Thoughts on Emor

This week’s parasha is Emor, speak specifically to Aaron, the kohanim and the levites, Leviticus 21:1 to 24:23 (TLV). The haftarah reading is Ezekiel 44:15-31 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 10:22-42. Leviticus chapters 21 and 22 are known at Torat Kohanim as they deal specifically with numerous aspects of ritual cleanliness and holiness that the kohanim and levites had to maintain in order to properly serve HaShem and Bnei Yisrael. Chapter 23 appears to be a rabbit trail in the Torat Kohanimas it includes a yearly calendar of the moadim, the appointed times, that HaShem gave to Israel to meet with Him throughout the year. I stress that these meeting times were between HaShem and Israel as He clearly states,

Speak to Bnei Yisrael and tell them: These are the appointed moadim of ADONAI, which you are to proclaim to be holy convocations – My moadim. (23:1)

There is no need to address the subject of whether non-Jews should celebrate these moadim as we have already seen in earlier parashot that many of HaShem’s commands to Bnei Yisrael included the outsider or sojourner. How the non-Jewish Yeshua believers celebrate the moadim, the festivals, is a topic for a different study.

As we continue reading, chapter 24 seems to return briefly to the Torat Kohanim with instructions concerning the ner tamid and the bread of presence that was to be placed outside the parochet (veil) in the Miskan. Then suddenly and strangely, we read the narrative of an altercation between an Israelite and the son of an Israelite mother and Egyptian father. In the course of the altercation, the son of the mixed marriage blasphemed the Name, and cursed (24:11).

Blasphemy consists of cursing God (see Exod. 22.27; 1 Kings 21.10-13), that is, uttering an imprecation against Him in which His name is included (“May such-and-such befall YHVH”). (Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, ed. Jewish Study Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, Leviticus 24:11 fn., p 268.) Then commenting on Leviticus 5:20-26 it is stated that “The misuse of the divine name is probably the most common form of desecration of the sacred, since every Israelite has immediate access to it at all times,” (Ibid. p 217). It may well be that the concern for blasphemy or misuse of the Name is what prompted Yaacov to write,

But above all, my dear brothers and sisters, do not swear by heaven, or by earth, or by any other oath. But let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’ – so that you may not fall under judgment. (James 5:12)

The outcome of the man’s blasphemy and cursing was his death by stoning by all those who heard his blasphemy (cf. Leviticus 24:23).

Here, as we will see again in Numbers 15:32-36, the community of Bnei Yisrael is required to apply “capital punishment” in the form of stoning. Stoning, as a communal form of execution, is the most commonly mentioned form of execution in the Bible. It is used to punish crimes against the entire community (idolatry in Leviticus 20:2; sorcery in 20:27). It is said that blasphemy, like leshon hara brought guilt not only on the speaker but the hearer as well. Therefore, everyone who heard the man blaspheme were required to lay their hands on his head, whether as a witness against him or to rid themselves of any guilt incurred in merely hearing the blasphemy. Then, by the whole community performing the stoning, it was impossible to determine whose stone actually brought about the death of the guilty person.

In this narrative, we are not told the condition of the blasphemer’s heart. Was he an evil individual who did not fear HaShem, or did he simply get caught up in the moment and allow his anger to control his mouth? Whatever the cause of his words, we are reminded once again of the importance of keeping a guard over our mouth (cf. Psalms 141:3). In one of his numerous encounters with the Torah scholars, Yeshua warned them as well as the crowd listening to him,

… I tell you, all things will be forgiven the sons of men, the sins and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever slanders the Ruach haKodesh, never has release, but is guilty of eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29)! The ESV translation states, “never has forgiveness.”

One has to wonder if this isn’t the same thing that happened to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts when Kefa charged them with lying to the Ruach Kodesh (Acts 5:3-20). The judgment was swift and decisive in accordance with Leviticus 24:16, “Whoever blasphemes the Name of ADONAI must surely be put to death.”

The Life Application Bible, commenting on the death penalty required in verse 14 for blasphemy, explains the reason for such a dire punishment,

This punishment for blasphemy (cursing God) seems extreme by modern standards. But it shows how seriously God expects us to take our relationship with him. Often, we use his name in swearing, or we act as though he doesn’t exist. We should be careful how we speak and act, treating God with reverence. Eventually, he will have the last word.

The opening words of Mishlei (Proverbs) and the closing words of Kohelet(Ecclesiastes) hold the key to our words. These verses exhort us to begin and end with the fear of HaShem, “The fear of ADONAI is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline,” (Proverbs 1:7) and “A final word, when all has been heard: Fear God and keep His mitzvot! For this applies to all mankind,” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). If all that we are and all that we do and say are bookended by fear of ADONAI, then with the help of the Ruach Kodesh, we will be able to control the words of our mouth and thus not fall into sin and transgression. May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts begin and end with the fear of ADONAI.

