7 Surprising Stories About the Torah
How much do you really know about these ancient Jewish texts?
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The Torah isn’t a history book, a physics book, or a storybook. It is torat chaim — literally “instructions for living” in Hebrew.
“The more Torah you know,” the late, great Rabbi Noah Weinberg said, “the more fulfilled you become. Every word, every phrase contains a message for how to maximize pleasure in life. Look for the deeper message — the wisdom within — and you will reap immense rewards.”1
In the Torah, the basics are laid out in writing, but the rest must be learned orally, know as the Mishnah.
“When an engineer has a problem, he looks up logarithm tables. A lawyer refers to case studies. A doctor has medical journals,” Rabbi Weinberg said. “A Jew has the Mishnah.”
The Mishnah refers to the later works of the rabbinic period — most prominently the Mishnah and the Gemara, jointly known as the Talmud — which explain and expound upon the statutes recorded in the Written Torah.
The traditional Jewish view is that both these Torahs were revealed at Mount Sinai, but the Oral Torah was passed down as oral tradition (hence the name) until the destruction of the Second Temple in the early part of the Common Era, when fear of it being lost forever led to it being committed to writing for the first time.2
“If you want to feel what your Jewish ancestors felt, learn one chapter of Mishnah by heart,” Rabbi Weinberg said. “That is the Jewish culture at its roots. The beauty of it will get to you. You will appreciate Torah from Sinai. You will understand what the Jewish people are truly about.”
So, how much do you really know about the Torah? Here are seven surprising stories I’ve learned on my Jewish journey: