WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE WORD TORAH? Instruction, teaching, walk of life

Jeff & Denise Benner
The Hebrew word «Torah» is usually translated into the English word “Law.” Because of this translation, there is a great misunderstanding of what Torah truly is. “TORAH IS NOT LAW.” When we use the word “law” we assume a certain meaning and concept of the word that is not present in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Let us start by looking at the Etymology of the Hebrew word Torah so that we may better understand its true definition. The word Torah comes from the Hebrew root word ירה (Y.R.H), a verb which means “to flow or throw something”. This can be a flowing of an arrow from an archers bow, or the flowing of a finger to point out a direction. Nouns are derived from the verb by making one or two changes to the verb root. In this case the Y (yud) is replaced by an O (vav) and an M (mem) is added at the front of the word to form the noun «Moreh».” A Moreh is “one who does the flowing.” This can be an archer who “flows” an arrow, or a teacher who “flows” his finger to point out way the student is to go in the walk of life. Another noun is formed the same way except that a T (tav) is placed at the front of the word instead of an M and we have the word “Torah.” Torah is “what is flowed by the Moreh.” This can be the arrow from the archer or the teachings and instructions from the teacher.

A Hebraic definition of Torah is

“a set of Instructions, from a father to his children, violation of these instructions are disciplined in order to foster obedience and train his children.”

Notice how the word “Torah” is translated in the New International Version translation in the following passages.

Proverbs 1:8 [NIV]
8 My son, heed the discipline of your father, And do not forsake the Torah {teaching} of your mother; 
Proverbs 3:1 [NIV]
1 My son, do not forget my Torah {teaching}, And let your heart watch over my commands; 

The purpose of parents Torah is to teach and bring the children to maturity. If the Torah is violated out of disrespect or defiant disobedience, the child is punished. If the child desires to follow the instructions out of a loving obedience but falls short of the expectations, the child is commended for the effort and counselled on how to perform the instructions better the next time. Unlike Torah, law is a set of rules from a government and binding on a community. Violation of the rules requires punishment. With this type of law, there is no room for teaching, either the law was broken with the penalty of punishment or it was not broken. God, as our heavenly Father, gives his children his Torah in the same manner as parents give their Torah to their children, not in the manner as a government does to its citizens;

Psalms 94:12
12 Blessed is the man You discipline, O Yah, And instruct out of Your Torah, 

Another noun derived from this root is מורה (moreh), which is a teacher, one who points out the way. The Torah is the teaching of the teacher, or more literally, the way pointed out by the teacher, the journey. When we translate Psalm 1:2 with this literal understanding of Torah, we read;

Psalm 1:2
2 But his delight is in the Torah of יהוה, And he meditates in His Torah day and night. 

Also in Psalm 119:1

Psalm 119:1
1 Blessed are the perfect in the way, Who walk in the Torah of יהוה! 

A nomadic journey is a circuit, traveling from pasture land to pasture land, watering hole to watering hole, year after year. Much of the Hebraic lifestyle is related to this circular journey. Even the feasts are a nomadic journey of a circuit; Pesahh (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), Sukkot (Tabernacles) and back to Pesahh again. The entire Torah (The first five books of the Bible) is read through the year and when the end of Deuteronomy is reached, the scroll is rewound and the reading continues with Genesis 1:1.
As I mentioned, the verb «yarah» means to point, but is also used in the context of pointing an arrow, or shooting an arrow as we see in 1 Samuel

1 Samuel 20:20
20 And let me shoot three arrows...

The word moreh, which we found meant teacher, is also used for an archer, the one who points the arrow. From this perspective, Torah is the arrow. If the arrow goes off course it “misses the mark, or strays from the path.” When we stray from the path, we also miss the mark. The Hebrew word for “missing the mark” is חטאה (hhatah) which is often translated as “sin.” Interestingly, another word for “sin” is to “trespass,” to leave the path.

Deuteronomy 9:16
16 “And I looked and saw that you had sinned against יהוה your Elohim, and had made for yourselves a moulded calf! You had quickly turned aside from the way which יהוה had commanded you. 

Interpreting the Hebrew word Torah as law is about the same as interpreting the word father as disciplinarian. While the father is a disciplinarian, it is a very narrow interpretation. The same is true for Torah, a part of Torah is law, but this is a very narrow interpretation of it.


Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from The Scriptures,
Copyright by Institute for Scripture Research.
Used by permission.