Shabbat Shalom

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Kedoshim

This week’s parasha in Israel is Kedoshim, קְדֹשִׁים Holy (you shall be), Leviticus 19:19:1 – 20:27.The haftarah for this week’s parasha depends on the tradition one follows, for Ashkenazim, it is Amos 9:7-15 and for Sephardim, it is Ezekiel 20:2-20. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 10:11-21. Also remember that for those of you in the Diaspora (outside of Israel), this week’s parasha is Achrei Mot, as the Diaspora is currently a week behind Israel.

As I began to think about this week’s study, my thoughts took me outside of the traditional readings to Yaacov’s (James’) letter to the Messianic believers “in the Diaspora” (James 1:1) where he wrote,

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (1:27)

Next, I moved to a book that I am finding most interesting and challenging, Jewish Law as Rebellion by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo. In one of his discussions on following Halacha (Jewish law) on “being religious,” he states,

Sure, living an observant life and conducting myself in a manner that is consistent with Halacha is certainly a crucial component of Judaism, but it is not what makes me religious. To be religious is to allow God entry into my thoughts, my deeds, what I see and feel. It is to have a constant, intense awareness of living in His presence, seeing His fingerprints everywhere, and living up to that awareness.2

If I might be allowed the freedom to combine these two thoughts into a working plan,

Pure and undefiled religion involves keeping oneself unstained by the world. The way to keep oneself unstained is to allow God entry into our thoughts, our deeds and what we see and feel. It is to have a constant, intense awareness of living in His presence, seeing His fingerprints everywhere, and living up to that awareness.

This week’s parasha relates the attitude needed to perform this working plan, and that is being aware that HaShem has commanded us to “be kedoshim [holy], for I, ADONAI your God, am holy.” Before anyone suggests that this command is only for Israel, consider the following. Remember last week, concerning the injunction not to consume blood, the command was to both the native-born as well as the outsider living in the land; in this instance it is not important whether one understands the outsider to be a convert or simply a foreigner who chose to live within Israel like Israel lived in Egypt, (cf. Leviticus 17:8, 10, 13, and 15). Then in this week’s parasha, we read,

If an outsider dwells with you in your land, you should do him no wrong. The outsider dwelling among you shall be to you as the native-born among you. You should love him as yourself—for you dwelled as outsiders in the land of Egypt. I am ADONAI your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

The inference here, as far as I am concerned, is that if an outsider (stranger) desired to dwell within Israel, Israel was responsible to treat them respectfully, administering the same laws to them as to their native-born brothers and sisters. The flip side of this coin, however, is that the outsider or stranger was responsible to keep the same laws as their hosts. Therefore, Israel and those who choose to come alongside her are to be holy as ADONAI the God of Israel is holy. Equally, this is not just an attitude or command that is to be observed in Israel. Kefa (Peter) writes to those who are outsiders, living abroad in the Diaspora (cf. 1 Peter 1:1) that where ever they live they are to be

…just like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in everything you do. For it is written, “Kedoshim you shall be, for I am kadosh.” (I Peter 1:15-16; cf. Leviticus 19:2 & 20:7)

Before leaving Kefa and the idea of holiness, let’s look at a practical aspect of holiness. In the very next verse, Kefa tells his readers (and us today)

If you call on Him (the God of Israel) as Father—the One who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds—then live out the time of sojourning in reverent fear. (I Peter 1:17)

Kefa acknowledges that HaShem “judges impartially according to each one’s deeds” and thus His judgment should motivate us to live accordingly, “holy as He is holy.” A practical aspect of living holy is the aspect of judging impartially. In this week’s parasha we read

 You are to do no injustice in judgment. You are not to be partial toward the poor nor show favoritism toward the great, but you are to judge your neighbor with fairness. (Leviticus 19:15)

The Torah and the Prophets speak much about our responsibility to care for the poor and the needy. Returning to Yaacov’s letter, in chapter two he warns his readers not to show favoritism based upon one’s socio-economic condition, specifically not favoring the well-to-do over the impoverished (cf. James 2:1-4). Often, there is a tendency to look down upon the well-to-do, the rich in this life, chiding them for their wealth and expecting them to do more to alleviate the plight of the impoverished. And while it is true that to whom much is given, much is required, (cf. Luke 12:48), it would appear that just as we should not look down upon the poor because they are poor, we should not look begrudgingly on the rich because they are rich. As HaShem is impartial towards all people, we too should be impartial, treating all men and women with respect and honor regardless of their station or our own. It is said in Shabbat 127b, “One who judges another favorably is himself judged favorably,” and the inference is by both one’s fellow man as well as by HaShem.

In conclusion, holiness is not a condition for just a select few, i.e., those pious ones in ministry who set themselves aside to be separate from the profanity of the world. Holiness is a way of life for which we should all strive; we are to be like HaShem. Furthermore, holiness is not simply a spiritual attitude, a state of ethereal perfection. It is living a God-focused, God expected, God-exemplified life daily as we interact with others. As Rabbi Cardozo said it is allowing “God entry into my thoughts, my deeds, what I see and feel. It is to have a constant, intense awareness of living in His presence, seeing His fingerprints everywhere, and living up to that awareness.”

Shabbat Shalom

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

Nathan Lopes Cardozo. Jewish Law as Rebellion, A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage. Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2018, p 180.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Achrei Mot

In the Diaspora, (lands outside of Israel) this week’s Torah reading is for the Eighth Day of Pesach, Deuteronomy 14:22 – 16:17and the haftarah is Isaiah 10:32 – 12:62. In Israel, as we only celebrate one night of Pesach and Unleavened Bread for seven days, this week’s parasha is Achrei Mot, Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30. The haftarah is Ezekiel 22:1-19, and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 10:1-10.

Three times in chapter 17 we read that blood is not to be consumed (17:10; 12; and 14). In context, the first two seem to be in connection with the offering of sacrifices, however the third one is clearly in reference to game hunted for food. It is important to take note that the command to abstain from eating blood is not only to the Bnei Yisrael but the outsider (resident alien or stranger) dwelling with them. In unpacking this passage there are a number of things that become clearly evident:

  • Blood was not to be consumed by Bnei Yisrael or the outsider dwelling with them.
  • The consequence of blood consumption was the same for both categories of people is that HaShem will set His “face against that soul – the one who eats blood – and will cut him off from among his people (17:10).
  • Baruch A. Levine suggests that “[t]hese prohibitions of consumption of blood provide the scriptural basis for later regulations in historical Judaism governing the slaughter and preparation of meat. To this day, the purpose of such ritual practice is to remove the blood from the meat.”3
  • HaShem, twice, gives the reason for not eating blood, “[f]or the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives – for it is the blood that makes atonement because of the life” (17:11; cf. 17:14).

“For the life of the creature is in the blood, כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר, בַּדָּם הִוא. Notice that נֶפֶשׁ nephesh which is usually translated as soul is translated life here.

For the soul of the flesh is in the blood. Because life is dependent upon the blood, God designated blood as the medium that goes upon the Altar for atonement, as if to say, “Let one life be offered to atone for another.” Consequently, it is not appropriate for it to be eaten (RashiSifra).4

In other words, it’s not just the blood that is the issue, but what the blood represents. According to HaShem, the blood of an individual equates to the life or even the soul of the individual. As indicated by Rashi in the above citation, the blood of the animal is, in essence, a substitute for the individual making the sacrifice, and HaShem puts so much importance upon the blood that its consumption is not only forbidden but it carries punishment from HaShem Himself.

Why, one might ask, am I talking about an issue of consuming blood, a part of the ancient Holiness Code, that was specific to ancient Israel and those outsiders dwelling among them? When I read this passage, the immediate cross-reference that came to mind was the first Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15. The issue at hand there was what to do about the non-Jews who were coming to faith in Yeshua. After much discussion, Peter suggested four things,

Therefore, I judge not to trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God—but to write to them to abstain from the contamination of idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what is strangled, and from blood. (Acts 15:19-20)

All four issues are covered in the Holiness Code, but specifically note Peter’s inclusion of blood. Remember in Leviticus 17, the prohibition was to Bnei Yisrael and the outsider dwelling with them and the punishment for violation of the command was the same for both peoples. Peter’s words must have had an impact on the Council as James subsequently sent a letter with Rav Shaul, Barnabas, Judah, and Silas affirming Peter’s suggestion making it the ruling of the Council.

It seemed good to the Ruach ha-Kodesh and to us not to place on you any greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. By keeping away from these things, you will do well. (Acts 15:28-29)

Make note, these essentials were not matters of faith but of practice. There was no question about whether or not these non-Jews had fully come to faith in Yeshua along with Yeshua-believing Jews. The issue was purely one of physical observance. The abstaining of the consumption of blood and from things strangled would inevitably mean that these non-Jewish believers in Yeshua would need to change their eating habits to include only meat that had been ritually slaughtered. Equally, the consumption of blood was on the same level as idolatry and sexual immorality. These four essentials would have been observed (or should have been observed) by the Yeshua-believing Jews as a matter of covenantal fidelity. James and the Jerusalem Council had effectively equated the non-Jewish Yeshua believers with the “outsiders dwelling with Bnei Yisrael” and therefore, made them subject to at least some of the same restrictions.

Now I am going to meddle a little bit. As Yeshua believers today, none of us would insist that our “freedom in Messiah” would free us from the command to abstain from idolatry or sexual immorality. But what about the meat we put into our mouths. Both Peter and James and the Jerusalem Council seemed to put meat that we consume on the same level as idolatry or sexual immorality. The substitutionary aspect of blood remains in that Yeshua’s blood, shed on our behalf, provided the ultimate atonement. In Rav Shaul’s letter to the Galatians, he wrote,

Brothers and sisters, you were called to freedom—only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)

Maybe it is time that we stop using our freedom to serve our flesh and instead to heed God’s commands.

Shabbat Shalom


Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

Here is a link to the Haftarah for the 8thDay of Pesach I wrote for the UMJC, https://www.umjc.org/commentary/2019/4/23/the-root-of-jesse

Baruch A. Levine. The JPS Torah Commentary, Leviticus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989. p 116

Nosson Scherman and Hersh Goldwurm. Vayikra, Vol II. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1990. p 315

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Metzora and Shabbat Hagadol

This Shabbat is another special Shabbat, Shabbat Hagadol, the Shabbat before Pesach. This week’s parasha is Metzora, Leviticus 14:1 – 15:33,* which continues the discussion of tzara’at that began in last week’s portion, Tazria, specifically the offerings that are brought to the kohanim when the metzora appears before him to have his or her cleanliness verified. While there is no special Torah reading for Shabbat Hagadol, there is a special Haftarah, Malachi 3:4-24 (3:4 – 4:6 in most English Bibles). The reading from the Apostolic Writings is Luke 1:5–22.

I find it interesting that in the Matthew narrative, chapter 16, we read that the P’rushim and Tz’dukim (Pharisees and Sadducees) once again came to Yeshua seeking a sign, supposedly to verify his authority, though actually in hope of testing or trapping him (16:1). Later, after traveling to the area of Caesarea Philippi and discussing what others thought of him, Yeshua pointedly asked his talmidim (disciples) “But who do you say I am,” (16:15)? And Peter being the ever out-spoken one answered immediately, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16). And then a few verses later Yeshua “ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah” (16:20). At this point in my thought process, we come to this week’s readings from the Apostolic Writings. The reading from Luke deals with the prophetic announcement of John’s birth (eventually known as John the Immerser). This prophetic announcement connects directly to the haftarah. In Luke, the heavenly messenger prophetically proclaimed,

Many of Bnei-Yisrael will turn to ADONAI their God. And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to the children, and the disobedient ones to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready for ADONAI a prepared people.

Luke 1:16-17

Earlier, in Malachi, the same spirit of prophecy stated,

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and terrible day of ADONAI. He will turn the hearts of fathers to the children, and the hearts of children to their fathers—else I will come and strike the land with utter destruction.”

Malachi 3:23-24 or 4:5-6

Now remember Yeshua’s command to his talmidimnot to speak of his messiahship. Matthew 17 sets the stage for that command to be adjusted. 

After six days,Yeshua takes with Him Peter and Jacob and John his brother and brings them up a high mountain by themselves. Now He was transfigured before them; His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Yeshua… As they were coming down from the mountain, Yeshua commanded them, saying, “Do not tell anyone about the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” 

Matthew 17:1-3, 9

Do not misunderstand me, I believe that John the Immerser operated fully in the spirit of Elijah as such he directed men and women to the Messiah. However, I equally believe that Moshe and Elijah actually appeared to Yeshua on the mountaintop, (cf. Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36) and this was the literal fulfillment of Malachi. 

In his commentary on Malachi, Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein notes,

Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the prophet) has mythical standing in the Jewish tradition. Not only was he a prophet and a miracle worker, but he seems not to have died but rather to have ascended to heaven: “Behold, there was a chariot of fire and horses of fire… and Eliyahu went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” (2 Kings 2:11) This tradition already had an impact on Malachi, the last of the prophets, who speaks of the return of Eliyahu … (as we read in Malachi 3:23-24). … As a result of these traditions, Eliyahu took on a role of “messianic” proportions as someone who would establish justice, be a reconciler and a harbinger of peace.

