Contributed by Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis

"Teaching." Normally understood to be the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), the term "Torah" can also be used to refer to the entire corpus of Jewish teachings. By tradition, all five of the books that constitute the Torah were given to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai through the agency of Moses, though Nachmanides argues that what is now the Five Books were in fact given gradually over the forty years of wandering and not completed until the death of Moses.

In Jewish mythos, Torah is a truly supernal entity. It is one of the seven primordial things that pre-dates Creation. God used the celestial Torah as a blueprint for ordering His universe. According to Midrash Konen, God drew three drops of water and three drops of fire from the supernal Torah kept in heaven and from them God made the world.1 The Medieval German Pietists identified Torah as "the footstool of God," conflating it with God's Glory and the Shekhina. Torah is, in these terms, is nothing less than the physical manifestation of divinity, a kind of "God In-scripted," as it were. To be constantly engaged in its study is the highest form of worship known to Judaism. Zohar teaches that the Torah we have on earth, the Torah of laws, stories and theology, is only the "garments of Torah," for material beings could not survive an encounter with the unshielded Torah. The true Torah, the soul of the Torah, exists in heaven as black fire written on white fire.

The earthly Torah, however, is still very powerful. Its words have extraordinary, at times quasi-magical, powers. And the Torah scroll itself is talismanic. King David wore a miniature Torah strapped to his right arm in combat and won every battle, thus illustrating that the Torah makes a dandy amulet in the right hands (or arms).2 Both the words of Torah and the physical object of the Torah scroll have atropopaic properties.

Article copyright © 2004 Geoffrey Dennis.