Ovadiah wrote at 2013-05-20 00:34:41
Judaism is based upon three events in our history:
1) Redemption (from Egypt), typified by the festival of Passover;
2) Covenant (given and accepted at Sinai and to our forefathers the Patriarchs before Sinai), typified by the festival of Shavuot;
3) Relationship with the Almighty as a result of the first two and typified by the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles).
So, how do these festivals and events play to modernity?
When we accept the covenant from Sinai (ie at our bar or bat mitzvah- literally "child of the covenant" or when we return to observance of the commandments) we enter into a relationship with the Almighty, blessed is He, and immediately receive all of the benefits this relationship avails. I read once that this is similar to buying a home: once the contract is signed the homeowner gets to move in and enjoy all the benefits of his or her new home, long before they have satisfied all the requirements of the deed (ie paying off the house). This should not be foreign to the Christian questioner as it is very similar to their own concept of becoming saved when they accept Jesus.
"The Torah (which means teaching not law) is a tree of life to those who take hold of it" (Proverbs 3:18). The Torah is G-d's blueprint for human life. It teaches us how to live in relationship to Him and our fellow man.
The definition of sin is acting outside the will of G-d. Without the blueprint, without the instruction manual, how could we know what His will is? So when we act according to His teachings we are acting righteously (rightly) and when we don't we are sinning. We do not earn a relationship with G-d or whatever the world to come has to offer by keeping G-d's teaching ("law"), rather we are not sinning or stepping outside the will of G-d when we do as He asks of us. Do we always do it perfectly? Of course not. Just as the messianic hope envisioned by the Prophets is an ideal, so is perfection in doing the will if G-d. G-d doesn't expect perfection but He does expect progress.
So to recap from above, when we keep the Torah we don't sin but since very few are able to do so, the rest of us sin less. When we do sin (literally "miss the mark") what do we do?
"Turn from sin and do good" says the Psalmist (34:14). There are numerous other passages that instruct us in the very same act of teshuva (literally "return"). Redemption (to save from something, in this case sin) had never been a function of the sacrifices and certainly not of blood, but that's a long discussion for another time. Suffice it to say the sacrifices made sin tangible, costly and (hopefully) turned the giver to teshuva, understanding that his life should be forfeited for his ways but instead G-d redeemed him or her from their sins by their turning back to Torah.
The New Living Translation catches the flavor of Ezekiel 18:21 nicely: "But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die". Teshuva has always been and will always be the method of forgiveness.
Do we earn forgiveness or salvation? No! Just as we don't earn our parents' love by taking out the trash or mowing the grass when they tell us to. Did we deserve to be redeemed from Egypt? No. Rather the Almighty, blessed be He, heard our cries and delivered us from enslavement, from the constricting space, just as He hears our pleas for forgiveness and accepts the sacrifices if our heart and forgives us when we err. This is the Christian concept grace.
The above is my "Judaism in a nutshell". A great Sage, much wiser than I summed up Judaism while on one foot: "What you find offensive to yourself, do not do to others. Now go and study".