I've been in the HRN studio recording this week. I taped a short series on
Pharisee: Friend or Foe?, and I thought I'd share a snippet of insight from the series.
One of the chapters in Pharisees is "Just How Biblical was the Pharisees' Oral Law?" which points out some facts that may bring a little peace to the ongoing debate among Hebrew Roots circles. The history of Hillel and Shammai frequently focuses upon their treatment of the The Three Converts. In a nutshell, three Gentile potential converts went to both Shammai and Hillel, founders of the two schools of the Pharisees. Each potential convert presented a challenge to each of the two Jewish sages. Shammai is best-known for rejecting each one; Hillel is known for accepting them.
Here are the three challenges:
Convert Condition #1 Standing on One Foot - "Teach me the entire Torah while I'm standing on one foot and I'll convert." This most famous of the three was rejected by Shammai. The unfathomable depths of the Torah given by the Creator of all things cannot be taught in a sentence or two. Hillel says, "What is hateful to you, don't do to your neighbor; the rest is commentary." The Gentile converted.
Convert Condition #2 Without the Oral Torah - "Convert me on the condition that you teach me only the Written Torah, but not the traditions and customs handed down." This very literalist challenge was rejected by Shammai, who knew that Torah is prophecy, and those who learn it in order to put forth their private interpretations will fall into error, but Hillel responded wisely. He first taught the Gentile the first four letters of the alefbet (alphabet) so he could begin reading the Torah. The next day, the Gentile returned, and Hillel scrambled the order of the letters. The Gentile objected that Hillel had changed their order. Hillel gently told him that if he had to rely upon him to teach him even the very letters of the Torah, then perhaps he could rely upon him to teach him the interpretations and applications handed down through Jewish tradition. The Gentile converted.
Condition #3 If I Can be the High Priest - "If you'll make me the High Priest, I'll convert." The Gentile walked by a house of study and heard the description of the jewels, garments, and crown of the High Priest. He offered to convert if Hillel would make him the High Priest. Hillel ignored his arrogance and naïvete, and he invited him to start studying the Torah. When the student reached the passages that define the High Priest as a man of priestly lineage, he realized he wasn't qualified, but he was already hooked, and converted.
Whether these were three actual people or simply aggadic examples of religious seekers, there is something to be learned from each one. Some people are #1. Just condense the Torah and make it easy. Don't challenge me. Make it fun. Some people are #3. They buy the "play pretties" such as a tallit or a shofar long before they understand the significance of what they're wearing or blowing (loudly).
Let's take a longer look at #2, the one who merely wants the written Word. He mistrusts anyone with enough learning to lead him astray. He's a literalist who naively believes that the Torah can be applied in isolation from a community of like-minded people. Fortunately, Hillel guided him into seeing that Torah was given to a covenant community at Sinai, not to 600,000 individuals who would each interpret and apply it differently.
Yeshua taught a framework for testing the Word and any traditions or customs that may grow out of it. He helped us to differentiate between
growing fruit from the Seed of the Word, which we should do, or
adding to the Word, which we shouldn't do. Those methods are outlined in
Truth, Tradition, or Tare? Growing in the Word. The rabbinic "fences" cause many new Torah students confusion because it feels as though it is "added," when usually, it was grownfrom the Torah.
Yeshua never objected to a rabbinic fence that was honored with a sincere heart when that fence guided or grounded the individual in keeping the written Word. In fact, Yeshua imposed much more strenuous rabbinic fences in the Beatitudes. "You have heard it said, but I say unto you..." Who can stand the test of his fences in good conscience? Should we put horns on Pharisees when we put a halo on Yeshua for fences to protect the Spirit of the Torah?
He also upheld many Pharisaic fences in his parables, such as pointing out the "true" Pharisee in comparing the tax collector and the Pharisee praying. It was the tax collector who was praying the sincere prayer of repentance according to Jewish custom (not looking up, beating one's breast). The Pharisee was in violation of his own tradition and code of ethics both inside and out.
A hypocrite is an "actor on a stage." When Yeshua pointed out a Pharisee hypocrite, it was because the individual was only acting like an authentic Pharisee, whose value has been lost in translations, negligence in teaching Biblical history in congregations, and errant Bible dictionaries. Examples of these are found in
Pharisee: Friend or Foe?
Another example is that of the Good Samaritan. Once deconstructed, this parable is an affirmation of the Pharisees' interpretation of the priestly responsibility toward a sick person or corpse. According to the Pharisees, both a priest and a Levite should have stopped and rendered aid. Respecting a corpse is taught in the Torah. Priests and Levites were not exempt when no one else was available to render aid. The parable slammed the Sadducees, who rejected the Oral Law. Many of the Sadducees were priests and Levites, and Yeshua's parable had to have made the authentic Pharisees, such as Nicodemus and those who tried to help Yeshua escape Herod's soldiers, smile.
Another example comes from the Torah portion
Yitro. In Luke Chapter Seven, John the Baptist sends disciples to ask Yeshua if he is the Expected One, the Messiah, or should they look for another. Like all of us, John was experiencing a low point, doubting his course. What would provoke a prophet like John to question Yeshua's identity after all that had happened? More importantly, what answer did Yeshua send
that would remove all doubt?
At that very time, He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind. And He answered and said to them, 'Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.' (Lk 7:21-23)
How was this supposed to convince John? John already knew that Yeshua was healing people and raising the dead. Did Yeshua do something different that was proof positive?
Convert #2 would never know this if Hillel had only taught him the written Torah, but if he received the tradition from Hillel, he would know that Yeshua's answer was proof positive. In Torah portion Yitro, the Israelites stand to receive the Torah at Sinai. The tradition is based on Exodus 20:15-16 and its surrounding context:
At Sinai 'all the people could see.' There was not a single blind person among them. And from where do we know that there was not a mute person among them? The Torah says, 'And all the people answered.' And from where do we know that there was not a deaf person among them? The Torah says, 'We will do, and we will listen.' -Rashi
Likewise, the people stood and approached the smoking mountain, so there were no lame people. The Israelites had just been "resurrected" by walking through the Abyss, a symbol of Sheol from Egypt, where the Egyptians acknowledged that "we are all dead men." Even more remarkably, the Jewish tradition is that the Ten Commandments were spoken in "one Divine utterance." In other words, they were all spoken
simultaneously, and then only subsequently delineated, for the text says, "God spoke
all these words..." (Rashi to 20:1)
What does that have to do with Yeshua's answer to John? Re-read the passage from Luke. Yeshua had been healing as he went, but in verse 21, he heals everyone in a moment! Bam! To a Jewish man like John, this was a re-visitation of the giving of the Torah, the Good News preached to Israel at Sinai.
Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience (He 4:6)
Yeshua sent the most powerful non-verbal message: "I am those Words that the people both heard and saw at Sinai in one Divine Utterance. I'm that Good News. I'm the Word sent to heal." In fact, Yeshua's name in Revelation is the Word of God (19:13). Although John knows that Israel soon hardened their hearts when Moses disappeared up the mountain, he also knows that the Messiah, the Word of God, could manifest himself by healing those who gathered to hear and obey...in one Divine utterance.
Another tradition is that the Torah was offered to the nations in their 70 tongues, but only Israel said, "We will do and we will hear." Even though the nations rejected Yeshua at Sinai, the Holy One always had a plan to plant 70 palm trees by 12 springs of water. Yeshua left instructions to gather at Shavuot in Jerusalem to commemorate the giving of the Torah, according to Jewish tradition, and the plan was activated. When the nations gathered and SAW the sound of the cloven tongues of fire just as the Israelites saw the sound and flame at Sinai, the nations HEARD, and said, "What must we DO to be saved?"
Knowing some traditions like this can transform how we read the Gospels and the letters of the apostles. For insights like this, we can thank the un-hypocritical Pharisees for passing down the traditions that make the Newer Testament more vivid and alive.
Now in Paperback: a BEKY Book that could improve what you think of the Pharisees' role in Yeshua's Messiahship and cure some "informing" against brothers.
Have you always assumed that a Pharisee was a greedy hypocrite? PHARISEE: FRIEND OR FOE? tests this assumption and draws out why the Pharisees were a vital part of Yeshua's ministry in the First Century.
This booklet is packed with information and offers a glimpse into the hidden facts about the Pharisees that enrich the accounts of Yeshua's resurrection. We pray that it will transform how you read both the New Testament Scriptures and the TANAKH (Old Testament).
This booklet will be a companion to the next BEKY Book by this author, 50,000 DEGREES AND CLOUDY: A BETTER RESURRECTION, explaining what happens when we die. The Pharisees handed down a belief in resurrection, and they give us the Scriptures that explain the Lower Garden, the Rivers of the Garden, the Palace of Messiah, Sheol, the first and second resurrection, judgment and reward, angels, and many other topics. It will cover Scriptures all the way from Genesis to Revelation, and is expected in 2019.