Volume Three: Commandment Appendices
The Owner’s Manual—Volume 3
The Owner’s Manual—the Torah—is just that: an Instruction book on how to live a successful human life. It’s axiomatic that you can’t go wrong if you’re doing what your Owner/Creator wants you to do. And (fortunately for us) what He wants us to do is recorded in the pages of the Bible, primarily in the Torah and the Gospels—together only about 300 pages. And the actual instruction is only a fraction of that. (I’m not saying the rest of scripture isn’t vitally important, relevant, or useful; I’m only saying that “what God specifically told us to do” doesn’t take up much room at all.) In fact, Yahshua pointed out that the whole thing could be boiled down to two simple and interrelated Torah precepts: (1) Love God with your whole being; and (2) love your fellow man as much as (and in the same way that) you love yourself. What this summary lacks in detail, it more than makes up for in impact.
We—the whole human race—were designed by Yahweh to function in a certain way—and not to work in other ways. For example, our Creator intended that we breathe air (not water or carbon dioxide), eat food derived from living things (not rocks or sunlight), and reproduce our kind sexually (not by asexual cloning or just splitting into two). Just to make the point, He put living things in our biosphere that do all of these “unhuman” things: fish respire oxygen dissolved in water. Plants “breathe” the carbon dioxide exhaled by other living things, and “eat” sunshine and the nutrients in dirt. Bacteria reproduce by simple cell division.
God doesn’t have to tell oak trees and amoebas what to breathe or eat, or how to reproduce. He doesn’t have to instruct geese to fly south for the winter, teach bears to hibernate, or show squirrels how to climb trees. He doesn’t run “sex education classes” for lions or limpets. They simply know how to reproduce their kind. And yes, humans too “automatically” know how to operate our mortal bodies: we know not to breathe water or eat dirt and twigs, and judging by how long our species has been around, we figured out the whole mating thing a long time ago.
That being said, God has found it necessary to instruct mankind on a whole range of issues that animals from aardvarks to zebras don’t need to know about. These are the commandments and Instructions recorded for our edification in the Torah and the Gospels. What makes us different, in need of information and guidance that other sentient creatures don’t? Is it the possession of a soul? No. The Hebrew word for “soul” is nephesh. It is used four times in Genesis 1 (the creation chapter), to describe “sea creatures,” “every living thing that moves,” “cattle, creeping things and beasts of the earth,” and finally, “every beast of the earth, bird of the air, and everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life.”
The inference is that the presence of a soul is what makes a creature alive (as opposed to being either a pile of non-living matter, or dead). Plants do not have souls, though they are alive (until they die). But “every living thing that moves” (movement apparently being the key concept) in the waters, on the land, or in the sky, is made alive by the presence of a soul (nephesh). Death is thus defined as the moment when the soul leaves the body. And as far as we know, the phenomenon of death—mortality—is universal and unavoidable among sentient creatures, including man. Our bodies are all indwelled with souls at the moment of conception, and they are all separated from these souls at some point. We live, and then we die.
So what makes people different from other mortal animals? We read, “And Yahweh, God, formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [chay nephesh—living soul].” (Genesis 2:7) We have a lot in common with animals. We are made of the same raw materials (the “dust of the ground,” i.e., the elements found on Planet Earth). And we all become physically alive through the agency of the nephesh, the soul. But back up a little: what is this “breath of life” of which He speaks? God uses a different word here—one that is not used to describe the life of animals. “Breath” is the Hebrew noun neshamah, derived from the verb nasham, meaning “to pant or gasp.”
I get the feeling that God, in communicating all of this to Moses, was assigning symbolic meaning—a code, if you will—to several words found in the Hebrew language—concepts for which there are really no literal equivalents in any language. There are three separate words used to describe “life” of some sort in these scriptures, and all three of them are (in the literal sense) related to moving air or respiration (breathing), one way or another. We’ve seen the nephesh used to describe the soul—the mind or life force that quickens any sentient animal, including man. (It is derived from the verb naphash, meaning to breathe, be breathed upon, or be refreshed.) A second word, ruach, is used to denote “spirit” (a concept that is as broad in Hebrew as it is in English), though it literally just means “breath or wind.” And third, God uses the word neshamah to describe the unique type of life God breathed into Adam, making him unlike any animal.
My point is that by using three different terms, God is (apparently) teaching us that there are three different attributes or components of human life (other than the body)—things we can’t really explore scientifically: the soul, the spirit, and this neshamah (for which there isn’t even a proper English equivalent to describe it). Why is this important? Because sorting all of this out will explain why God gave written instructions to man, while he left the animals with nothing more specific than instinct and biological urges.
Yahshua pointed out to Nicodemus in John 3 that in order to be spiritually alive (i.e., beyond mere mortal life)—in order to “see the kingdom of God”—we must be “born from above” in Yahweh’s Spirit. That is, God’s Holy Spirit must dwell within us, making our souls alive, just as our souls make our bodies alive. But in order for that to happen, people have to be equipped to be “receptacles” for God’s Spirit—something mere animals are not. When Yahweh “breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath (neshamah) of life,” this capacity for receiving God’s Spirit was created—and not just for Adam and Eve, but for all of their progeny, down to you and me. The best way I’ve ever heard it described is in a quote from Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician, physicist, inventor, and theologian: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”
I believe this “God-shaped vacuum” is the neshamah, bestowed upon our parents in the Garden of Eden. It is not in itself the Spirit of God (which is called the ruach, pneuma in Greek), but it is the “space” within our individual souls in which the Spirit may dwell. But here’s the rub: the Spirit indwells the neshamah on an invitation-only basis. When Adam sinned, God’s Spirit left him. This was the “death penalty” about which Adam was warned in Genesis 2:17: his soul hadn’t left his body, but God’s Spirit had vacated his soul. God had given our parents one commandment—and they violated it. Having disobeyed Yahweh by eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve were now “dead,” spiritually speaking, separated and estranged from their Creator-God.
Their knowledge of this fact was demonstrated by their attempt to hide from God by putting on clothing they had made from fig leaves. But their works were insufficient (as are ours): Adam and Eve would remain dead (spiritually speaking) until they donned the tunics of animal skins (Genesis 3:21) that God provided for them. This act established several spiritual paradigms:
(1) Once they had sinned, only God (eternally sinless) could provide reconciliation and redemption. They could not do it themselves.
(2) As it had been their choice as to whether or not to sin, it was now the choice of the humans to accept or reject God’s remedy for that sin. They could either remain “dead,” estranged from God by their own volition, or regain the life they had lost by obeying His new commandment to put on the animal skins.
(3) The “spiritual” difference between humans and animals now became apparent. Mankind had been given a commandment from God (“Don’t eat the fruit from that one tree”). We therefore possessed free will: choose to obey, or elect not to. Animals, on the other hand, did not have the ability to make moral decisions. Their natures had no ethical component; they could not “sin,” even though what an animal did might prove to be “inconvenient” to people (or each other). It was not a moral failing, for example, for a lion to make off with a lamb from your flock.
(4) This established the paradigm that animals were innocent by nature, whereas men (after the unfortunate “fruit” incident) were not. God would later fine-tune the symbol to define as “clean” (suitable for sacrifice) animals as those that were vegetarians and safely edible by people. But a whole lot of water would flow under the bridge (and over it, for that matter) before these issues were germane. The species of animals God sacrificed in the Garden to cover the sin of Adam and Eve were left unspecified. The lesson was, only innocence can atone for guilt.
To sum up, then, Yahweh created humans with a unique spiritual component—the capacity to “host” His Spirit within our souls. This had the effect of bestowing upon us free will, the ability and privilege of making moral choices. Free will sounds like a good thing (and it is). But there’s a “problem” with this whole system: our ability to say “yes” requires the possibility of saying “no.” Our Creator’s single greatest defining attribute is love. He made humans and gave them free will because He wanted an object for His love—someone who could reciprocate in kind. The “problem” is that love requires choice: “love” that’s forced isn’t love at all, but something else.
Love is fundamentally different from obedience, compliance, or loyalty. It can’t be compelled, bought, stolen, held for ransom, or even manufactured; it can only be earned. Love can’t be sold or bartered; it can only be given away or freely received. Force might manifest itself in peaceful coexistence, good behavior, or societal restraint, but none of that is love. Neither a god who forced our compliance nor one who made compliance impossible by asking nothing of us (i.e., the all-inclusive god of popular religious myth) could be a God of love. As I said, love requires choice. The ability to love implies the capacity not to love. If the object of God’s affection cannot reject Him, then accepting Him is a meaningless concept.