(http://www.uscj.org.il/commentaries/parshat-metzorah/)

Could it be that the reason Yeshua told his talmidimnot to speak of his messiahship was because he had not yet been announced formally? Moshe’s presence on the mountaintop validated Yeshua’s presence and ministry as the one who would continue in Moshe’s stead as it is written, 

ADONAI your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your midst—from your brothers. To him you must listen.

Deuteronomy 18:15; cf. Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, and Luke 9:35

Likewise, Elijah, who like Enoch did not die (Genesis 5:24), at least not in a natural way, stood with Moshe in the three Besorah accounts affirming who and what Yeshua is, thereby beginning the fulfillment of the prophetic word of Malachi. 

According to Rav Shaul, everything happens for a purpose and in its proper time. To the believers at Rome he wrote, “…we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28), and to those in Galatia he wrote, “…when the fullness of time came, God sent out His Son born of a woman…” (Galatians 4:4). Furthermore, at the right time he was affirmed and validated by his heavenly Father, by the witness of three of his talmidim, the Torah (Moshe) and the Prophets (Elijah). There are no loose ends and no ambiguity for those who have the ears to hear.

What might all of this have to do with Shabbat Hagadol? Traditionally, the very first Shabbat Hagadol was on the tenth of Nissan, five days before HaShem delivered Bnei Yisrael from Egyptian oppression. It was also on the tenth of Nissan that everyone was to choose an unblemished lamb that would become the Pesach sacrifice the evening before they left Egypt. Today the Lamb has already been chosen for us (cf. John 1:29). Another thing to note is that Shabbat Hagadol often falls on or near Metzora. Remember that metzora, the person afflicted with tzara’at, can be understood as motzi shem ra, the one who spreads slander. Rav Shaul wrote to the believers in Corinth, 

…don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Don’t be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, those who practice homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

As we begin preparing our hearts and our homes for Pesach and Unleavened Bread, one of the types of chametz that we need to remove is that of lashon hara, slanderous speech. So, this Shabbat Hagadol, as we prepare to celebrate the festival of our redemption, let us do so with “clean hands and a pure heart,” (Psalm 24:4) and insure that HaShem is well pleased with “the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart,” (Psalm 19:15).

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Tazria

This week’s parasha is Tazria, (she conceives) Leviticus 12:1 – 13:59*, along with two extra readings, Numbers 28:9-15 which is normal for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh and then Exodus 12:1-20 which is special for Shabbat HaChodesh (Rosh Chodesh Nissan). The special haftarah for Shabbat HaChodesh is Ezekiel 45:16-46:18 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is 1 Corinthians 5:6–8.

There are two things that I want to focus on this week. First briefly of what tzara’at (13:2) is and probably is not. Then second, is the rabbinic understanding of what causes tzara’at. I believe it is this second aspect which is most important for us today. I will warn you in advance that I will be using more quotations than usual in this week’s Thoughts.

First, to definitions. Most English editions of the Scriptures translate צָרָ֑עַת, (tzara’at) as leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, as a long-term bacterial infection. It is translated thus not because of the Hebrew but because of the Greek of the Septuagint, λέπρας, (lepra) which moved into English as leprosy. However, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh suggested that because tzara’at was treated by priests, rather than doctors, it shouldn’t be interpreted as a medical problem at all, but rather as an exclusively spiritual ailment. (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tzaraat-a-biblical-affliction/)

The idea that tzara’at is the sign of a spiritual condition rather than exclusively a physical one is alluded to in Dr. Abigail Uhrman’s introduction to this week’s parasha.

This week’s parashah discusses tzara’at, a skin disease understood in rabbinic tradition as punishment for lashon hara, evil speech. The public castigation that the metzora (the individual plagued by tzara’at) suffers is a powerful warning for us to “guard our tongues.” It was with words that God created the world, and our words have the potential to build, create, and sustain life and human dignity, or to be a source of pain and destruction. (http://www.jtsa.edu/guarding-our-tongues)

While there is nothing in this week’s parasha to suggest the relationship between tzara’at and lashon hara, there is a hint of this connection in the treatment of the individual so inflicted

All the days during which the plague is on him he will be unclean. He is unclean. He is to dwell alone. Outside of the camp will be his dwelling. (Leviticus 13:46)

This treatment coincided with Miriam’s punishment after she and Aaron spoke against Moshe due to his marriage to a Cushite woman (cf. Numbers 12).

“When the cloud lifted up from above the Tent, behold, Miriam had tza’arat, like snow! As Aaron turned toward her, behold, she had tza’arat,” (12:10)! Then HaShem demanded that she be treated like anyone else afflicted with tza’arat, “Let her be confined outside the camp for seven days. After that she may be brought back.”So Miriam was restricted to outside the camp for seven days. (12:14-15)

This connection between tzara’at and lashon hara is reiterated in Deuteronomy as Moshe reminded Bnei Yisrael of the words of the Torah that their fathers had accepted at Mount Sinai. “Take care in the plague of tzara’at—be very careful to do all that the Levitical kohanim instruct you, just as I commanded them, so you are to take care to do. Remember what ADONAI your God did to Miriam, along the way when you were coming out from Egypt. (Deuteronomy 24:8-9)

Although lashon hara is a common term in Judaism it may be foreign to many non-Jews. Simply put,

Lashon Hara is any derogatory or damaging statement against an individual. In Hilchot Deot 7:5, Maimonides supplies a litmus test for determining whether something is or isn’t Lashon Hara: “Anything which, if it would be publicized, would cause the subject physical or monetary damage, or would cause him anguish or fear, is Lashon Hara.” (https://torah.org/learning/halashon-review1/)

The Chofetz Chaim takes this definition a bit further when he taught that,lashon hara is forbidden not only when one’s intention is to condemn another or out of one’s hatred for another, but even when said in jest. (https://2halachot.org/en/english-halacha/laws-of-lashon-hara-3-3-4-37-3/)

This warning from the Chofetz Chaim hit me between the eyes when I read it and then went straight to my heart. In the past, I have often used humor as a defense in tense situations and occasionally as a weapon when I wanted to strike back at someone who hurt or offended me. In such cases humor, most often sarcasm was lashon hara. At one time, the sign “Sarcasm Spoken Here” would have been at home on my wall. Now I am consciously attempting to avoid such speech most vigorously.

Recall the words that James wrote to his community,From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be. A spring doesn’t pour out fresh and bitter water from the same opening, does it? (James 3:10-11) In other words, the choice is ours. With the words we speak, we can build up or tear down, bring comfort and healing or death and destruction. In this Shabbat’s reading from the Apostolic Writings we read, Your boasting is no good. Don’t you know that a little hametz leavens the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6) Continuing with the idea that little things can cause big problems, James wrote that while the tongue is such a small thing it can cause great trouble, (3:5, my paraphrase).

The Psalmist wrote

Who can discern his errors? Cleanse me of hidden faults. Also keep Your servant from willful sins. May they not have dominion over me. Then I will be blameless, free from great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, ADONAI, my Rock and my Redeemer.

I believe it is important to note that errors, hidden faults, and willful sins are all interconnected to “the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart.” Maybe this is why later he would say “Set a guard, ADONAI, over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)

Returning to Dr. Uhrman whom I referenced at the beginning, she closed her teaching with these words of warning from psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, “Even when we have good intentions, we need to be wary of our linguistic choices. Our words can be limiting and damaging; they can reinforce our beliefs in fixed abilities and hinder our creative, intellectual, and human potential. Or, instead, our words can affirm our capacity to change, improve, and meet life’s challenges with honesty, ingenuity, and strength.” With these words in mind, I will close with Peter’s words to his community,

“The one who loves life, wanting to see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” (1 Peter 3:10)

May we all see “good days” this week and keep lashon hara far from our thoughts and lips.

Shabbat Shalom

  • Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Shemini

In his book entitled, Jewish Wisdom, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin shares the following,

Yitgadal ve-Yitkadash Shmei Rabbah, Magnified and sanctified be His great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. (The opening words of the Kaddish prayer recited for the dead.)

Along with the Sh’ma, the Kaddish probably is the best-known Jewish prayer. Yet many Jews do not know its meaning (perhaps because it is written in Aramaic, not Hebrew), and are surprised when they learn that it never alludes to death. Instead, Kaddish is a paean to God, expressing the hope that His majesty will be accepted by the entire world.

Why was the Kaddish prayer chosen as the memorial prayer for the dead? Probably because the greatest testament to the deceased is that he or she has left behind descendants who attend synagogue and pledge themselves to work toward perfecting the world under the rule of God. (Jewish Wisdom, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1994, p 268-69)

A quotation concerning death and mourning is not the usual way I begin these weekly Thoughts, but I found it very appropriate for this week’s parasha. Shemini, Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47,* begins “On the eighth day….” Remember, last week’s parasha ended with the seven-day ordination of Aaron and his four sons, Abihu, Nadab, Eleazar, and Ithamar. All five of these men were consecrated, set apart for specific service, avodah, standing between the indwelling presence of HaShem and Bnei Yisrael. These men were in the presence of HaShem at the entrance to the Mishkan for seven days then on the eighth day Moshe called the five out and had Aaron offer a sin offering for himself and his sons, as well as a burnt offering and meal offering (9:3-14). Then Aaron brought the same three offerings on behalf of Bnei Yisrael (9:15-22). At the conclusion of these events

Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came back out and blessed the people, the glory of ADONAI appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of ADONAI and devoured the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. (9:23-24)

There was a feeling of exhilaration, of reverential fear, maybe even a feeling of finally being at home in the presence of ADONAIIt is in this attitude of exhilaration, of being in the presence of HaShem, that Abihu and Nadab “each took his own censer, put fire in it, laid incense over it, and offered unauthorized fire before ADONAI — which He had not commanded them,” (10:1). Immediately ADONAI answered the action, “so fire came out from the presence of ADONAI and consumed them. So they died before ADONAI,” (10:2). Sermons have been preached decrying the unauthorized fire, and commentators have sought intently to explain the attitude or motivation of the hearts of Abihu and Nadab, some even suggesting that they had the molten calf or some other idol in mind when making their offering. However, the passage itself explains why their offering was unauthorized; because HaShem לֹ֦א צִוָּ֖ה אֹתָֽם, did not command the offering, nor was it offered in the proper manner. Abihu and Nadab were in the moment, or as said in today’s vernacular, they were in the spirit of the moment and excited. They just had to do something. But what they did was wrong, it was out of order, it was unauthorized and as such, it was dealt with immediately and decisively. One might remember another episode that would happen centuries in the future. In 2 Samuel 6, we see a similar exhilaration being expressed by King David and the 30,000 plus men and women that gather to transport the Ark from Baale-Judah (modern-day Kiryat Ye’arim) upward to Jerusalem. Then, as with Abihu and Nadab, tragedy struck.

But when they reached the threshing floor of Nahon, Uzzah reached out to the ark of God and grasped it, for the oxen had stumbled. Then the anger of ADONAI was kindled against Uzzah. God struck him down there for his irreverence so that he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:6-7)

Once again the sermonizers and commentators have tried to explain why such an act of care for the Ark brought about such a devastating outcome. And again, I feel the answer is the same. Only certain people were supposed to touch and to transport the Ark, and Uzzah, son of Abinadab was not one of those people. In Numbers 4 it is recorded that the kohanim (Aaron, his sons, and descendants) were responsible for covering the Ark and placing the carrying poles in the rings so that the sons of Kohath could carry the Ark, though they were never to touch it directly. Again, there is a right way and an improper way to serve HaShem.

What does all of this have to do with Kaddish and mourning of the dead? Aaron, the father of Abihu and Nadab had every right to mourn the tragic death of his sons. However, Aaron, as well as his surviving sons, were in a consecrated position and as such, could not defile themselves, even for their sons and brothers (Leviticus 21:1). Moshe’s words, though hard, were for Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar’s safety.

“But let your kinsmen—the whole house of Israel—mourn over the burning that ADONAI has kindled. You must not go out from the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, or you will die, for the anointing oil of ADONAI is on you.” (Leviticus 10:6-7)

HaShem set forth specific ways for Israel to approach and relate to Him as well as specific ways to approach and relate to others. While some see these rules as harsh and unbending, are they any more so than the exclusive interpretation of Yeshua’s words, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 15:6).

In closing, the Kaddish prayer, as Rabbi Telushkin noted, has nothing to do with the dead or even grieving for the dead loved one. It is focused solely and completely on HaShem. It is a prayer that acknowledges God’s greatness and the fact that He alone is to be worshipped, honored and praised in this world and in the world to come. The only mention of the dead in this prayer is in a generic sense when we pray

In the world which He will create anew, where He will revive the dead, construct His temple, deliver life, and rebuild the city of Jerusalem, and uproot foreign idol worship from His land, and restore the holy service of Heaven to its place, along with His radiance, splendor and Shechinah, and may He bring forth His redemption and hasten the coming of His Moshiach (Messiah). (https://www.jewish-funeral-home.com/mourners-kaddish/)

With the recitation of Mourner’s Kaddish, we remember loved ones who have passed on before us while focusing on HaShem, who one day will restore us with our loved ones in the Olam Haba, the world to come.

Shabbat Shalom

  • Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Tzav

This week’s parasha is Tzav, Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36. The haftarah is Jeremiah 7:21-28 (Chabad) or 7:21-8:3 (traditional) & Jeremiah 9:22-23 (23-24 in most Christian Bibles). The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 8:48–59.

