The other day a friend responded to my post, ‘Same God, Same Commandments, But?’ with, “It’s all about grace.” And he’s right! It is all about grace. The challenge we have as Christians is that we think grace came into play only in the New Testament. However, when we look at the writings of the Israelites, we see that this is not a new concept.
Grace in the Torah
First let’s look at grace that is evident in the Torah. When God gave His commandments and rulings, He based them on loving Him and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It’s strange, when I googled this phrase, I ended up with a lot of New Testament references. However, the phrase first appears in Leviticus 19:18. So when Jesus was asked what is the most important commandments, He quoted the Torah, “’You are to love Adonai your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ and ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself’. All of the Torah and the Prophets are dependent on these two commandments.”
Perhaps there is another evidence of grace that we don’t easily recognize. When God gave the Torah, which means teaching, He built into it a way to be forgiven for not living up to His standard. Only someone who broke a commandment would be able to experience His grace and mercy. Grace is evident in the Torah.
Grace in Jewish Lore
Next, let’s look at grace in Jewish lore. Why, you ask? Perhaps it is best explained by what I do when I go on vacation. When I want to soak in some of the local history, I will usually sign up for a ghost walk, if one is available. Not that I think I will experience ghosts and ghouls, but the legends that develop over time usually reveal some history and speak about the local beliefs.
So when looking into Jewish lore, I find that grace was a strong factor in their understanding of God. According to Judaism, before God created the heavens and the earth, He fashioned the Torah.
‘The letters of the Torah blazed forth, black fire upon white fire, lighting up the entire universe with its glory.
And then God created a world. But alas! It was not a perfect world, and so God destroyed it. Nine hundred and seventy-four generations sprang forth and perished, and still God labored toward perfection. Until at last God understood that the lower world would always be incomplete and flawed. So God spread over this last created world the Divine Wings of mercy and goodness and shielded it from the harsh glare of heaven’s own justice. And so, this world did not perish like the others. It sparked radiantly in the blackness, a blue-green gem in the diadem of God’s love. And God saw that it was a good world.
The story goes on to talk about specific times and ways God lovingly protected His creation. But the one thing that stands out is His grace, His loving kindness.
Grace in the Talmud
Just one example of grace in the Talmud is a statement by Rabbi Simlai. He says, “The Torah begins with chesed and ends with chesed.” This may be understood to mean that “the entire Torah is characterized by chesed, i.e. it sets forth a vision of the ideal life whose goals are behavior characterized by mercy and compassion.” Alternatively, it may allude to the idea that the giving of the Torah itself is the quintessential act of chesed.
Grace upon Grace
When God revealed His name to Moses in Exodus 34, He said, “YUD-HEH-VAV-HEH! Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh is God, merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in grace and truth”. God’s very name and nature is grace.
We see this in the garden immediately after the fall. Adam and Eve, in a pathetic attempt to cover themselves and hide from their Maker experienced grace. God sacrificed an animal in order to properly clothe them.
We see this grace in the flood. God tells Noah that He sees the end of all living things. Rather than leaving mankind to his own destruction, God tucks away the only righteous one, along with his family and the animals, and sends a deluge to cleanse the earth.
We could go on and on, but ultimately, when we have eyes to see, God’s word is filled with grace from beginning to end, culminating in the Messiah. As the Living Word, He too is full of grace and truth.
Yes, as my friend pointed out, it is all about grace.
 Eugene Korn, “Legal Floors and Moral Ceilings: A Jewish Understanding Of Law and Ethics,” Edah Journal 2:2, page 10