It saddens me to see how the Judaism that I love has changed and distanced away from the connection with the creator of all, and has become just another human religion. What are the causes for that change? They are deeply rooted in history.
Who are the lawful leaders of the nation according to the Torah?
According to the Torah, it is the priests and the Levites who were supposed to lead Israel along with prophets and judges or the heroes of war whom God would have risen as an answer to special needs in times of need. However, during the first few centuries B.C. the Pharisee movement had been established and changed the biblical Judaism that had existed until then. The Pharisee movement rose up at the time as opposition to the leadership of the priests in the temple, for the priestly leadership had become corrupt over the years and therefore spiritually irrelevant. But the transition of leadership from the hands of the priests to the Pharisees has resulted in a number of far-reaching spiritual changes. Above all, it created a contradiction to the Torah.
The original form of leadership held great wisdom, divine, and necessary balance. The balance is created when, on the one hand, a group of people who are chosen from birth to lead the nation spiritually and serve in the temple (the priests and the Levites) are free of daily life concerns and educated from birth by the deep traditions of the priestly households for that purpose. And on the other hand, prophets and judges were personally appointed by God and their authority was not inherited or granted by virtue of attribution, tradition, or by any electoral system.
The role of prophets and judges, among other things, was to balance the tendency of the priests to sink in defilement after years of service. The priests, for their part, have contributed to the delicate balance by bringing the steady, permanent thing that does not rely on the personal prestige of one leader or another but is deeply rooted in the tradition of generations, originating from Mount Sinai and the Word of God to Moses.
This leadership in all its parts was also supposed to teach the people the Torah, not only from the Scripture but also to bring the contemporary, living and constantly renewing word of God to the people. The priests did this, for example, through the ‘Urim and the Tumim’. The prophets and the judges received a fresh word from God, by visions and revelations.
Prophets usually arose when the people deviated from the path and God saw a need for correction. The enemies of Israel were the sign that Israel strayed, then prophets judges or heroes of war that God personally appointed (later the role of judges passed to kings, though kings by nature are far less suited for the role) were supposed to deliver on God’s behalf the necessary amendments.
The leaders were supposed to be the declarer, the ram’s horn, the media, through which God Himself led the people in every matter – from the biggest to the smallest, from the general to the personal life of each person. Every person in Israel was supposed to feel that God Himself was leading Him and the entire nation, whereas human leaders were supposed to be transparent to him. According to the Torah, the Hebrew leader is only a channel, there is no emphasis or public attention on his personal life, character and skills, and the only relevant thing about him was the degree of his loyalty to God and the messages he communicated back and forth between God and the people, or the actions He did in His name.
Anyone who looks at the description of the leadership of Moses, the nature of what is said about him in the Torah and especially what is not said, can see how the Hebrew leader should be presented to the public. The only personal story about Moses that the Pentateuch does dwell on is the story of his birth, upbringing and exile, until he received the appointment with a direct revelation of God in front of the burning bush. This is described in the Pentateuch only to show and emphasize that Moses’s call to the role, from the moment of his birth to his appointment is a call from above and the appointment is of God through clear revelation and supernatural signs. So it should be clear about any other leader- clear that God appointed him, not humans. The prophets, judges and kings should be appointed by God because only He is supposed to initiate the corrections and choose the appropriate people for the specific situation and the reforms he seeks to carry out. The appointment of priests and Levites on the other hand, is automatically done according to priesthood dynasty. Yet here too, it is God who has pointed the family out of the Levi tribe that should be leading.
Later, God appointed kings on his behalf because the people insisted on being led by kings instead of judges. That in itself was a distortion of the original intent, because kings by nature are preoccupied with their image, politics and ego, rather than listening to the word of God. That is why even then God expressed his displeasure at this in the words of the prophet Samuel.
Who are the Pharisees?
At some point, in the later days of the second temple, the leadership structure described was horribly disrupted. The priests became corrupt, the true prophets were persecuted and stoned, and in their place arose false prophets. The kings also established dynasties that were not directly appointed by God as were Saul, David or Solomon for example, and Israel seriously strayed. The Pharisees saw the situation and wanted to rectify it. But because they were not priests, prophets, judges or kings directly appointed by God, they created a new category in Judaism that was not in the Torah: they became scholars, who memorized the commandments, adhered to the simple as to the severe, made interpretations and innovations.
The source of the Pharisees power and authority was and still is their knowledge and proficiency with detail rather than a direct divine revelation, and that is the root of the problem. To the extent of how these leaders may be superior, God-fearing and talented, still, their authority and the source of their power is human. Because of this, Judaism has become more and more a religion of man, lacking spiritual power, and losing its global uniqueness as a faith based on a living and direct divine revelation.
It is clearly visible when you read the Bible, how commonly used is the phrase, for example, “So said the Lord” or: “And God said to Moses,” or to Samuel, etc, as well as: “And God appeared to Abraham” or to Moses or Jacob, etc. There is no other religion, denomination, or faith in the world that uses these phrases in its writings, or in the words of its priests or even in the words of ordinary people who have received a direct divine revelation. Since then, however, these phrases have disappeared from all their writings and from the daily lives of the entire nation. In this context, Rebecca may be mentioned as a simple woman, a daughter of shepherds, and she personally addresses, in her language, not through a rabbi, a siddur, or a written prayer, “to inquire of the Lord” as a clear and natural thing (Genesis 25,22).
Rebecca asks for the direct and vivid word from God to tell her what the two embryos jostling in her womb meant, and she immediately receives an answer from God personally. She also does not practice any mysticism, kabbalah, gematria, not going to ask for a blessing of some saint, does not go up to any Orchards or Spheres. All of these concepts belong to foreign teachings. The only source of power Rebecca gets from above (power that can grant a person wisdom, valor, knowledge, supernatural abilities, etc.) is the power of the Shechinah.
God granted Abraham with his dwelling due to the covenant that he has made with him. The covenant and the dwelling moved from Abraham to Isaac and Rebecca, to Jacob, to Joseph and onward. Later, a new covenant was formed in the Sinai and the Shechinah dwelt amongst the people due to their work in the temple. The Shechinah must accompany any true covenant with God and He must clearly descend. The Shechinah will not descend without a covenant. Therefore, a Jewish leadership that is not clearly anointed by His Holy Spirit Shechinah has not carried out the process of making a covenant correctly, nor can it delegate the spirit to the people.
Abraham made the covenant by building an altar and offering a sacrifice! And so it was done in the temple. Note that the answer to Rebecca, like many others in the Biblical era, is specific and accurate, and can be tested and proven correct. This is not an answer in the style of: ‘God said everything will be fine,’ sometimes heard in the modern era by false prophets, rabbis and community leaders. Not that God cannot say that everything will be fine, but that such answers are general and do not indicate whether God has indeed spoken to the speaker or is it a fruit of His imagination.
Today, since the Covenant has not been renewed according to the Torah and because Jewish leaders are rabbis who are not prophets or judges, God does not choose and appoint them but rather they are appointed by people (or by themselves). In this situation, the question stands: Am I, as a believer, supposed to accept their laws and teachings? For the prophet Jeremiah has already said: “This is what the Lord says: Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water...” (Jeremiah 17, 5-8)
According to the Torah, I must accept only the words of men who clearly and directly convey the Word of God and do so according to the rules He has set. Over the years and especially after the destruction of the temple – when the priests finally lost their power – the Pharisee movement became the sole stream of Judaism, and today we do not know any other Judaism. But the God of Israel is always faithful to His word and His way, and the question is, are we willing to let go of the exilic ways and go back to the source? Come back to him?
What are the basic principles of Judaism?
According to the Torah, it is not possible to live a public Jewish life without priests and Levites alongside judges and prophets, and these cannot operate if there is no live covenant with God. But God said that to establish a covenant we must have a temple and sacrifice. The Temple is the only physical thing that can bring God’s presence to dwell among Israel, and without the Shechinah (which is God’s presence), God is neither present nor appoints leaders. The Pharisees, who are neither prophets nor priests, are not allowed and cannot establish a temple.
Therefore it does not matter which substitutes were invented in exile for the work of the temple – prayers three times a day in the synagogue instead of the work of the priests three times a day in the temple, ‘atonement’ on Yom Kippur instead of the high priest entering the Holy of Holies on this day with the blood of the sacrifice and atone for the people, eating the head of a fish or lamb or anything else that we do on Passover instead of the Passover sacrifice for which we commanded in the Torah, lighting Shabbat candles and two challah instead of the show-bread and lighting the seven branched menorah that the priests had to do on Shabbat in the temple-all these substitutes have no validity as they were not given by God in Sinai and not by prophets explicitly appointed by Him, but by scholars looking for substitutes for His word.
According to the Torah, without the work in the temple there is no atonement for sin and therefore all the people, including the Pharisees, are in impurity and the Shechinah shuns them. Then what is the point of synagogues? What is the point of keeping Shabbat and holidays with God not present and not hearing? What is the point when he is not present with you in the Sukkah, on Shabbat or on Holidays?
At the time, when the Shechinah would descend on the true prophets or the heroes of war, the judges or kings appointed by the God of Israel with a direct revelation, it would also purify them and give them the necessary skills to do their work not humanly but with divine heroism. You can witness the clear power of the Shechinah, working through the training and work of Samuel, Gideon, David, Ezekiel the prophet, Jonah and others. Today we don’t see that power working, neither among the leaders nor the people, because Judaism has lost the Power that is supposed to work within it, and has become just another religion, foreign to the God of Israel. Today, the God of Israel does not send people on His behalf, does not purify them uniquely in his presence and verbally informs them. The people of Israel, religious and secular alike, do not seek to keep His Torah according to what is given in Sinai but are satisfied with the substitutes given to them by the Pharisee rabbis, but any such substitute is like turning your back and saying no to God.
When there is a root spiritual problem, what happens over time is that distortion upon distortion is created because the root is out of place. The Pharisees, who over the years became the rabbis as we know them today, in order to assert their authority, had to add interpretations and taboos and laws that were seasoned with tales, falsehoods and superstitious mysticism. None of these were at all typical of pre-Pharisee culture, and are things that characterize foreign teachings.
With no temple and no Shechinah the Pharisees had to shift the focus of the work to taboos and commandments. Over the years they have added commandments and taboos to the point that the Jew who wants to keep them is drowning in a sea of laws and needs the rabbi to tell him what to do. While the Torah does not mean this precision but wants the believer – while sticking to the writings as much as he knows, and even if he does not understand everything, to do the best he personally can– this is the work of the heart!
The personal work of God is supposed to be internal rather than external. Because what does the God of Israel care if they put on a tassel or wrap tefillin one way or another? And why should he have dictated prayers read from a Siddur (daily prayers arrangements book) if he is asking for the believer’s heart and the personal internal process he is going through? According to the Torah and throughout the Bible there were no prayer arrangements and when the individual wanted to pray he did so. Humbly, in his own words, whenever he wanted to be close to his God and not at predetermined times.
Physical, external, routine rituals should not be the focus of a believer’s life. The center of gravity of most of the commandments/ rituals/ symbolic acts should be in the temple because that is where the public and ceremonial connection to the God of Israel is made. The connection there was made in principle and symbolically (by a variety of symbolic actions), although the individual also had a part to play, for example when he went up three times a year to the temple to make a sacrifice. Yet the center of gravity for the individual is the work of finding his personal path to rapprochement and the creation of a personal relationship with God.
So, in the Torah, the guidelines for observance of individual commandments between man and God (unlike the public work at the temple) are generally described, with very little detail and a lot of room for personal interpretation, each person according to their place in the process and the unique way in which they are spiritually constructed. The journey that the Jewish believer is supposed to go through with the individual commandments between man and God is a private journey that lasts a lifetime and that is where the Torah is supposed to serve him as a nursemaid.
If, for example, the believer was required through the observance of purity to feel a certain thing, to go through this process of rapprochement, private reckoning, sanctification, and a better understanding of God’s way and personality, and if there was any lesson that the God of Israel directed at Him personally and chose certain words to describe the commandment, and deliberately did not use other words, and expanded where it was necessary and encapsulated where it was necessary – now instead of going through that unique internal process, which is the purpose, people need to memorize all kinds of matters that were added or missed by people who did not accept the changes clearly from above and they have opposing views and teachings. The result is that there is almost no trace of the original Spirit of God and we have already lost the sense and intention that keeping the commandment is supposed to bring (often, rather, the more abstract thing, which is not absolutely fixed, which is more personal, which is not entirely clear and requires internal clarifying, is what the God of Israel was aiming for).
How Judaism has changed?