Elsewhere, I explained: “Love is shown when I help my neighbor because I perceive a need and spontaneously reach out to him. But if someone forces me to help him, I have not shown him love; I’ve merely bowed to external pressure. The victim of a mugging has not shown love to his assailant, no matter how badly the thief needed the money. Likewise, the taxpayer has not shown love to the welfare recipient (nor to the bureaucrat who took his cut off the top). Why? Because there was no choice involved. Whether robbed violently on the street, or ‘nicely’ through polite, legal means, the ‘giver’ hasn’t shown love to the taker. He has only bowed to coercion. In fact, he couldn’t show love under these circumstances even if he wanted to. The ‘robber’ has taken not only his money and his security, he has also stolen (in some measure) the victim’s ability to tangibly show his love to others.”
The case could be made that the only reason we’re here—the only reason anything exists—is that Yahweh the Creator wanted to share a relationship of love with someone. (Angels—created spirit beings—were not good candidates, since technically, they do not possess free will. Though they operate independently, they do not have permission to disobey Yahweh.) So the next bridge we need to cross is how His love and authority interact within the matrix of our free will. And not surprisingly, He has provided the perfect metaphor to help us understand how it all works: the family.
The way it is supposed to work is that a husband and wife, through the physical expression of the love and commitment they share, “become one flesh” quite literally through the birth of children to them. After a long and arduous gestation period, the baby comes—a brand new human being, related to both mother and father, but with no knowledge, resources, communication skills, or authority. What the baby does have are life, needs, potential, and relationship. Meanwhile, mom has the ability to nurture and teach, and dad has the ability to provide and protect. Working as a team (actually, it’s closer than that—it’s a corporation, not just a partnership) mom and dad set about raising their offspring. The idea is to help “Junior” to “grow in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” until such time as he (or she) is ready to exercise the privilege of choice responsibly in the world. (Please see The Torah Code, Volume 4, for more on these symbols.)
The point germane to our present subject is that the parents—not the child—wield 100% of the authority, even though all of them possess free will. The parents’ love is exercised largely in telling the child what to do, and what not to do. “Eat your vegetables… don’t touch that… come here and give me a hug… clean up your room… stop teasing your sister… do your homework….” None of these “commandments” are given to elevate the status of the parents, make life easier for them, or profit them in any way (except perhaps for avoiding the two o’clock AM barefoot encounter with the Lego brick in Junior’s room). Rather, they are all for the children’s benefit—whether they realize it or not.
God’s commandments to us are a lot like that. Some of them, anyway. Like a parent’s instructions, they are not there for the purpose of stroking God’s ego, elevating Him over His puny subjects, or giving Him some advantage He didn’t already have. He created us, after all—and not just our bodies, but the very raw materials from which they’re built, down to the sub-atomic level. For our benefit, He invented and sustains the entire universe. Our life, on every conceivable level, is derived from His essential living existence. He made us (and everything else) to express His primary attribute: love.
So when we “keep His commandments,” He doesn’t benefit—we do, for we are fulfilling the destiny for which we were created: to reciprocate our Creator’s love for us, express that ideal by loving our fellow man, and consequently live blessed, fruitful lives. Conversely, when we fail to keep His commandments, we are frustrating (to some extent) the purpose for which our Creator designed us—becoming useless in the process.
Perhaps a metaphor is in order. Think of human beings as stringed instruments. We have varying potential, but we’re all made for one thing: making music. You may be a priceless Stradivarius violin, and your brother is a silky-smooth Gibson L-5 jazz guitar. I’m a cheap no-name banjo. Any of us can potentially be used in the hands of a master performer to make wonderful music, in one genre or another. We were all designed and built to do just that. But for our potential to be realized, the instrument has to “cooperate.” It has to submit to “adjustments.” If our tuning gears or pegs refuse to move, or if our bridge is stuck out of position, we won’t play in tune, no matter how skilled the musician may be.
Now imagine that the luthier who built us had the power to give each of his instruments life and free will—the choice of whether or not to submit to tuning or intonation adjustments—to actually assist the master in making beautiful music. Would not the partnership between instrument and musician be enhanced and enriched if they did so? Don’t look now, but that’s precisely the sort of relationship we can have with our Master and Maker, God Almighty, who built us with the purpose of bringing “music” (read: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) to a lost and willingly tone-deaf world. Remarkably, we “instruments,” the workmanship of God, have been given the privilege of helping Him help the world. As Paul put it, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
The “downside” of this arrangement—and the reason it’s a privilege and a gift—is that we “instruments,” having free will, may choose not to respond to our Maker’s attempts to “tune” us. However, if we choose to refuse, we will find ourselves set aside, relegated to doing things other than those for which we were created in the first place. A Stradivarius may make a fine wall decoration, but that’s not why it was made. If it isn’t being used to make music, it may as well be a black velvet portrait of Elvis.
The “tuning” and “intonation” adjustments of which I’ve been speaking are, of course, the Commandments of God. They’re another way of looking at the instructions given by loving parents to their young children. Whether spoken through Moses in the Torah, or by Yahshua the Messiah in the Gospels, these commandments, these instructions, help us fulfill our God-given destinies, making us useful to our fellow man as a conduit of God’s love. Yes, it is strictly our choice as to whether or not to obey. But know this: our disobedience hurts and isolates only ourselves. If the Stradivarius refuses to play in tune, God is perfectly happy to make music on the Guernerius sitting next to it. Or the cheap student violin in the store window, for that matter.
Presuming you’ve read the first two volumes of The Owner’s Manual, you’re now intimately familiar with the commandments, precepts, and instructions in the Torah. And you’ve confronted three inconvenient truths:
(1) The majority of the Torah’s mitzvot cannot be kept today—no matter how much you might want to—for lack of a priesthood and a tabernacle or temple. We can discern, in retrospect, that in broad terms these “Levitical” precepts were given as a complex symbolic preview—a prophecy, if you will—of Yahweh’s plan for the salvation, reconciliation, and restoration of mankind.
(2) Of the ones that can be kept, you haven’t. Not perfectly, anyway. And without having the ability to perform the Levitical precepts that provide for the atonement of sin, there is nothing you can physically do to get you back into Yahweh’s good graces. (Truth be told, those Levitical precepts were never meant to save anyone anyway, but “only” to point toward the One who could: Yahshua the Messiah.)
(3) Although the Torah precepts are the very word of God (and thus invaluable for “instruction, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness”), they weren’t actually addressed to 99.8% of the world’s population—gentiles. The Jews alone (more properly, Israel) were instructed to perform these precepts “throughout their generations.” The rest of us were intended to observe Israel, notice how blessed they were by virtue of their wise God and His awesome and just legal system, and enquire as to how we might come to worship such a wonderful deity. Remarkably, Yahweh knew they would fail, and proceeded anyway, recording Israel’s disastrous subsequent history for our edification—making sure the Instructions themselves remained available to us.
But because they reveal the very mind of God, and because His instructions are patently good advice no matter who you are, and because the “practical” precepts were scattered from one end of the Torah (not to mention The Owner’s Manual) to the other, I have collected the Torah precepts that (theoretically, anyway) can still be kept. They are the subject of Appendix 1. Because of numerous repetitions and restatements, there are actually fewer unique “Laws” than you might think. I have broken them down by subject: (1) The Ten Commandments, (2) Attitude, (3) Relationships and Behavior, (4) God’s Schedule, and (5) the Mortal Body.
Appendix 2 was the result of the nagging thought in the back of my head that kept telling me, “The job’s not done—what about what Yahshua said to do?” He had, after all, proclaimed to His disciples pretty much what Yahweh had told Israel through Moses: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” So I set about collecting and organizing whatever Yahshua actually told us to do, mostly from the Gospel accounts.
Not surprisingly, these commandments in no way contradict or undermine the Torah. But they’re not a straightforward laundry list of rules and regulations, either. Whereas Moses handed down precepts that told Israel to “do this” or “don’t do that,” Christ’s instructions are couched more in terms of “be this way.” In other words, we can’t merely develop a litany of habitual Christ-like behaviors to mindlessly perform as we go through our busy days. We actually have to think about these things, moment by moment, for much of what He said to do is counterintuitive and (frankly) unnatural for us fallen children of Adam.
I’ll warn you right up front: seeing it all together in one place like this can be a bit disconcerting. But it also gives us a wonderful glimpse at the kind of life toward which we’re moving if only we’ll trust Him.