The Study of the Torah

The manner in which Moses taught the Torah to the people was as follows: After Moses received the precept from G‑d, he taught it to Aaron; then, in Aaron's presence, to Aaron's sons; then again, in the presence of Aaron and his sons, to the Seventy Elders of Israel; finally, in the presence of all these disciples, to the whole people of Israel. Moses having left, the entire procedure was repeated, with Aaron being the teacher. After Aaron finished, his sons served as teachers; finally the Elders took over, repeating the precept to the people for the fourth time.

The result of this intensive study was that each party studied the Torah four times outright, and thus it was fully and permanently retained in the memory of both the leaders and the people.

At the end of the forty years' wandering in the desert, five weeks before his death, Moses repeated the Torah to the children of Israel for the last time, and once again explained it to them thoroughly. He wrote it down in the "Five Books of Moses," as dictated to him by G‑d. The Torah was written down in thirteen copies, one for each tribe and one to be placed in the Holy Ark in the Sanctuary.

613 Precepts

The Torah contains 613 commandments. Of these, 248 are "positive" commands (do's), and 365 are "negative" commands (don'ts).

The precepts form the code of the Jew's daily behavior and his way of life. They help him lead an honest, clean, and healthful life, both in body and in spirit.

The precepts are generally divided into two groups:

The Jew's duties toward his fellow man, and his duties toward his Creator, G‑d.

The former, that is the duties of the Jew towards his fellow man, include all those laws of honesty, uprightness, truthfulness, kindness, and charitableness, which he is to practice in all his dealings. By observing these precepts, the Jew attains the highest perfection as a human being and as a member of a most perfect state of family and social life. These laws form the bulk of the precepts of the Torah.

The other group, that is the laws concerning the Jew's duties toward his Maker, include the laws of worship, festivals, diet (Kosher), and many other laws designed to enable him to attain the highest form of spiritual life.

Hebrew Calendar

The Torah fixes the Jewish week of six working days and one day of rest on Saturday-which is the Holy Shabbat. All manner of work, and even certain weekday pleasures, are forbidden on Shabbat, as this day is to be entirely devoted to spiritual life-to the study of the Torah and to prayer.

The Hebrew months consists of twenty-nine or thirty days. It is a "Lunar" month (based on the moon), contrary to most non-Jewish calendars which are based on the sun and therefore called "Solar."

The first month is Nissan, the month of the spring, in which the children of Israel were liberated from Egypt. But the Jewish New Year is at the beginning of Tishrei (the seventh month), since the world was created at that time, according to Jewish tradition.

The Festivals

The principal Jewish festivals are Rosh Hashanah (New Year), which takes place on the first and second of Tishrei, and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), which is on the tenth of Tishrei.

The other major festivals are the "Three Festivals" (Shalosh Regalim): Passover (Pesach) — on the 15th of Nissan (eight days); The Feast of Weeks (Shavuoth) — on the 6th and 7th of Sivan, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) — on the 15th of Tishrei (nine days). These three festivals commemorate the most important events in Jewish history: the liberation from Egypt (Pesach), the giving of the Torah (Shavuoth), and the forty years' wandering of the Jews in the desert (Sukkot).

In later years, two more festivals were added to the Jewish calendar — Purim and Chanukah, and four fasts connected with the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel. More will be said about these events later.

A Holy Nation

At the time the Torah was given to the people of Israel more than 32 centuries ago, (2448 years, or 26 generations, after the creation of the world), and for many centuries afterwards, most peoples of the earth lived in a state of lawlessness, violence, and immorality. At Sinai Israel was designated by G‑d to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," to teach the world the truth about the Creator and the way He wants the human race to live upon this earth. At Mount Sinai the Jewish people solemnly undertook to adhere to the Torah and to its precepts at all times and in all places, so that they would indeed be a living symbol of a Divinely inspired people. In accordance with this solemn covenant between G‑d and Israel, reaffirmed many times in the Torah, the destiny and fate of the Jewish people would be determined by their faith in G‑d and their loyalty to the precepts of the Torah. The Jewish people were made the torch-bearers of Divine wisdom in the world, until the great day when "all the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters fill the ocean."