In the days of Moses, there were no ‘currents’ (denominations), opinions and ethnicities. Those who revolted against what Moses commanded were simply destroyed (see Korach and his group). This is the case when the Shechinah is present and God determines rather than human beings. But when there are arguments and opinions, you can tell that the teachings are teachings of humans. But the whole Mishnah and Talmud (“oral Torah” and rabbis interpretations are based on these debates and the personal opinions of one rabbi or another. Human theory is always accompanied by doubt and human frailties, as desire for respect or wealth. Then leaders tend to harden instructions, delve into the dead word rather than the spirit, aggravate and try to punctuate to cover up the doubt and weakness at the root.
The doomed to fail attempt to give clear and uniform precise instructions to all the public about how to observe Shabbat, for example, empties the idea of Shabbat out of the content and its original divine intent, which is expressed in the Torah. And how do I know it is? Because I read the Torah. Everyone is welcome to examine this with me and find out, for example: Why the details of how to make the sacrifice in the temple, including the details of the priest’s attire, the location of the altar, its dimensions, the manner of its construction, etc. Whereas with regard to the Shabbat, which is undoubtedly one of the pillars of Judaism and one of the Ten Commandments, there are two or three short verses that are supposed to contain all the laws of the Sabbath? Well, that was God’s intention when he dictated the Torah to Moses. And if he wanted people to expand or add to it or subtract it, He would appoint a person of spiritual magnitude as Moses, and let his hand show signs, even greater than Moses did, so that it was clear that God was speaking through him.
Of course, the Pharisees understand this principle too, so they are telling stories of supernatural acts that concern many of them, but these are fairy tales. And how do I know these are fairy tales and the stories in the Bible are not legends? Because I know the God of Israel and how he works. God will always give himself one hundred percent of the credit in fact, and will do so to glorify His name, not the name of the person in charge. This is the case in all Bible stories, whereas in the Pharisees the story comes to glorify the name of the rabbi and give him the credit.
And as for the commandments? If God did not mean minutia in the articles of the commandments, why is the Torah talking about the man who went out to pick trees on the Sabbath and was stoned to death? (Numbers 15-32). Because he did it with rebellious intent. David, on the other hand, when he escaped from Saul, ate holy bread intended for priests, which is forbidden according to the Torah, on the Sabbath and was not punished (Samuel l. 21-7). Why? Because David did the deed because he was distressed and without rebellious intent. This case also illustrates why the essential need for the Shechinah, For the Torah attests itself, that neither words nor letters nor human beings will judge between act and act and man to man but God by the force of his dwelling.
But because the power of the Shechinah is not available to the Pharisees, they have to argue that their meaning and regulations are oral Torah, given in Sinai, and given orally because it was impossible to write everything in a book. But this argument is clearly refuted, because the Torah does detail accurately about the work of sacrificing, a sign that when it wants to elaborate it has no problem doing so.
And as for the Shabbat commandment for the individual? There is deliberately no detail of what to do because this is a personal matter between the believer and his God. The general guidance in the Torah is not to do the day-to-day work, for the purpose of livelihood or earthly matters, but the inner work which is the Sabbath. May the believer sit down on the Shabbat, vacate from all other matters and try to understand what is the meaning of the Shabbat? What does it mean for him? What work or repair or adjustment or purification, the Shabbat is meant to do in his mind? He needs to try to connect with the idea of Shabbat and try to understand how it connects him with the God of Israel? Why is it so important? Why the Lord himself rest in this day?
The work in the temple, on the other hand, is a public and less personal and here the God of Israel does ask for the accuracy, uniformity of the execution and the ritual, so here there is detail in detail and here there is not. For the pharisees, these ideas get lost.
Instead of the Clear presence of God, they should also declare that their authority trumps that of the Torah given in Sinai and even that of God himself. How else can they explain why Moses, for example, did not write in the Torah: while I write to you “You shall not eat a young goat in his mother’s milk,” you must know that the Torah was also given orally, and there it is not at all that but something else. Nor did the prophets, who throughout long chapters in the Bible rebuked the nation to a variety of crimes and sins, never mention any oral Torah or problem about mixing meat and milk or any other late halacha developed by the Pharisees. They rebuked the people and detailed, always, only about one commandment or another from the written doctrine of Moses – only the written doctrine of Moses. No other Jewish writing outside the Torah has indicated the existence of oral Torah until the period of the Pharisees. And from the period of the Pharisees, in all their writings, it is almost exclusively about the Oral Torah and the original Torah is rarely mentioned and rarely studied.
It’s important to add that the historical distortion I describe was not pointless. The God of Israel allowed the distortion to occur for his own reasons (he allowed it to occur, and did not initiate it). For the Pharisee movement arose shortly before the destruction of the Temple and allowed the people of Israel to survive the exile as a people and a culture, and nevertheless preserved the original Torah and the teachings of the Prophets and the Scriptures with no temple. But now Israel has returned to its land and it is clear that it is time to correct the visible distortions and return to the original Judaism in order to return the God of Israel and his dwelling to his people.
It must be understood that two thousand years ago God exiled from His people and we have not yet come out of this exile even though we sit in the Holy Land. This is absurd. The exile should end and it’s about time. All the prophecies of the Bible bind the physical return of Zion with the return of God to dwell among the people and this absurdity is doomed to stop. According to Biblical prophecies, the Temple should be built before the arrival of The Messiah. The Messiah will not come if there is no temple! So, when people are hoping that it is The Messiah who will solve the temple-building problem and the political problems surrounding it is a false hope.
It is important to understand that exile means that God is not present. So, from a spiritual perspective we have returned to pre-Mount Sinai state. Today we are as if God had taken us out of the slavery of Egypt, which is to us the exile of the two thousand years, and brought us straight to the Land of Israel, without the revelation of Mount Sinai. But the land is not sacred because we do not yet have a prophet (it is as if Moses was not yet born), there is no Torah, no temple or tabernacle, we have not yet been consecrated and purified and the Shechinah is not with us. We are a nation of slaves who came out of Egypt, whose relationship with the God of Israel and his teachings is looser than ever.
So in principle there is no spiritual point today to ‘keep Shabbat’ as there was no obligation before Mount Sinai. The action that will help us today spiritually is not even to ask to return to Mount Sinai revelation because the Torah has already been given, it is written and clear, but to ask to fill this Torah with its contents. So the Land of Israel will be filled with content, the chosen people will be filled with content and the individual will be filled. In order to fulfill the Torah with its supposed living content, we must ask, shout, pray, beg for a temple, for a priest of justice, for renewal of the Covenant, for a prophet of truth and the presence of the God of Israel within us through these functions – because this is the Torah.
We must return to seeing Him personally and clearly as they saw the Pillar of Fire and the cloud at the time, or as they saw Moses in person with God or when seventy of the elders of Israel met with Him and sat with Him to eat and drink (it is recommended to read this description in the original: Exodus 9, because that is where the spirit of the things I speak about is illustrated precisely). Even a man who divorces his wife and wishes to return her within a period of time will state his intentions clearly and renew the covenant with her according to the rules of the ceremony and in the presence of witnesses. The God of Israel took this step when he returned the people to his land. Now the bride who is Israel must accept the invitation, and ask to be consecrated in the clear ceremony with the God of Israel. The rules of the ritual for it are clear and described in detail in the Torah from Sinai, but the observance of the commandments between man and God and the existence of Jewish worship according to the Rabbinical law of the Pharisees has no contribution to this. For the purpose of the ceremony there is need of a priest, a prophet, a temple, a sacrifice etc. But the Pharisees are not prophets and are not priests and have not been able to establish even a portable tabernacle made of cloth and planks, as the Israelites had before they could build a permanent temple.
With all that said, it is clear to me that these things are not clear to everyone and if a Jew wants to connect to Judaism, to its roots, through Shabbat, for example, or a holiday? Do you uphold them according to the rabbis? Perhaps according to the Torah? How do you do this when the detail in the Torah is limited? The answer to that is simple and I will elaborate on that in the next article. So I’ll bring an example from the Bible, from the book of Ezra and Nehemiah, where it tells how at the time the priests and leaders instructed the people who had just come from the exile of Babylon to celebrate the Feast of Sukkot. By that example the principle could be understood today. And the comparison between the book of Ezra and Nehemiah to us today, that we too, had just come to the Holy Land from the exile of the world, is clear and obvious.
The English version of this post was translated from Hebrew by Roman Shargaev. If you need a highly skilled & recommended translator you can contact him here: [email protected].
I want to thank Eliyahu Greenwald that helping a lot with editing the text