Thoughts on Acharei Mot/Kedoshim*

Erev ShabbatThis week’s parasha in Israel is Acharei Mot/Kedoshim, Vayikra (Lev. 16:1-20:27). Chapter 16 addresses Yom Kippur and chapters 17-20 are part of what is known as the holiness code (17:1-26:46).

The central idea of the holiness code is found in 19:1

“Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them:
‘You shall be holy for I, the LORD your God am holy’.”

From this verse we see that the people of Israel bear a collective responsibility to achieve holiness, to be holy as ADONAI is holy. Itis a collectivecalling. The laws and commandments in this section are usually addressed to all of Israel, not just to Moshe, Aaron or the priesthood. In fact, virtually all the sections of the holiness code open with HaShem commanding Moshe to speak to the people of Israel (chapter 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25). The holiness code emphasizes the interdependence of all Israelites in every aspect of life, including their history, and shared destiny. It resembles two other major collections in the Torah, the Book of the Covenant (Exod. 20:19-23:33) and the Deuteronic laws, specifically Deut. 12-28.

This week’s parasha only includes the first four chapters of the holiness code 17-20. There is a progression in these four chapters, from “This is what the LORD commanded to “You shall be holy for I, the LORD your God am holy.”

17:2  “This is what the LORD has commanded…” The chapter details the requirement that all sacrifice be offered at the one, legitimate altar near the entrance to the tent of meeting, the requirements concerning the blood of animals for both sacrificial animals and those used for food, the prohibition against the consumption of blood, and the prohibition against eating the flesh from carcasses of animals that died or were torn by beasts.

18:2  “I the LORD am your God you shall…” What follows is the most systematic and complete collection of laws in the Torah dealing with the subject of incest and forbidden sexual unions. It defines which unions among relatives are forbidden on grounds of incest, adultery, etc. In the process the limits of the immediate family are defined.

19:2-20:26  “You shall be holy for I, the LORD your God am holy”. It is interesting that the command for Israel to be holy as HaShem is holy is found in this chapter. Vayikra is the center of the Torah, and chapter 19 is the center of Vayikra. Thus the very center of Torah focuses on holiness. Chapter 20 continues the idea of holiness and concludes in vv. 24 and 26, with the declaration, “I the LORD am your God who has set you apart from different peoples…You shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples. Sandwiched between the two commands to be holy for I the LORD your God am holy in 19:2 and 20:26 are commands on what it means to be a people set apart to be holy.

These two chapters contain moral imperatives and seemingly irrational commands, like the prohibition against wearing clothes of mixed wool and linen, that seem to be far removed from that of our culture. Yet all the laws contained in them are applicable to our day.

To be holy means:

  • not planting your field with different kinds of seed, not cross breeding your livestock or wearing clothes made of a forbidden mixture of wool and linen.Today we could interpret this as respecting the integrity of and caring for the environment;
  • Not conforming with the idolatry of our time. Every age has it gods and idols. These can vary from region to region, but due to globalization and social media there is less variation than in times past. When we read chapters 19 and 20 we need to ask what gods or idols are preventing us from being holy as HaShem is holy;
  • being honest in business;
  • doing justice;
  • and sharing our blessings with others and treating the poor with dignity and honor. This is drawn from the command to not harvest the corners of your fields.

To be holy also includes loving your neighbor and the stranger as yourself (19:18, 34), which means:

  • not stealing, lying, or deceiving others;
  • not standing idly by when someone else’s life is in danger;
  • not insulting or taking advantage of others even when they are completely unaware of it. This is drawn from the commands not to curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind;
  • not hating people, bearing a grudge or taking revenge. Instead, when someone has done something wrong to you, and hurt your talk with them. Let them know what they have done and how it has hurt you, give them a chance to apologize and make amends, and then forgive them. Yeshua commands us in such situations to go to a brother (sister) and be reconciled (Matt. 5:24)

Being holy means having the courage to make mistakes and admit those mistakes. Being holy requires us to have the courage to be different. Above all “Be holy” means having the courage to be different, to be distinctive and set apart. On the surface, the command to “Be holy for I the LORD your God am holy” is counter-intuitive because it calls on us to be like God. But, how can we be like God? He is infinite, we are finite. He is eternal, we are mortal. Yet, Torah tells us that in certain respects we can be like God. We are created in His image, and we can act in the same ways as He acts.

When we act holy as He is holy, we bear witness to the presence of God on earth. Being holy means to live in the conscious presence of God. All of the laws, rules and regulations in this week’s Torah portion and in the entire Tanakh, remind us of the presence of God, and our responsibility to emulate Him. We are also reminded that no man is an island, we are all interrelated, even or especially in holiness. The holiness code addresses all the people of Israel, native born or grafted in. I challenge all of us to be courageous, to be different by choosing to live a holy life as defined in the Scripture, particularly the holiness code, and in the process to bring the living presence of HaShem into the world.

Shabbat Shalom

* This week’s portion was prepared by my Eshet Chayil, Dr. Vered Hillel.

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Thoughts on Tazria-Metzora

canstockphoto3712801This week’s reading is one of the various double readings, Tazria-Metzora, Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33; the haftarah reading is from Ezekiel 20:2-20.[i]The reading from the Apostolic Writings is Luke 13:1–17,[ii]according to the MJRC – Chayyei Yeshua Cycle.[iii]

Reading through Tazria-Metzoraa couple of times, a few things become noticeable. Most prominent is that all of the situations in this week’s portion deal with ritual impurity. Ritual impurity is so important that this week’s passage closes with a warning

וְהִזַּרְתֶּ֥ם אֶת־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִטֻּמְאָתָ֑ם וְלֹ֤א יָמֻ֙תוּ֙ בְּטֻמְאָתָ֔ם בְּטַמְּאָ֥ם אֶת־מִשְׁכָּנִ֖י אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּתוֹכָֽם – ויקרא טו,31

You shall put the Israelites on guard against their uncleanness, lest they die through their uncleanness by defiling My Tabernacle which is among them. (Leviticus 15:31)

The first notable situation that causes defilement is the various conditions that are described as natural occurrences in life—things that happen to all humankind: childbirth, hair loss due to skin conditions, seminal discharges and, menstrual discharges. These are natural processes of life, yet they cause the individuals in each and every case to become tamei(טָמֵא; ritually impure, ritually defiled).

The second situation is the disease, tzara’atצָרָעַת)), which is often translated as some type of leprous skin condition. It applies to conditions that separate people from the community so as not to contaminate others or to bring defilement to the Mishkan. But nowhere in these four chapters, one hundred and fifty-seven verses, do we read that the people separated become unholy. There is no exhortation in this parasha to be holy as there is in Lev. 11

For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. … For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44-45)

There are situations, such as the food laws in Leviticus 11, that cause one to be tamei(טָמֵא). These are things/situations that we are to avoid–you might even say with extreme prejudice– because they separate us from HaShem, by our own actions. But in this week’s portion, the things that separate us are natural bodily occurrences over which we have little or no control.

Interestingly, the Sages asked a question similar to the one the disciples asked of Yeshua concerning illness,

As Yeshua was passing by, He saw a man who had been blind since birth. His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi (or Teacher), who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?”

Generally speaking, all disease was regarded as punishment from God for some wrong doing. In the case of tzara’atspecifically, Jewish tradition understands it as a punishment from God for acts of malice such as Miriam’s malicious criticism of Moses, reported in Numbers 12:1-3.[iv]I do not doubt this understanding and if malice is one of the causes of tzara’atthen for sure we are responsible for dealing with it, just as we are responsible for watching what we eat (Leviticus 11). In fact, remember one of Rav Shaul’s admonitions during Passover, “…let us celebrate the feast not with old hametz, the hametz of malice and wickedness, but with unleavened bread – the matzah of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8). In other words, malice, as well as wickedness or disobedience, are things with which we can and should deal; by our choice and through the enabling power of Ruach HaKodesh. However, in situations where natural occurrences separate us not only from the LORD but from the community, we can only trust in the mercies of ADONAI. Just as the blind man did nothing wrong, there are times and situations in which we too are error-free but still stand in need of a touch from the Master.

In this week’s Apostolic Writings, we read of a woman “with a disabling spirit for eighteen years, bent over and completely unable to stand up straight” (Luke 13:11), who was attending the same synagogue that Yeshua chose to visit. We are told nothing about the source of her condition, only that she was in need of a touch from Yeshua. As with the man in John 9, Yeshua reached out and touched her, healed her. Even though there were some in the synagogue who tried to chastise Yeshua for healing on the Sabbath, He fulfilled the words of the Psalmist,

The LORD supports all who stumble and makes all who are bent to stand straight.
(Psalm 145:14)

The LORD cares for His people. His word reveals those things we should do to walk in His care and grace. For those situations that are beyond our control, He remains the one who heals, who straightens, and who restores to fellowship – with Him, with families, and with our communities.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Tanakh readings are from https://www.sefaria.org.il

[ii] Readings from the Apostolic Writings are from Tree of Life(TLV) Translation of the Bible. Snellville, Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, 2015 – https://www.biblegateway.com

[iii]  http://ourrabbis.org/main/resources/chayyei-yeshua-reading-cycle

[iv] Sarna, Nahum M. (gen. ed.), The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus, Commentary by Baruch A. Levine, Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society, 1989, p 75.

 

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Thoughts on Shmini

canstockphoto0885276This Shabbat Israel and the Diaspora begin to deviate on the Torah reading schedule, because in the Diaspora Shabbat is the last day of Unleavened Bread while in Israel Unleavened Bread ends on Friday. This means that technically the mo’ed is over for us in Israel while practically we still will not have chametz until Sunday morning. As I said this influences the Torah reading schedule that Israel reads Parashat Shmini, Leviticus 9:1–11:47[i]while the Diaspora reading is for the Second Sabbath of Pesach, Exodus 33:12–34:26 & Numbers 28:19­–28:25. The Haftarah for Shminiis II Samuel 6:1-19 (Sephardic tradition).

Parashat Shminibegins, And it was on the eighth day, that Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. That Moses summoned them on the eighth day is appropriate for this Shabbat. Rashi suggests that it was on the first of Nissan that the Mishkan was erected and that Aaron and his sons entered into it to be consecrated for the service of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 8:1-36). The act of consecration was to take seven days. On the eighth day, after Aaron and his sons were consecrated and set apart for service, their first act of service was to offer the assorted sacrifices on behalf of the rest of Israel. When Aaron finished the preparations for this first intermediary act,

Aaron lifted up his hands towards the people and blessed them, (Numbers 6:22-27). He then descended from preparing the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offering.And Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting. Then they came out and blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces. (Leviticus 9:22-24)

Rashi suggests that the blessing that Moshe and Aaron pronounced over the people would be echoed by the words of the Psalmist,

And may the pleasantness of the Lord our God be upon us, and the work of our hands establish for us, and the work of our hands establish it. (Psalms 90:17)

One of the reasons for this was to assure Bnei Yisrael that they had been both forgiven by HaShem for the sin of the molten calf and that their work and building His dwelling place among them had been accepted. The author of 1stJohn wrote,[ii] If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness, (I John 1:9).

Dr. Alex Pattakos, suggests that,

…forgiveness can be one of the most powerful things we do. Like any muscle, however, it has to be exercised to work well. Forgiveness can be very complicated. Sometimes we think that it equates forgetting, diminishing, or condoning the misdeed, but it really doesn’t. It has much more to do with freeing ourselves from its hold. Our ability to live our lives with love, understanding, and generosityis impeded when we don’t forgive.[iii]

It has been suggested, however, that not only do we need to forgive others but at times we must either forgive ourselves and more importantly accept that HaShem has forgiven us. When asked about the greatestcommandment Yeshua quickly responded with Shema Yisrael, and then followed with you shall love your neighbor as yourself, (Mark 12:29-31). According to Yeshua, loving HaShem and loving our neighbor there is no other commandment greater than these. But at least in reference to our neighbor, the love is as yourself. Loving one’s self is not to be a narcissistic type of love that is self-centered and self-focused, but one that is exemplified in the parable of the so-called Good Samaritan, (cf. Luke 10:25-37). Hence as Dr. Pattakos concluded, “Our ability to live our lives with love, understanding, and generosityis impeded when we don’t forgive,” forgive not only others but ourselves as well. The idolatry of the molten calf episode could well have spelled the end of Bnei Yisrael (Exodus 32:10), but HaShem relented and forgave Bnei Yisrael and had moved from the mountaintop, separated from the people, to the Mishkan in their midst. He forgave Israel and now Israel needed to accept that forgiveness so that they can move on in their journey with ADONAI.

