A potential convert to Judaism once came to Shammai1—so the story goes—and asked him, How many Torahs do you have?” The stern Shammai replied, “Two—the Written Torah (the Law of Moses), and the Oral Torah (the Rabbinical traditions).” The man said, “Well, I’ll convert to Judaism on the condition that you teach me only the Written Torah.” Shammai is said to have driven him away with a measuring stick.
Not easily discouraged, the would-be convert came to the great Hillel1 and made the same offer. The wiser and more patient Hillel consented, made the man a convert, and proceeded to teach him the Hebrew Alef-Bet. On the first day he taught the convert the Hebrew letters in their usual order—alef, bet, gimel, dales, and so on. But the next day he reversed the order. The convert objected, saying, “That is not how you taught me yesterday, Rabbi!” To which Hillel replied, “Do you see how you depend upon me even for the letters of the alphabet? How much more must you also trust me to teach you both the Written and the Oral Torahs?!”
Tradition! We are so afraid of tradition. Jewish tradition, Christian tradition, American tradition…it doesn’t matter which—our generation rejects it. So many of us are trying to attain a tradition free life. This is as absurd as it is undesirable, as can easily be seen if we apply this thinking to any area of life other than religion.
For instance, the very fact that you are reading and understanding these words right now is possible because of the English language tradition which is over 1,000 years old! You can depart from the tradition if you want to. You can combine the letters differently. Be creative! You can even use different letters. Why limit yourself to what has been passed down through tradition? But if you do, no one will understand you, unless you make use of another known language tradition! Without language traditions, communication would be impossible.
We falsely perceive the choice to be between tradition and no tradition, when the real choice is simply between one tradition and another. The only person who ever lived with no tradition at all was Adam! Even rebels, nonconformists and ” anti-establishment ” advocates operate within their own brands of tradition and learn from those who have gone before them.
Now back to religious traditions. All tradition contains some good, some bad and some indifferent material. It is up to us to weed out the bad, practice the good and refrain from judging one another regarding the indifferent. Religious tradition at its best is a body of teaching, lore and history which has been worked out by those who have walked this way before us—often under extremely difficult circumstances—as they tried to follow the Lord in their own generation. They have passed this material on to us for our benefit.
In the words of a great Rabbi, “Who is wise? He who learns from everyone.”2
Jews who believe in Jesus as the Messiah have developed traditions of their own. Here’s a pictorial look at some of them:
FAMILY: Had he given us the Temple, and not the Messiah, DAYENU.
LEADER: But the Holy One did give us the Messiah and salvation and the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed art thou, O Lord, who never slumbers or sleeps. You have given us marriage and the Messiah who himself gave us an example of how to love and how to accept love.
Love God with your entire being. Trust him for your future by seeking first his kingdom. Learn to care for others, for that is one of God’s purposes for his men. Therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Jesus our Messiah!
Even as we shed _______’s blood, causing him pain, so did our righteous Messiah shed his own blood, the blood of the new covenant, by which we who believe are cleansed from our sins and brought nigh to God.
We kindle the Hannukah lights, O Lord, with thanksgiving and praise to your name for you have given us more than temporal light. Our God, King of the Universe, you have provided the light of the world in Yeshua, the Messiah.
1Hillel and Shammai were the heads of two Rabbinical academies in Jerusalem just before the time of Jesus. There are many stories which illustrate the proverbial patience and wisdom of Hillel against the short temper and intolerance of Shammai.
2Mishnah Pirkei Avoth 4:1