’s house, we need to respect his ways of doing things. But what is a genuine enhancement for one—or for one time—may be a burden or a stumblingblock in another setting.

If a practice becomes sacrosanct and untouchable, as if the command could take no other form, it is time to call it into question—especially if scam artists, for example, have found a way to define “kosher” far more precisely than the Torah actually demands so that they can have a monopoly on it and gouge us. 

Some things YHWH may not mind if we do, even if He did not ask for them, if they indeed help us get the point better. But He will only appreciate them if done from the heart, not out of mere rote which can lead it to become only a hollow tradition.

Liturgy (especially from traditions we did not grow up with) can give us fresh viewpoints, but it is still only meant to prime the pump for more direct experience with YHWH—bringing Him our own words, not just someone else’s, and fresh “thank-You’s” for what He has done today, not just yesterday.