In the Haftarah, it would appear that this issue of self-forgiveness is one that King David would have to learn as well. II Samuel 6:1-19 records the first attempt of David to move the Ark from Baale-judah, the modern site ofKiriath-Jearim, to the Jerusalem, the City of David. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Avinadav were tasked with transporting the Ark. We are not told whether they were Levites, specifically the Kohathites, those who were tasked with the transportation of the Ark in the Torah (Numbers 7:9). What we do know is that Uzzah saw the cart make a precarious move and the Ark about to fall – he reached out to steady it and died as sure as did Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2). But where Nadab and Abihu did something that was asur,prohibited or banned, Uzzah seemingly did not. Commentators both Jewish and Christian have sought the reason for Uzzah’s death for years – unsuccessfully.

…some scholars argued, may himself be innocent, but he died because of King David’s decision to transport the ark atop a cart rather than have it carried on the shoulders of Levites as he’d done before. No matter what the theological justification, however, the simple explanation remains unchanged: God did what God wanted to do because God is above morality and beyond explanation. We may require reasons, but He does not.[iv]

Sometimes, life is simply unfair, and we cannot find rhyme nor reason. In times like that we can get angry with HaShem, just as David did (II Samuel 6:8), and we can become terrified of the LORD, (II Samuel 6:9). But eventually, we have to get over the issue, deal with it, and decide that the LORD is God and that there are some things we just don’t understand. Earlier I mentioned that King David had to learn to forgive himself because I subscribe to the explanation that David was responsible for Uzzah’s death because he arranged for improper transportation of the Ark. David had to come to the point where he forgave God, as well as himself for his actions. We must do likewise in our walk with the LORD. If we want to live and walk in the joy of the LORD, regardless of whether things are fair, we must learn and be willing to walk in forgiveness toward all involved.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, Tanakh references are from The Complete Tanach with Rashi Commentary, https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm

[ii] Readings from the Apostolic Writings are from Tree of Life(TLV) Translation of the Bible. Snellville, Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, 2015 – https://www.biblegateway.com

[iii] PsychologyToday, October 19, 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-meaningful-life/201710/forgive-or-not-forgive

[iv] Life is Unfair by Liel Leibovitz, http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/29806/life-is-unfair

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Thoughts on Pesach 5778

Pesach 2016The Pesach reading for this Shabbat is Exodus 12:21-51[i] and Numbers 28:19-25; the Haftarah is from Joshua 5:2 – 6:1 and 27. After weeks of preparation we are entering into the culmination of our labors as Pesach/Unleavened Bread are almost upon us. Friday evening, we celebrate the entrance of Shabbat, as well as participate in the annual celebration of the Exodus from Egypt, in which we and all of our ancestors through the epochs of history were delivered by the mighty, outstretched arm of Adonai.

It is a night of anticipation for the Lord, to take them out of the land of Egypt; this night is the Lord’s, guarding all the children of Israel throughout their generations. (Exodus 12:42)

It is important to understand the last half of the verse above. The full scope of the power and authority of Adonai did not simply deliver Jacob’s descendants from Egyptian bondage, His action that night “is the Lord’s, guarding all the children of Israel throughout their generations.” The prophet Jeremiah records this declaration from HaShem,

So said the Lord, Who gives the sun to illuminate by day, the laws of the moon and the stars to illuminate at night, Who stirs up the sea and its waves roar, the Lord of Hosts is His name. If these laws depart from before Me, says the Lord, so will the seed of Israel cease being a nation before Me for all time. (Jeremiah 31:34-35)

So long as the earth and the universe remain, the Lord continues to watch over and guard Israel. In the Emet section of the Kriyat Shema, at עֶזְרַת, we read, “You (HaShem) have always been the help of our ancestors, Shield and Savior of their children after them in every generation.”[ii]

We commemorate the Exodus with the reading of the Hagaddah, which in fact tells the story of the Jewish people from their beginning with HaShem’s calling Abraham through the deliverance from Pharaoh, and the crossing of the Reed Sea. “When we tell the story of our redemption from the beginning, incorporating the suffering into our narrative, we make the telling real. … The Haggadah reminds us of the ways in which our history still marks us, how everything we’ve endured still shapes us, our feelings, and our perceptions.”[iii] Remembering the good and the bad, and HaShem’s presence with us throughout the experience, serves to remind us that just as He was with our forefathers (and foremothers of course) so He is with us today in each and every situation in which we find ourselves. And, as He cared for Israel in the past, He continues to care for Israel and each of us to this very day.

This week-end is also special for those who follow the Gregorian calendar as Friday is so called “Good Friday” the day of remembering Yeshua’s crucifixion for the propitiation or atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, (1 John 2:2).[iv] Sometime between Motzei Shabbat and Sunday on the first day of the Omer, Yeshua rose victorious from death and the grave (Mark 16:9). Therefore, as followers of Messiah Yeshua, we enter into the Moadim of Pesach/Unleavened Bread with the understanding that not only were we delivered from the bondage of Egypt, but we were also delivered from spiritual bondage. Just as we have cleaned our physical houses of the hametz (leaven), Rav Shaul declares that we should clean our inner man as well.

Get rid of the old hametz, so you may be a new batch, just as you are unleavened – for Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast not with old hametz, the hametz of malice and wickedness, but with unleavened bread—the matzah of sincerity and truth. (I Corinthians 5:7-8)

It is important to realize that like Israel must decide to actively clear away all leaven (hametz) from their houses (Exodus 12:15), Rav Shaul indicates that the process of “getting rid of old hametz” is an action that we must decide to do. Just as the physical hametz does not simply disappear miraculously but requires a choice to remove it and then actually removing it, so too with the cleansing of hametz of malice and wickedness; their removal requires a choice to do it, and then doing it.  James admonishes that when we draw near to HaShem, we are to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts (James 4:8). May we all take advantage of this time of year to cleanse our lives of all hametz.

Pesach Sameach

[i] Unless otherwise noted, Tanakh references are from The Complete Tanach with Rashi Commentary, https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm

[ii] Shacharit for Weekdays, The Koren Siddur, Jerusalem, Koren Publishers, 2009, p 104

[iii] Telling the Real Story, Hadar, Pesach e-letter.

[iv] Besorah readings are from Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Snellville, Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, 2015.

 

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Thoughts on Tzav

canstockphoto0885276This week’s parasha, Tzav (Command) Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36, continues from last week’s reading with further instructions on how the various mitzvoth named are to be performed, as well as the consecration of the priests and the Tabernacle. This Shabbat is also Shabbat HaGagol, the Shabbat before Pesach, and while there is not an additional Torah reading for this Shabbat there is a special Haftarah reading, Malachi 3:4-24.[i]

Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote,

Little does religion ask of contemporary man. It is ready to offer comfort; it has no courage to challenge. It is ready of offer edification; it has no courage to break the idols, to shatter the callousness. The trouble is that religion has become “religion” – institution, dogma, ritual. It is not an event any more. Its acceptance involves neither risk nor strain.[ii]

Heschel’s words call to mind the words of the Almighty through the prophet Malachi. While the Haftarah begins on a positive note, “…the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of yore and in the years of old” (3:4), it does not stay positive,

But [first] I will step forward to contend against you, and I will act as a relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me: who practice sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of their hire, and who subvert [the cause of] the widow, orphan, and stranger, said the LORD of Hosts. (3:5)

Malachi seems to present the same lament against the people as is common among most of the prophets. Little attention was given to social concerns and welfare. Idolatry and adultery were common place, if not blatant, at least in the hearts and minds of the people. The covenant the people agreed to at the base of Mt. Sinai received little more than lip service if even that. The Psalmist records the lament of Adonai concerning wayward Israel,

But My people would not listen to Me, Israel would not obey Me. So, I let them go after their willful heart that they might follow their own devices. If only My people would listen to Me, if Israel would follow My paths, then I would subdue their enemies at once, strike their foes again and again. (Psalms 81:12-15)

 But as is the case, HaShem did not abandon Israel, leaving them adrift in their transgression and disobedience. Malachi continued, “I am the LORD – I have not changed; and you are the children of Jacob – you have not ceased to be. From the very days of your fathers you have turned away from My laws and have not observed them. Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you says the LORD of Hosts,” (Malachi 3:6-7). As HaShem gently explained to Cain, that his anger, and jealousy did not have to rule over him, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, it will lift. But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the doorway. Its desire is for you, but you must master it,” (Genesis 4:6-7).[iii]

Malachi knew that Israel can do better, that the God of Israel desired to do good on their behalf. But the religious practices had become lip service and the attitude of the heart had run to disobedience and ruin. In verses seven through nineteen, the LORD brings His case against the unrighteous and disobedient, ending with the pronouncement that there will be a soon coming day when the wicked will perish but the righteous will rise victorious in the LORD’s radiance.

Rav Shaul, using the Exodus as a backdrop, warned the believers in Corinth not to follow the bad example set by Israel.

Now these things happened as examples for us, so we wouldn’t crave evil things, just as they did. … Now these things happened to them as an example, and it was written down as a warning to us—on whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Corinthians 10:6 & 11, TLV).

Rather we should look expectantly to the LORD for His assistance and strength,

Therefore, let the one who thinks that he stands watch out that he doesn’t fall. No temptation has taken hold of you except what is common to mankind. But God is faithful—He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can handle. But with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13, TLV).

James, in his letter to Messianic Jews in the Diaspora wrote,

If anyone thinks he is religious and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is futile. 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. (James 1:26-27, TLV)

James’ concept of true religion and Heschel’s opinion of the current state of religion seem to be polar opposites. Equally, of all the aspects of true religion that James could mention, he targets that with which Malachi closed, that being care for widows and orphans – those in the community least likely to be able to care for themselves. Our religious practice should offer comfort, but it must also challenge us to change for the better while meeting the needs of others that are brought into our sphere of influence. While our religious practice offers edification and encouragement, it must have the strength and determination to stand against the wiles of the evil one.

One last note, the Haftarah ends with the announcement from HaShem, “Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the LORD,” (3:23). The purpose of Elijah’s coming is for familial reconciliation – bringing families who are apart back together again. It is that reconciliation for which we pray, and as we invite Elijah to join us next Friday evening for the Seder, may true reconciliation be realized throughout our lands.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Scripture readings from https://www.sefaria.org.il .

[ii] Heschel, Abraham Joshua, The Insecurity of Freedom, New York, Schocken Books, 1959, p 1.

[iii] Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Snellville, Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, 2015.

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Thoughts on Vayikra

canstockphoto0885276In traditional synagogues around the world, three Torah Scrolls will be used this coming Shabbat, if the community is fortunate enough to have three Torah Scrolls. The first scroll will be for the regular Parasha, Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26,[i] which opens with HaShem calling to Moshe, from the Tent of Meeting instead of from the mountaintop, launching into the hows and whys of various offerings for both the priests and the people. As this day is also Rosh Chodesh, the special reading from Numbers 28:9-15 will be read from the second scroll. This short reading covers the special sacrifices for Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. Finally, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, also known as Shabbat HaChodesh because it begins the ritual year in preparation for Pesach and the Feast of Matzot (Unleavened Bread), is the third reading, Exodus 12:1-20. While sacrifices are not specially mentioned in this reading, there is the command to place the blood of the unblemished lamb on the door posts and crossbeams of everyone’s dwelling, which is followed by a meal in which the entire lamb, the Passover lamb, is roasted in the fire. There is also a special Haftarah reading for Shabbat HaChodesh, Ezekiel 45:18 – 46:15, which unsurprisingly also deals with sacrifices offered in the Sanctuary of Ezekiel’s Temple. Without sounding redundant, sacrifice is a major theme throughout this week’s readings.

One has to wonder, if the common understanding of Hebrews 10:1-18, that the sacrifices were ineffective, even futile – why did HaShem go to all the effort and verbiage to describe in minute detail how the sacrifices were to be accomplished. A couple of years ago, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks presented a teaching in which he made the following observation concerning the offering of sacrifices,

Among the simplest yet most profound was the comment made by R. Shneor Zalman of Ladi, the first Rebbe of Lubavitch. He noticed a grammatical oddity about the second line of today’s parsha:

Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: when one of you offers a sacrifice to the Lord, the sacrifice must be taken from the cattle, sheep or goats. (Lev. 1:2)

Or so the verse would read if it were constructed according to the normal rules of grammar. However, in Hebrew the word order of the sentence is strange and unexpected. We would expect to read: adam mikem ki yakriv, “when one of you offers a sacrifice”. Instead what it says is adam ki yakriv mikem, “when one offers a sacrifice of you”. The essence of sacrifice, said R. Shneor Zalman, is that we offer ourselves. We bring to God our faculties, our energies, our thoughts and emotions. The physical form of sacrifice –an animal offered on the altar – is only an external manifestation of an inner act. The real sacrifice is mikem, “of you”. We give God something of ourselves.[ii]

“The real sacrifice is mikem, “of you”. We give God something of ourselves” sounds a lot like Rav Shaul’s exhortation to the believers in Rome, “I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy, acceptable to God—which is your spiritual service” (Romans 12:1). In other words, it is the kavanah, the attitude of the heart, that is important with any sacrifice. Interestingly, the Psalmist wrote,

I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices, for your burnt offerings are continually before Me. … A sacrifice of praise honors Me, and to the one who orders his way, I will show the salvation of God,” (Psalm 50: 8 & 23).

One further note from Rabbi Sacks, specifically on the sin offerings (cf. Leviticus 4 & 5) referring to the Medieval commentator Abarbanel who

…argues that the sin offering was less a punishment for what had been done, than a solemn warning against sin in the future. The bringing of a sacrifice, involving considerable effort and expense, was a vivid reminder to the individual to be more careful in the future.[iii]

Abarbanel is not detracting from the sacrifice and its efficacy for atonement, rather he was suggesting that the sacrifice was to serve as a warning against doing the same thing again. Throughout the parasha it appears to be a given Israel, the priests, the rulers and the common people who sinned. Correct or not, Albert Einstein was credited as saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” HaShem knew Israel would sin, but to avoid insanity He expected them (as well as us today) to learn not to do wrong and to change the pattern of their activity. In a similar vein, Moshe later encouraged the people “to choose life so that you and your descendants may live, by loving Adonai your God, listening to His voice, and clinging to Him. For He is your life and the length of your days,” Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

Changing focus a bit, this week’s Besorah reading is from Luke 10:25-42. One of the Torah experts from the crowd tried to trip-up Yeshua asking “what’s the greatest commandment?”. Yeshua answered quickly v’ahavta et Adonai; v’ahavta l’reiacha – love Adonai and love your neighbor. Following this he told a parable intended to lead the scribe to understand not only who his neighbor was but also what his response to his neighbor should be. In a manner of speaking, Yeshua indicated that the answer to Cain’s question, “am I my brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9), is and always would be a resounding yes – if it is within our power and purview to do so. Therefore, becoming living sacrifices that honor our Lord as well as being available to show mercy, to give assistance when needed by our neighbor should be our goals as we v’ahavta et Adonai; v’ahavta l’reiacha.

SS-RC

[i] 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.

[ii] http://rabbisacks.org/why-do-we-sacrifice-vayikra-5775/

[iii] http://rabbisacks.org/sin-offering-vayikra-5777/

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Thoughts on Vayak’hel-Pekudei

canstockphoto3712801It is said that when one repeats themselves, it is for special emphasis and the thing being repeated should really be paid attention to – this is especially relevant when it comes to the Scriptures. In last week’s portion, Ki Tisa, we read the reiteration of the Ten Words that Moshe received the second time from HaShem as the cornerstone of His covenant with Bnei Yisrael. Interestingly, one of the items specifically mentioned was to keep the Sabbath, even during times of plowing and harvest (cf. Exodus 34:21). This is interesting because this command looked forward to a time when Israel would be in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is also noteworthy that in this week’s double parasha, Vayak’hel-Pekudei, Exodus 35:1 – 40:38,[i] the very first words that Moshe commands the assembled people are

These are the words which ADONAI has commanded you to do. Work is to be done for six days, but the seventh day is a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest to ADONAI. Whoever does any work then will die. (35.1-2)

Twice, in the span of seventeen verses, and on two different occasions, the importance of keeping the Sabbath is proclaimed by HaShem to Moshe, and then immediately by Moshe to the people. Later, in Parashat Emor, the first of the mo’edim (biblical feasts) that Israel is commanded to observe is the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3). Also, the keeping of the Sabbath precedes the construction of the Mishkan. Thus it is inferred that just as the Shabbat was to be kept during seedtime and harvest, it was to be observed during the construction of the Mishkan.

