I read your books and listen to many of your on-line teachings very often. My question is: What is “Ancient Jewish Wisdom”? Is it something like common sense for a Jew or a way of thinking based on discussions among Jewish teachers or is it actual books that you are referencing. The reason for my question is to explain your teachings to others in my circle. How do I reference this source, if my main tool is the Bible.
We mention ancient Jewish wisdom so often that our first instinct was to go to the FAQ (frequently asked question) section on our website and then direct you there. We were a bit shocked to find that we don’t have an answer posted. You can be sure that most of this letter will find its way to that location.
We coined the term ancient Jewish wisdom to describe the oral tradition that has accompanied the written Bible since the time of Moses. God dictated the Bible to Moses during the daylight hours on Mount Sinai and during the nights he drilled the great teacher of Israel on the hidden meanings and multi-layers found in every letter and word. Throughout the Bible there are “hooks” that remind us to look to the oral tradition. These include words that seem to be misspelled, contradictions, unusually shaped letters and unusual words, numerical values of words and so much more.
All that material was taught to the Israelites during the forty years in the desert, history’s longest graduate school program. From them it was handed down, parent to child and teacher to disciple. About two thousand years ago it began to be written down in an extremely abbreviated shorthand form for fear of it becoming forgotten. It is studied and taught in traditional Torah-oriented Bible seminaries till today.
Obviously, there are challenges, such as technological ones that did not exist generations ago. In her book, Daniel Deronda, author George Eliot refers to the rabbis as “the great Transmitters,” a phrase that we treasure. One very valid way to judge the degree to which a rabbi is a reliable source of knowledge is to ascertain how faithful his ‘transmission’ is to the past, and who his link to that transmission is. Examples and delivery can be updated and modernized, but not the essence of the teaching itself. Anything valid must conform to knowledge that is based on God’s transmission to Moses.
Originality, defined as completely new ways of thinking, is not prized in ancient Jewish wisdom; faithfulness and fidelity are. Delivery and application of ideas can be updated, but not the basic source of the wisdom. One of the most important questions to ask a rabbi is, “Who is your rabbi?”. In this system, a teacher (or rabbi) is seen as a window into ancient Jewish wisdom. He should barely be seen; only the view beyond the window should stand out in 3D multicolor clarity. If the window can be seen, it means that window is not completely clean.
A surprising amount of ancient Jewish wisdom disseminated into the Christian community and became part of what we call the Western world. One could literally spend a lifetime studying and not absorb the entire blueprint of existence that flows from the Torah. Without knowledge of Hebrew and without a link to someone in the chain of transmission, it is not knowledge that one can intuit or reach by means of reasoning or common sense. Often the truth is counter-intuitive and in contradiction to current thinking.
There are excellent resources and, unfortunately, terrible ones out in the greater world. At Lifecodex Publishing and at the American Alliance of Jews and Christians, our mission is to share important parts of this transmission and to arm those who are faithful to God with a deeper understanding of His wishes and His guidance to us.
We appreciate your joining us on this journey.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin