“You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7)
Young and old, rich and poor, sick and healthy — the study of Scripture and teaching God’s Word is considered a mitzvah (commandment) of God for all Believers in Yehova.
To fulfill this commandment, Jewish tradition has developed highly structured methods of studying, understanding, and interpreting Scripture. At minimum, studying God’s word always involves at least one other student.
Believers in Yeshua as the Messiah know that they always have someone to help them understand Scripture and discern truth from error — the Spirit of God Himself.
Even so, what can Believers in Yeshua (Jesus) learn from the Jewish methods of studying Scripture and teaching it to others?
Havruta: Torah Study Through Friendly Fellowship
In the days of Yeshua , a method of studying known as havruta became the preferred way to understand the Torah (first five books of the Bible) and the whole Tanakh (Old Testament) as well as the oral traditions.
Havruta is an Aramaic word meaning friendship or companionship, implying that the study of religious texts is to be done within an atmosphere of mutual respect and support.
This style of learning continues today in Jewish schools.
The Talmud (a compilation of Jewish laws, traditions, and commentaries) has much to say about this kind of learning. For instance, it says that understanding the Torah is only possible in a group (havurah). (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 63b)
Here again we see an emphasis on the idea of friendship, as the root of havurah is haver, which translates as friend.
In Western culture today, it can seem impossible to engage in friendly discussion about any difficult or controversial topic.
An often prideful, individualistic drive to force one’s own ideas onto others by any means and at any cost has replaced any desire to know what is right and what is true.
However, the goal in a havurah is to discover knowledge at a level beyond what one can achieve alone.
The Talmud gives a basic outline for engaging in this kind of friendly collaboration:
First, “keep silent and hear” what the text is saying and what your learning partner is saying. “Then study intensively in order to analyze and clarify the details” with your learning partner. (Berakhot 63b)
This learning process involves asking a lot of questions about the text and about each other’s ideas about the text.
It also involves taking turns listening to each other’s ideas with the goal of understanding them.
Questioning and gently challenging those ideas helps to refine them so that the best ideas are brought forth as possible conclusions.
When searching for a learning partner, it is considered ideal to choose someone with equal or superior understanding and skills than oneself.
Is there someone you can think of who would be a good Bible study partner with you?
God’s Ruach (Spirit) Is Our Ultimate Havruta
When studying Scripture alone, we have the Spirit of God Himself to guide us.
Yeshua assured His disciples that when He left them to ascend to the Father, they would not be left “as orphans” to study alone or be alone.
“When He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (John 16:13)
You may have experienced His help at times in your own study of Scripture.
Have you ever asked a spiritual question and shortly afterwards, you walk into a congregation and the pastor is speaking on that very topic? Or you discover the answer when you turn on the Christian radio or television, open the Bible, or you hear God’s still gentle voice speaking to your directly?
That is the guidance of the Ruach (Spirit) in you, leading you into all truth.
This does not mean that we do not need to study with other Spirit-filled Believers or with teachers gifted and appointed by God to teach.
We see how this is applied in a man named Apollos, who “only knew the baptism of John,” a baptism of repentance, implying that he had not yet received the baptism of the Spirit of God.
“He [Apollos] spoke and taught accurately about Yeshua (Jesus), though he only knew about the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him in and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:25–26)
Crafting Jewish Interpretations of Scripture
From before the time of Yeshua, Jewish students have studied the Scriptures as well as the oral laws and traditions in a structured way developed by the Pharisees. (The Pharisees emerged into what we would call today, Orthodox Jews.)
The four-step interpretation method that developed from the Pharisee teaching is known as PaRDeS (garden or orchard).
Each step is considered deeper than the last:
Peshat—meaning simple—the plain, straight, literal meaning of the text. This is considered the keystone to understanding Scripture.
Remez—meaning hint—the symbolic or allegorical consideration that hints at the depth of the text.
Deresh—meaning concept, from the Hebrew darah (inquire/seek)—a look at comparative or metaphorical meaning.
Sod—meaning hidden—the secrets of the text or hidden meanings.
While this method of interpretation over the centuries has led to the development of allegory (metaphorical stories) and mystical types of interpretation, it can give us a framework for examining the historical, cultural, and linguistic aspects of Scripture.
For example, in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), which was written in the Greek language, we read that the Apostle Peter had a vision of unclean animals, reptiles, and birds. They appeared on a sheet that came down from heaven; then God told Peter to “kill and eat” them. (Acts 10:9–13)
The simple (peshat) meaning appears to be that God told Peter he should now eat non-kosher (unclean) animals.
But we must look deeper into comparable Scriptures and the concepts at hand in this account.
When Peter responded to God: “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” God responded back: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:14–15)
Most Christians are told that God was speaking here about the unclean animals. But a closer look at what happened before and after Peter’s vision helps us understand what God was teaching Peter.
Scripture tells us that at about the same time Peter had his vision of the unclean animals, a Gentile Roman Centurion named Cornelius was visited by an angel of God who told him that he should tell his servants to find Peter and invite him to his home. (Acts 10:1–8)
Because of a Jewish concept (deresh) at the time, Jews believed that Gentiles, such as Cornelius and his household were “unclean” and no self-respecting Jew would enter his home.
At the same time that the men arrived at the home where Peter was staying in Joppa, the Spirit of God spoke to him telling him to go with the men.
Under any other circumstance, Peter would have rejected an invitation from this “unclean” Gentile.
But this time, Peter travelled to Cornelius’ home and invited him and his whole household to accept Yeshua (Jesus) as their Savior; and the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. (Acts 10:44–48)
In this example, by understanding the Jewish culture and laws of the Torah, we are able to go beyond the simple (peshat) meaning, go deeper into new concepts (deresh), and uncover the hidden (sod) meaning of God’s Word.
We can also uncover possible hidden meanings by looking at Scripture in its original language whether Hebrew in the Tanakh (Old Testament) or Greek (New Testament), as well as Jewish customs about the text.
In Numbers 29:12–40, God details the libations (liquid offerings) that are to be made on each of the eight days of the feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles).
Generally, when a libation is prescribed in the Torah, the type of liquid is identified, whether it is wine, oil, or water. However, God does not specify what type of libation is to be used during Sukkot.
However, there are clues in the spelling or misspelling of three words that help us identify what kind of liquid God wants us to use for a libation offering during Sukkot.
Looking at Numbers 29 verse 19, the word for libation offering has an additional letter at the end of the word: (m) mem — וְנִסְכֵּיהֶם, which makes it plural. According to the 12th century commentator Rashi, this mem hints at something more, as we’ll see next.
In verse 31 there is the additional letter: (y) yud, which doesn’t belong in the word for libation offering — וּנְסָכֶיהָ.
And in verse 33, there is an additional (m) mem, which doesn’t belong in the word prescribed — כְּמִשְׁפָּטָם.
These three letters spell m-y-m (pronounced mayim in Hebrew), which means water.
And that’s what had been taking place during Sukkot in ancient Israel — the Water Libation (Pouring) Ceremony!
These are examples of the hidden (sod) things in the Torah, and God wants to reveal them to us but we need to search for them.
Our newsletters will help by giving you insight into the true meaning of the Jewish Scriptures. We can lose a lot of the meaning when we simply study the Bible in English.
And please continue to pray and support the work on the development of the Messianic Prophecy Bible so that we can get it out for free to both Jew and Gentile.
As the Jewish People come to know their Messiah and receive His Ruach HaKodesh, they will finally understand the deep meanings in the Torah that they have longed to discover.