A man does not fully understand the words of the Torah until he has come to grief over them. Babylonian Talmud, Gitten 43a
Come to grief – Rabbi Huna commented with these words when he acknowledged his own error in interpretation concerning a debate over the conditions of betrothal. Rabbi Huna called for a public mediator who said, “This stumbling-block is under thy hand.” The account in the Talmud reveals two rather amazing facts. First, of course, is the idea that the full appreciation of the Torah comes only after one has been tripped by its words (the statement of R. Huna is literally, “has been tripped over them”). If this is true, then Torah cannot be merely a set of ethical principles or moral regulations. It must be a deeply personal encounter with God’s view of life in this world. We have often noted that the Bible is confrontational, not devotional. God’s words demand response. They stand in front of us, implacable, relentless, uncompromising. We either stand upon them or we fall over them. Unfortunately, most of us fall, attempting to circumvent their requirements. As R. Huna notes, until we encounter the words of the Lord as individual ultimatums, we haven’t engaged the enemy – ourselves.
Notice now the other implication. The public mediator in this story reveals that Torah is the stumbling block. Since this rabbinic account would have been known to rabbi Sha’ul, we should pay close attention to the metaphor. Sha’ul picks up this theme from the prophets and applies it to Yeshua. Yeshua is the stumbling block. The Hebrew word mikshol is given a new reference (Romans 11:9, 14:13; 1 Corinthians 1:23). Consider the Talmud’s comment in light of Sha’ul’s application. Sha’ul draws an equivalence between Yeshua and Torah. Yeshua is the living embodiment of Torah. He is the “word made flesh,” as John would later claim. Those who have not been tripped by Him have not encountered the demand of YHWH. Yeshua is the most personal, most demanding, most confrontational manifestation of YHWH’s involvement with men. There is no way around Him; no way to bypass Him. Every man must decide, “What do I do about Yeshua?”
Of course, if the rabbis notice that the Torah is a stumbling block that cannot be fully understood until one falls, and if Yeshua is the living Torah, then it is utter stupidity to suggest that committing myself to Yeshua means the Torah no longer applies to me. Sha’ul’s use of mikshol is just one more example of the fallacy of such a theology. Torah is Yeshua. You can’t have the Son without the Word. But you can certainly trip over either.
Topical Index: Torah, mikshol, stumbling block, Rabbi Huna, Talmud Gitten 43a
To read this section of the Babylonia Talmud, click here.