This week’s parasha and haftarah seem to present a paradox. What exactly is a paradox? After consulting the all-knowing Google, the simplest explanation I found was,

A paradox is a statement that, despite apparently valid reasoning from true premises, leads to an apparently-self-contradictory or logically unacceptable conclusion. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox)

A well-known example a paradox is the Liar paradox, which offers up the simple sentence: “This statement is false.” If this is true, then the sentence is false, but if the sentence states that it is false, and it is false, then it must also be true! So, the sentence is both true and not true at the same time. (https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-paradox.html)

Now to the paradox in this week’s readings. Tzav like Vayikra (last week’s parasha) deals with the various sacrifices that Bnei Yisrael was to bring before Adonai. Tzav specifically deals with the procedural activity of the priests in the handling of the various sacrifices. Thus, the first eight chapters of Leviticus deal with sacrifices and burnt offerings. Furthermore, in both parashot Vayikra and Tzav we repeatedly read that HaShem commanded Moshe to command or tell Israel how and when to perform the sacrifices,

“Speak to Bnei-Yisrael, and tell them: When anyone of you brings an offering to ADONAI…”(Leviticus 1:2) or ADONAI spoke to Moses, saying: “Command Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the Torah of the burnt offering…” (6:1-2)

But, when we turn to the haftarah, HaShem states that he did not command Israel to offer sacrifices,

Thus says ADONAI-Tzva’ot, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat the meat! For on the day that I brought your fathers out of the land of Egypt I did not speak to them nor did I command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices,but I explicitly commanded them: ‘Obey My voice and I will be your God to you and you will be My people. Walk in all the ways that I command you that it may go well with you.’” (Jeremiah 7:21-23)

In the larger context, Jeremiah seems to have been dealing with idolatrous worship of the Assyro-Babylonian Astarte (Ishtar) or Queen of Heaven, a cultic practice that was found in Jerusalem at least since the days of King Manasseh (2 Kings 21:3). It appears that both Samuel – remember last week’s haftarah where Samuel told Saul that to obey is better than sacrifice – and Jeremiah seem to indicate that sacrifices are somehow contrary to the desires of HaShem. If this is so, why is there so much attention given in the Torah to the performances of sacrifices?

To answer this, let’s begin with a short discussion on the connection between keva and kavanah. An easy way to explain the differences is the example of prayer. In prayer, keva is the fixed or established form, the words that are said at specific times and in a specific manner; these are predetermined, fixed actions. On the other hand, kavanah is the attitude or motivation with which we say the words, meaning of which should come from our heart stemming from a desire to serve and please our LORD. Ideally there should be a blend of the two, keva giving the basic form and structure to kavanah and kavanah giving the heart and meaning to keva.

Let’s now apply the aspects of keva and kavanah to this week’s potential paradox. Keva is the chukim (statutes) and the mishpatim (judgements) that HaShem commanded Moshe to relay to Bnei Yisrael. These are the how tos and occasionally the whys of what is to be done in our relationships with one another and with HaShem. But as I noted in last week’s Thoughts, without love, all of the rules and regulations are merely words on a page. Love is part of kavanah, but it is only one aspect of it. Kavanah also encompasses the ability to recognize what needs to be done, as well as the ability to choose between the words on the page and the needs of the moment. Kavanah keeps things in perspective and maintains the proper attitude and motives for keeping the keva. Remember Yeshua’s words in Matthew 5, where he repeatedly said, “you have heard it said, but I say to you….” Not once did he nullify or set aside a single word of the Torah. Instead, he amplified the Torah giving a renewed or clearer understanding to the kavanah behind the obedience of the keva. After Rav Shaul asked rhetorically if the “Law” is sin, he immediately responds, “the Torah is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good,” (Romans 7:7 & 12). Yeshua himself said that he had not come “to abolish the Torah or the Prophets… but to fulfill them,” (Matthew 5:17).

So we see that what appeared to be a paradox is not so much a paradox but a need for clarification. The fact that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22), does not nullify the validity of the sacrifice. However, the obedience must stem from kavanah, the proper intent, reasons and relationship to the whole counsel of HaShem. If fulfillment of the sacrifice is done improperly, if it takes precedence over our relationship with HaShem or negates the commands of our responsibilities and care toward one another then obedience becomes keva, a fixed form and something done by rote. I believe that Yeshua’s confrontational remarks to the Pharisees show that he was challenging them to look at their traditions and religious observance to determine if they were serving the LORD from kavanah or simply by keva.

…you have neglected the weightier matters ofTorah—justice and mercy and faithfulness. It is necessary to do these things without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)

I believe that the Apostle John sums thing up quite well. First, he quotes Yeshua as saying, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,” (John 13:35). Then later John writes to his community, “Now we know that we have come to know Him by this—if we keep His commandments,” (1 John 2:3). May we all heed the words to John’s community.

Shabbat Shalom

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment