Thoughts on Sh’lach

This week’s Torah reading in Israel is Sh’lach, Numbers 13:1 – 15:41.*The haftarah, the reading from the prophets, is Joshua 2:1-24 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 14:1-24.

The parasha starts with the episode of leaders from the twelve tribes being sent into the land of Canaan to investigate the territory, which did not end well and eventually led to Israel’s extended journey in the wilderness instead of their immediate entrance into the land of promise. The parasha ends with HaShem telling Moshe to command Bnei Yisrael

…that they are to make for themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they are to put a blue cord on each tzitzit.It will be your own tzitzit—so whenever you look at them, you will remember all the mitzvot of Adonai and do them and not go spying out after your own hearts and your own eyes, prostituting yourselves. This way you will remember and obey all My mitzvot and you will be holy to your God.

Numbers 15:38-40

Concerning the phrase “your own hearts and your own eyes” Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, ז״ל, comments,“…the eyes mentioned in the verse here are not the eyes one uses for physical vision, but are spiritual eyes, the eyes which understand and recognize things. Nor is the heart the anatomic heart, but it is our drives, the mental factors, which are present within man.” (Accepting the Yoke of Heaven, Urim Publications, 2002, p. 139.)

Rashi also commenting on verse 39, stresses “and not go spying out (וְלֹא תָתוּרו)”. He points out that a different form of the same Hebrew word (מִּתּוּר) is used in Numbers 13:25 when the spies return from investigation or scouting out the land. He goes on to note that “the heart and eyes are the spies for the body. They act as its agents for sinning: the eye sees, the heart covets, and the body commits the sin (Midrash Tanchuma, Sh’lach 15).” (See: https://www.sefaria.org.il/Numbers.15.39?lang=bi&aliyot=0&p2=Rashi_on_Numbers.15.41&lang2=bi)

In other words, as the eyes and the heart as the spies of the body prepare the way for the body to transgress. In Matthew, Yeshua teaches his followers similarly,

…the things that proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and those things make the man unholy.For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander.

Matthew 15:18019

Years ago, when I was on active duty in the Marine Corp, for a season I was a Data Systems Analyst. I worked with maintenance and supply statistics in order to determine manpower and material usage as well as to determine the reasons for aircraft being out of service. One of the first things we learned in school, which became quite obvious in the field, was the term GIGO or “garbage in, garbage out.” GIGO is used to express the idea that in computing and other spheres, incorrect or poor-quality input will always produce faulty output. If I put in the wrong data, if I misplaced a decimal point one direction or the other, the result could have been not only false but also very costly. Attention to detail was an absolute must.

Returning to the scriptures for today, we must guard what our eyes see and what our heart dwells upon. GIGO is active in our spiritual lives as well. This concept is reflected Yeshua’s words when he told his disciples, “The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:22-23). Similar to Prof. Leibowitz’s interpretation of heart and eyes noted above, Yeshua was probably not speaking about the physical eye, but the spiritual eye, which is the gateway to the inner self that has the potential to corrupt not only the soul but every aspect of one’s life. 

Social media is one area that we must guard not only our eyes and our hearts but also our time. I am not saying all of social media is wrong or bad, but it is an area that must be guarded. This morning when I opened Facebook, I saw a cartoon posted by Rabbi Michael Schiffman. It was the picture of a stereotypical scraggly prophet, walking down a busy street, carrying a sign that read, “The END of the WORLD came & went while you were on Facebook.” Yeshua said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). There is nothing wrong with Facebook or social media in general, unless it consumes us and becomes a “treasure” that moves our focus from HaShem and His Messiah to the things of the world. 

One verse from this week’s reading from the Apostolic Writings that is appropriate. “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me” (John 14:1). When we focus on trusting God and trusting Yeshua, we will live in the reality the words from Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart diligently, for from it flow the springs of life”. Let’s purpose this week and throughout the rest of our lives to carefully choose what our heart and eyes dwell, guarding them and focusing them on these living waters that admonish us to trust in God and Yeshua.

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

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Thoughts on Beha’alotcha

This week’s Torah portion, in Israel, is Beha’alotcha, Numbers 8:1 12:16. The haftarah is Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 13:1-20.

I found the timing of this week’s parasha quite interesting. As we began the new week on Motzei Shabbat/Sunday, we celebrated Shavuot, a time in which we remember not only the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai but also the giving of Ruach HaKodesh in the Temple courts as the disciples celebrated Shavuot after Yeshua’s ascension. The reason I find this so interesting is HaShem’s actions in Numbers 11.

The narrative begins as many do, with the people are grumbling and complaining, and Moshe reaching his breaking point. In fact, he is so frustrated that he cries out to HaShem,

I am not able to carry all these people by myself! The load is too heavy for me! If this is how You are treating me, kill me now! If I have found favor in Your eyes, kill me please—don’t let me see my own misery!” (Numbers 11:14-15)

How often have we felt similar frustration in our family, our work, or even our ministry? “God I can’t do it anymore, just kill me and bring me home to you.” Fortunately for Moshe, as well as for you and me, HaShem seldom answers our cries of frustration and despair in the manner we express them. Take Moshe for example, instead of HaShem addressing Moshe’s suicide request to be smote, He gave Moshe a way to deal with his situation. HaShem told Moshe to set aside seventy elders of Israel, men known to be leaders, and to bring them to the front of the Mishkan where HaShem would take some of the Ruach that was on Moshe, empowering him to fulfill his role, and place it upon these seventy elders, enabling them to assist Moshe so that he would not have to carry the burden alone. Moshe did as HaShem commanded him, and similar to what would happen in the Temple courts centuries later, the seventy elders received the Ruach and began prophesying (cf. 11:24-25).

However, there were some differences between the incident recorded in Numbers 11 and that of Acts 2:1-4. In Numbers 11, HaShem came down in the form of a cloud, spoke with Moshe and then took some of the Ruach that was on Moshe, distributing it among the seventy. This cloud-form may well be reminiscent of the cloud that led Israel during their time in the wilderness. However, at Shavuot the situation is different. While gathered in the Temple courts the Ruach came in a different form:

…a sound (from heaven) like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.And tongues like fire spreading out appeared to them and settled on each one of them. (Acts 2:2-3)

While the sound and sight are reminiscent of Mt Sinai, I believe the greater importance to note is that the Ruach was not metered out as a portion of another’s but poured out without measure. Also notice that in Numbers the elders are said to have never “prophesized” again, but in Acts there is no indication that the effect of the Ruach’s outpouring had an ending or ceasing point.

Rashi’s comment on the statement וְלֹ֥א יָסָֽפוּ, that they did not continue (prophesying; 11:25) is thought-provoking. He notes that the Targum renders “and they did not cease” to mean that their prophetic powers remained. This would make sense in that if these elders were to continue to assist Moshe, they would need the power to do so. In this same vein, it is important to note that contrary to modern understanding, prophesy is not simply a miraculous, visible expression (as the vocal utterances in Acts 2). Looking at some of the synonyms of the word prophesy, we come to understand that it carries the nuance of giving advice, of having insight in a particular situation, and of being able to speak the truth, even in difficult situations. Kefa (Peter) may have had this last nuance in mind when he encouraged those of his community to “Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you,” (I Peter 3:15). The three nuances just mentioned are not exciting or miraculous expressions of prophesy, but they are expressions that are needed at different times in our lives. In Mishlei (Proverbs), we read,

A person finds joy in giving an apt reply– and how good is a timely word! (Proverbs 15:30, NIV)

We usually don’t want to hear correction or advice from others, but the reality is that there are times when we cannot hear from HaShem and need to hear the prophetic word through one the Ruach brings into our lives. In 1972, Bill Withers released a song entitled Lean on Me. The chorus of that song is

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand,
We all need somebody to lean on.
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand,
We all need somebody to lean on.

We are all in the same boat on this journey through life. There are those around us, just as those standing before the Mishkan or those standing in the Temple courts, that have the ability to speak into our lives words that can guide, words that can heal, words that can restore life situations. Not only that, but there are times when you or I are the ones that have words that others may need because “We all need somebody to lean on.”

Shabbat Shalom

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Thoughts on Bechukotai

This week’s parasha is Bechukotai (with My statutes), Leviticus 26:3 – 27:34. * The haftarah is Jeremiah 16:19-17:14 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 11:17–37.

Technically, there are multiple kal v’homer or if/then clauses in this week’s parasha, 26:3 & 12; 26:14 & 16, essentially “if you walk in My ways then you will walk in My blessings” or if you do not walk in My ways then you will walk in the consequences of your choice.” Then there are a couple of with sub-categories (26:18-28; 26:40 & 42) which also are kal v’homer clauses, which affirm, “if you continue (to choose) to walk contrary to My ways then the consequences will get even worse. However, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is filled with the promise,

“Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I hate them into utter destruction, and break My covenant with them, for I am ADONAI their God. But for their sake, I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am ADONAI.” (Leviticus 26:44-45)

For those who erroneously assume that HaShem has finished with His covenant people, Israel, this affirmation should soundly quell that idea. Then if they bring up the fact that this statement in the “Old Testament” and thereby before “Christ”, let them be reminded of these words of Rav Shaul,

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. (Romans 11:1)

Neither in the Tanakh nor in the Apostolic Writings could it be said that HaShem rejects His covenant people Israel, even when He needs to discipline them. The Psalmist records the heart cry of HaShem when he wrote,

Oh that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their foes. (Psalm 81:14-15)

The heart cry is immediately preceded by the discipline that HaShem was forced to bring upon Israel due to their choice to not walk in the way of HaShem,

But My people did not listen to My voice. Israel was not willing to be Mine. So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart, to walk in their own counsels. (Psalm 81:12-13)

Notice that the Psalmist agrees with the text in this week’s parasha that discipline or judgment is brought about not due to HaShem’s anger, rather discipline is the consequence of the people’s choice to not to walk in the ways of HaShem.

We also hear the same sentiment echoed in the words of Yeshua as he cried over Jerusalem,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)

While the killing of the prophets and the stoning of the messengers of HaShem is bad, without a doubt, the most telling accusation here is again the choice signified by the words, “but you were not willing.”

There is another thing about choices that I want us to consider in this week’s “Thoughts.” We often hear the assertion that “though I do not follow the commandments of the God of the Bible, I don’t do anything really bad either” or the declaration that “I live a moral, ethical life without following God.” What these people are trying to say is that there is a middle ground, between the positive and negative poles that our parasha seems to set.

In Kiddushin 61b:13, our Sages did away with the idea that there might be a middle ground or that place where rejecting God might lead to a neutral position.

The Gemara asks a related question: Granted, according to the opinion of Rabbi Meir, this is the reason that it is written: “If you walk in My statutes” (Leviticus 26:3), you will receive blessings; conversely: “And if you shall reject My statutes” (Leviticus 26:15), you will receive curses. However, according to the opinion of Rabbi Ḥanina ben Gamliel, why do I need both of these clauses? The Gemara answers: They are both necessary, as it might enter your mind to say: If you follow My statutes you will receive a blessing, whereas if you reject My statutes you will receive neither a blessing nor a curse. The verse, therefore, teaches us that the rejection of God’s statutes warrants a curse. **

The compiler of Mishlei would agree with the Sages, as at least twice there is the warning not to reject the way of HaShem,

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25)

On the other hand, John stated about Yeshua, the Living Word and the embodiment of the Torah,

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us discernment, so that we may know who is genuine; moreover, we are united with the One who is genuine, united with his Son Yeshua the Messiah. He is the genuine God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20, CJB)

Our being united with him, following his way and not our own way, requires that we make a choice to do so. Yeshua has given us the discernment to know the right way to walk, but we still have to make the choice. After Joshua had led Bnei Yisrael into the promised land, after HaShem had given the victory over all their enemies, Joshua challenged all the people to, “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:14-15). This challenge comes down to each of us today, may we choose wisely and walk in the ways of HaShem.

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.

** https://www.sefaria.org/Leviticus.26.15?lang=bi&with=Kiddushin&lang2=en

 

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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