Jews have a holiday called “Rejoicing in the Law” שמחת תורה (simkhat torah). By contrast, many Christians are used to hearing about the Law as a “yoke of slavery” (see Gal. 5:1).

One reason for this major difference in perception is rooted in language. In Hebrew the word torah does not actually mean “law,” but rather “instruction” or “teaching.” The same root gives us the word מורה (moreh) “teacher, educator.”

We can easily see the “teaching” meaning in Proverbs 31, the famous description of a “virtuous woman” – or, more literally, a “valiant woman” אשת חיל (eshet khayil). There, in verse 26, the poet-queen tells us that this strong and exemplary woman has a mouth full of wisdom and a tongue that drips with the “torah of empathetic kindness” תורת חסד (torat khesed).

Regardless, almost all Bible translations use “Law” in most places where the Hebrew word “Torah” תורה (torah) appears – and also whenever the “New Testament” refers to the Torah or Teaching that God gave through Moses. For example, in Matthew 5:18 Yeshua/Jesus says that “not even one iota shall pass away from the Law” – i.e., from the Torah/Instruction of God. Here Jewish-Greek νόμος (nomos) corresponds to Hebrew תורה (torah).

Once we understand the Hebrew meaning, it is easy to relate to biblical expressions like “O how I love Your Torah!” (Psa. 119:97) and “Your Torah is my delight!” (Psa. 119:77). The first-century Jew Paul/Shaul similarly wrote: “I delight in the Torah of God!” (Rom. 7:22). So the “yoke of slavery” he mentioned in Galatians must be something different.

The biblical understanding of God’s Torah is that it brings joy, delight, and goodness. This is the basic idea underlying the Jewish holiday of Simkhat Torah!

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72 COMMENTS

  1. Then it is easy to see that Jesus, when He said I come not to change the law, but to fulfill it, had in mind rejoicing in the Torah. An overabundance of Torah.
    • Thank you for this insight, Maria! The followers of Jesus/Yeshua understood him as instituting the "new covenant" prophesied by Jeremiah (see Luke 22:20, Hebrews 8, etc.). According to the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, the first component of the "new covenant" is: נתתי את תורתי בקרבם (natati et torati beqirbam) "I will give my Torah among/within them" (Jer. 31:32/33).
    • Thank you! My son and I have gone round and round on the meaning of this verse, he belives that Christians are to follow the LAW; I disagree :) Seeing the translation of the word Torah, this makes so much more sense!
  2. Hello Yeshaya Perhaps you would care to enlarge on the word "mamzer" in the torah of Moses and the consequences of breaking this law ?
    • Thank you for this question, Ron! Obviously the topic is a big one, so I can only give a brief summary here. In the written Torah (Pentateuch) the word ממזר (mamzer) appears only once, in Deut. 23:2/3, and is usually translated according to the presumed meaning “bastard” (in the sense of someone born from an illicit union). However, as usual, the Biblical Hebrew concept does not correspond precisely to any of our modern English words. In Western tradition the term “bastard” usually means someone “born out of wedlock”...

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    • Yes, indeed! Thank you, Chantel. I think you have summarized my own feeling very well. :) It's really heartwarming to think that this can be communicated and shared with others.
  3. The "laws" have a romantic feeling as well as a pejorative meaning. Does it mean the 633 laws in Leviticus? Paul, like so many ideas expressed in his letters which were not scholarly treatises, did not elaborate. The majority of "jews" in Israel do not abide by these 633 laws.
    • Winston, thank you for these reflections, which raise a number of important issues. I believe you are referring to the traditional number of 613 Commandments of the Torah (the whole Pentateuch, not only Lev.), a count based on the list of the famous 12th-century rabbi-scholar Maimonides. Jews in Israel today demonstrate a very wide range of observance of these מצות (mitsvot) or “commandments” – from almost complete disregard, on the one hand, to strict observance according to some interpretation, on the other...

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  4. LOVE this! I have always loved the idea of Simchat Torah and *rejoicing* in His statutes, as the psalmists exhort us to do.
  5. Every time I have celebrated Shimkhat Torah I see it as rejoicing in the Word of God and loved the opportunities I've had to carry a Torah scroll. The Word of the Lord is my delight and it is my desire to have to live my life according to it's instructions.
  6. When we see that her lips are dripping with some kind of Torah, is this out of nowhere or can we assume that this women first filled herself up with the Torah and is now overflowing? Can we derive from that verse that women have to study Torah or the bible as well as the men?
    • A very interesting point, Gabriele! Probably it does not come out of nowhere, but from some Source (whether written or otherwise). I think that many biblical passages suggest that both women and men should try to connect to this Source.
  7. While I fully agree Torah doesn't mean law I still have some problems understanding the article. For example the 10 commandment are laws. Not teachings. Ok, we are taught those laws but it goes quite a bit further than that because they are being enforced with punishments ranging from minor to death.
    • Jeremy, thank you very much for raising this thoughtful question. As you point out, the meaning of the English words "law" and "teaching" can in fact overlap. Something can be both one and the other. The goal of the article is to explain something about the specific meaning of the Hebrew term, which is not exactly the same as either English word (but is closer to “teaching”). Other Hebrew words included in the Torah (Pentateuch) are closer to our understanding of “law.”...

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  8. Romans 6 says that we are not under law but under grace, the theme carries on into Romans 7. James 2:10 explains the difficulty of living under the law.
    • Thank you for this comment, Billy! I read Jacob/James 2:10 as saying that you can’t claim to live according to God’s Torah if you are disregarding part of it. So it is very similar to what Yeshua/Jesus says in Matthew 5:19: it’s a bad idea to disregard even “the least of the commandments” of the Torah. Also, Jacob/James continues by referring to a “torah of freedom” νόμος ἐλευθερίας (nomos eleutherias). This conception of the Torah as bringing freedom (not bondage) stems from the Hebrew Bible and was also expressed in Jewish-Greek by a fellow first-century Jewish thinker, Philo of Alexandria...

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