In the introduction to The Sabbath Table, it’s stated that

Even more than it is a day of rest, the Shabbat is a day of holiness. If the purpose of the Sabbath were just to give us one day a week to relax, it wouldn’t matter what day of the week the Sabbath was. But resting on the Sabbath serves a specific purpose of setting it apart as holy, as the Torah says: “Protect the Sabbath to sanctify it” (Deuteronomy 5:12). The elevated sanctity of the Sabbath benefits us far more than a simple day off from work ever could. [ii]

 This idea that Shabbat is more than simply rest is an echo of the words stated by Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.”[iii]

But the question arises, “how then should we keep the Sabbath?” The Torah states, “In it you shall not do any work—not you, nor your son, your daughter, your male servant, your female servant, your cattle, nor the outsider that is within your gates” (Exodus 20.10). The sages then defined “work,” מַלְאָכָה, (melakhah) as those thirty-nine activities that were necessary for the construction of the Mishkan (cf. Mishnah Shabbat 7:2). In his book on the Sabbath, Dayan Dr. Grunfeld summarizes melakhah as “an activity of a constructive nature which makes some significant change in our material environment – significant, that is, in relation to its usefulness for human purposes. … an act that shows man’s mastery over the world…”[iv] In other words, we should not do anything that asserts our own abilities, our intelligence, or our mastery over creation. If this is so, the reason should be clear, creation is not ours, it belongs to HaShem. We are just its caretakers. Our avoidance of work or melakhah once a week, at His command, acknowledges our obedience and submission to Him. Through the prophet Isaiah, ADONAI encouraged Israel

If you turn back your foot from Shabbat, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call Shabbat a delight, the holy day of ADONAI honorable, if you honor it, not going your own ways, not seeking your own pleasure, nor speaking your usual speech, then You will delight yourself in ADONAI, and I will let you ride over the heights of the earth, I will feed you with the heritage of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of ADONAI has spoken. (Isaiah 58:13-14)

We really have no choice if we are going to follow the teachings of Scripture, keeping Shabbat is not an option. In this week’s Besorah reading (Luke 9:18-36) Peter, James, and John are on the mountaintop with Yeshua. As they are about to descend HaShem declares, “This is My Son, the One I have chosen. Listen to Him” (9:35)! One of the things that Yeshua said, to which we should listen is His words to the Pharisees recorded in Mark 2:27, “Shabbat was made for man, and not man for Shabbat”. I suggest that Yeshua would have found no disagreement Abraham Heschel.

Technical civilization is the product of labor, of man’s exertion of power for the sake of gain, for the sake of producing goods. It begins when man, dissatisfied with what is available in nature, becomes engaged in a struggle with the forces of nature in order to enhance his safety and to increase his comfort. To use the language of the Bible, the task of civilization is to subdue the earth, to have dominion over the beast.[v]

Humankind’s first commandment from the Creator was “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28), and we have been doing that work continually ever sense. But that same Creator designated Shabbat as a time to come apart, cease from our work and be in His presence (Genesis 2:2-3; Hebrews 4:9-10). There are many voices and opinions concerning how to keep the Sabbath as Yeshua-believers. One source I would recommend is the Standards of Observance[vi] which is a work in progress being developed by the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council. A slight twist on the bard, instead of “to be or not to be,” concerning Shabbat, we should read “to do or not to do” and then the answer would be just do it!

Shabbat Shalom

[i] 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.

[ii] First Fruits of Zion, Inc., The Shabbat Table: Prayers, Blessings, and Songs for the Sabbath, Marshfield, The Vine of David, 2014, p xi.

[iii] Heschel, Abraham Joshua, The Sabbath, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951, p 14.

[iv] Grunfeld, Isador, The Sabbath, A Guide to its understanding and Observance, Jerusalem, Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., 1959, p 29.

[v] The Sabbath, p. 27.

[vi] http://ourrabbis.org/main/halakhah-mainmenu-26/shabbat-mainmenu-30

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