B’har-B’chuqotai

B’har-B’chuqotai

On the mount

Leviticus 25:1-26:2
Jeremiah 32:6-27

By My Regulations

Leviticus 26:3-27:34
Jeremiah 16:19-17:24

“Double-Edged Sevens”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah study combines the last two portions of Leviticus, B’har (Leviticus 25:1-26:2) and B’chuqotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34). Leviticus 26:18 summarizes the basic principle of retribution, or reaping what one sows, which the Lord is often attempting to communicate to each man and woman—especially those committed to faithfully following Him:

“If also after these things you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.”

The simple if/then proposition that we see, is something that must be readily grasped by each of us, without necessarily having to understand all of the profound mysteries of God’s universe. If you obey God’s instructions, then you will be blessed—but if you disobey, then you will be cursed (or, at least penalized to some degree). One does not need a great amount of formal training in the Scriptures to comprehend the basic formula of choosing life over death, or pleasantness over adversity!

In reading through our dual Torah portion, I believe that a slightly deeper level of understanding is introduced and amplified for students, when a pattern of sevens is repeated several times in the text. Such a “seven pattern” can be applied in a series of curses upon those who disobey Him:

  • “If also after these things you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins” (Leviticus 26:18).
  • “If then, you act with hostility against Me and are unwilling to obey Me, I will increase the plague on you seven times according to your sins” (Leviticus 26:21).
  • “Then I will act with hostility against you; and I, even I, will strike you seven times for your sins” (Leviticus 26:24).
  • “Then I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins” (Leviticus 26:28).

The fourfold repetition of the statement “seven times for your sins,” as the penalties for disobedience intensify, has profound significance for those of us who eagerly want to obey the Lord and be recipients of His blessings. If you have been paying careful attention to the Torah portions from Genesis to here in Leviticus, the call upon God’s people is to be a holy nation and kingdom of priests, who have been commissioned to bring His light to the world. In Leviticus ch. 26 we discover that the pattern of seven is like a sword with a double-edge, seeking to pierce the heart in order to separate the holy from the profane, or the clean from the unclean. As Hebrews 4:12 tells us,

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

If you take a look at the wider context of what the author of Hebrews writes, you find that he is describing the profound privilege that children of God have to enter into His rest. Interestingly, it is from Psalm 95 that he largely draws his inspiration from, to exhort his audience to obey the Lord and not give up on Messiah Yeshua:

“Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, ‘AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST’ [Psalm 95:11], although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: ‘AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS’ [Genesis 2:2]; and again in this passage, ‘THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST [Psalm 95:11]. Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, ‘TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS’ [Psalm 95:7-8]. For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Yeshua the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:1-16).

The righteousness of God requires Him to follow His own Instruction for the created order with fidelity. Unfortunately, we find that many of the warnings issued by Moses, to Ancient Israel in Leviticus 26, were administered down through the ages. Within the Tanakh, we see many scenes of how Ancient Israel rebelled against the Lord, committed idolatry, aligned themselves with foreign nations opposed to Him, suffered military defeats, and even experienced exile to strange lands.

Even though the Father patiently loves each and every one of His people, showering them with His lovingkindness and mercy, He is often compelled to execute His judgment in order to drive us back into His loving arms. He intensifies the punishment phases in an attempt to turn His people back to Him. As you read the accelerating chastisements seen in this Torah portion, you will see that once the disobedient Israelites are scattered to the nations, that the Holy Land will finally enjoy its Sabbath rest:

“You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste. Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it will observe the rest which it did not observe on your sabbaths, while you were living on it” (Leviticus 26:33-35).

As you can read, God is very concerned about the Promised Land. Because He created Planet Earth, He knows that the very elements He designed require a level of rest in order to function efficiently. Here, we see how the Creator must fulfill His promises, but also His intimate concern for the Land promised to the Patriarchs. Now if you can imagine how much the Holy One cherishes His commitment to that “dirt” located in the Middle East, can you fathom how much He loves us, who are formed from “dirt” (cf. Genesis 2:7)? The challenge individuals face, is that unlike dirt which forms dry land, when God took those same elements and fashioned human beings, He made them in His image and likeness:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).

Ironically, this is where the problem emanates, because human beings have been given a free will to choose what they want to do. Unlike the dust of the ground—or even the animals at large—we have been endowed with a mind, emotions, and reasoning abilities. We do not just act “on instinct.” The Creator has gifted men and women with the capacity to do and accomplish much. Just consider the mandate that came forth as the Lord uttered His first command to Adam:

“God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food’; and it was so” (Genesis 1:28-30).

From the very beginning of Creation, humanity was given the command to bear seed through reproduction, in order to fill the Earth and take dominion over it. Rule was given to the human race over all the other creatures. Humanity’s challenge was dealing with these awesome responsibilities first in the Garden of Eden, but then through the sin of Adam, outside of such a paradise in a rather hostile and unprotected environment. As a result of disobedience to later instructions, the presence of obstacles outside the Garden now were able to enact various afflictions upon the man and woman, and their offspring, turning people back toward Him:

“Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat from it”; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return’” (Genesis 3:17-19).

We all know the story too well, and can attest to the introduction of challenges and problems that ensue from the various “thorns and thistles” of life. However, the principles are absolute. By the time Moses receives further instructions, the Holy One attempts to give His people an advantage over those who are simply trying to understand the Creation and their relationship to it through empirical observation.

As witnessed in Holy Scripture, God’s people have a great advantage, but it comes with an equally great responsibility—because once you read and comprehend what is being stated—you then become accountable to God’s Word. Whether it was Moses declaring it in the desert, or Jeremiah reiterating it many generations later regarding the seventy years of exile that would allow the Land to have its rest (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10; cf. 2 Chronicles 36:21), or even Yeshua amplifying these principles in His teachings—the fact of the matter is that the pattern of sevens, quite often, can either be a blessing or a curse.

Consider, for example, the simple teaching that Yeshua gave to His Disciples regarding the spiritual warfare that has enveloped the fallen world:

“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation’” (Matthew 12:43-45).

When you read the wider context of where these statements are made, you will discover that Yeshua is explaining the finer points regarding the Sabbath to some of His critics (Matthew 12:1-13). In fact, Yeshua makes the provoking statement that He is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8), while describing why it is permissible to do good on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12). In Matthew 12, Yeshua makes some poignant quotations from the Prophet Isaiah (Matthew 12:17-21), which point to His redemptive work:

“‘Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.’ Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it, ‘I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison. I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images. Behold, the former things have come to pass, now I declare new things; before they spring forth I proclaim them to you’” (Isaiah 42:1-9).

As you can read, Israel has been chosen to be a light to the nations (Heb. l’or goyim). All of those who compose the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) have the responsibility of pointing people to the One True God, by demonstrating an earnest obedience to Him and thus being blessed by Him. But this can only happen by us being one with Him who is the epitome of Israel—the Messiah Yeshua—the quintessential Israelite.

In Matthew 12, a demon-possessed man confronts Yeshua, and some condemning Pharisees (possibly of the stricter School of Shammai) say that He is operating via the power of Beelzebul or Satan (Matthew 12:22-37). After Yeshua explains the difference between casting out demons by Beelzebul versus the Spirit of the God, He then explains what is often referred to as the unpardonable sin. This is when a person denies or blasphemes the Ruach HaKodesh or Holy Spirit, which must be indwelling His followers if they are to truly have salvation. Those who claimed that the Messiah operated via the power of Satan were blaspheming the work of God, and so Yeshua makes a profound statement about our accountability for the very words we utter:

“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

It is not just a matter of doing something against the Torah that will merit condemnation; Yeshua the Messiah raises the threshold for disobedience. One will be held accountable for making careless statements without understanding the foolishness of speaking from fleshly inclinations. This is why James, the half-brother of Yeshua, admonishes us to listen before we speak:

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19-21).

More important for us to not overlook from the scene of Matthew ch. 12, though, is how Yeshua directs us to how those delivered from demons—can have seven more demons come back—if sinful behavior is not rectified and corrected:

“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation’” (Matthew 12:43-45).

What is it that the Lord is specifically trying to say to us? If we are set free from a demonic influence or stronghold, we must ask our Heavenly Father to fill up the void left empty with His presence! Our nature in Adam is fallen, and as humans our propensity is to think and speak things that will probably judge us. Perhaps if we decrease, He might increase. Yeshua the Messiah is looking to spend eternity with us, and He wants us to receive all of the rewards that we can in His Kingdom! Notice how in Matthew ch. 12 He is asked about His mother and brothers, and He says that those who obey His Father may be considered part of His family:

“Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You. But Yeshua answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers? And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother”’” (Matthew 12:47-50).

Do you want to spend eternity with Yeshua? Perform and accomplish the will of our Father in Heaven. Follow the instruction manual He has given us. Do the best that you can do, to follow the directions that He has given us in order to receive His blessings. Pray for the Lord to send you His Holy Spirit, and be empowered to accomplish good works. Make sure that you are born again!

We are each created in the image and likeness of God. Think about how you are as a parent and how you interact with your children. Have you ever asked a son to do the weekly task of taking out the garbage, or a daughter to empty out the dishwasher for her mother? Can you relate to the joy you receive when your son or daughter has actually performed these tasks on their own initiative? Our Heavenly Father is the same way. When He looks down from Heaven and sees us obeying Him, He smiles down upon us and is able to bless us.

I believe that as we search the Scriptures and understand more about His Word, we will find that everything we know for a joyful and fulfilled life is embodied in it. We should be renewed every day to do the good works that He requires of us, which in turn will testify of who He is to the sinful world in which we live. If we do not obey the Lord, then the double-edged sword of His Word will have its way—whether we like it or not!

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

After the death
Holy Ones

“Holiness and the Golden Rule”

Leviticus 16:1-18:30
Ezekiel 22:1-19 (A); 22:1-16 (S)

Leviticus 19:1-20:27
Amos 9:7-15 (A); Ezekiel 20:2-20 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week we get to examine a dual Torah portion with Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. After the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, the text details the requirements for the Day of Atonement that are performed annually by the high priest of Israel.[1] Reflecting on this instruction some five to six months before—or after—its yearly remembrance, should readily remind each of us of the atonement and permanent forgiveness we need for our sins of commission or omission. This is something that ultimately can only be found in the Messiah Yeshua! But rather than go into an exhaustive study on this topic, I would instead like us to focus upon the holiness that God’s people are to evidence in their lives.

The overriding premise of our text selection has to be the admonition to be holy:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy’…‘Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine’” (Leviticus 19:1-2; 20:26).

Our reading does include a list of various do’s and don’t’s, which are intended to promote this requirement for God’s people. From simple ways on how to handle the harvest,[2] properly manage labor,[3] restrictions issued about the occult[4] and deviant sexual activity,[5] the wide variety of instructions are all designed to sanctify a people for the Lord and His purposes in the Earth.

As we consider the great value and strength of these instructions, as they are to guide God’s people—a sense of protection from the wickedness of the world should hopefully prevail within us. Even though the thought of participating in many of these activities is often never considered by us, the sad reality is that these depraved activities have occurred in many civilizations from the Biblical period to the present. Lamentably, even in the Judeo-Christian culture of the West, the laxity of moral codes and basic human ethics is fostering a proliferation of many of these formerly illegal actions. One could readily conclude from observing the society that surrounds us, that we are seeing some of the same things that Paul warned Timothy about:

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

When you take a look at this list of how humans will behave in the Last Days, you can see some parallels between these gross sins and the instructions Moses gave in Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. But rather than focus on all of the negative aspects of this, I would like to focus instead upon the positive commandments about how we should treat our neighbors. This is something that every Messiah follower, who has been born again from above, needs to absolutely grasp a hold of in his or her heart and mind. The uniqueness of our walk with Yeshua the Messiah, and the salvation we possess in Him, should testify that we are indeed living out the just requirements of the Torah:

“You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:15-18).

Leviticus 19:18, the command to love one’s neighbor, is repeated numerous times throughout the Apostolic Scriptures (Mark 12:32; Matthew 19:19; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). Even with the debate present in much of today’s broad Messianic movement over how much or how little Jewish and non-Jewish Believers are to keep of the Torah, no one on any side of the discussion disputes that this commandment is to be steadfastly followed by all.

The concept of how we should properly treat our neighbors, especially our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith, is something that is sorely needed in the emerging Messianic movement. Regrettably, it has been my experience that many who profess to be pursuing a “Torah observant” lifestyle, do not adhere to the basic ethical commandments of how we relate to our neighbors. This is very troubling, because unlike some of the more obscure commandments buried in the Torah, with little or no reference in the Apostolic Scriptures, the instruction for God’s people to treat others fairly and with love, is something that should really be second nature to us. Is not the Holy Spirit resident in our hearts to produce a love for others, especially when they wrong us? How often do we not allow God to handle those who have offended us or made us angry, taking matters into our own hands?

When Yeshua was asked what the greatest commandment of the Torah was, He responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. Perhaps you need to review some of the key passages witnessed in the Synoptic Gospels?

“And one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘What commandment is the foremost of all?’ Yeshua answered, ‘The foremost is, “HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH” [Deuteronomy 6:4-5]. The second is this, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” [Leviticus 19:18]. There is no other commandment greater than these.’ And the scribe said to Him, ‘Right, Teacher, You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF [Deuteronomy 6:4; 4:35; Isaiah 45:21; Deuteronomy 6:5; Joshua 22:5; Leviticus 19:18], is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ And when Yeshua saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions” (Mark 12:29-34).

“‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND’ [Deuteronomy 6:5]. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ [Leviticus 19:18]. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).

“And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And he answered and said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ [Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18]. And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live’” (Luke 10:25-27).

The greatest commandments of the Torah are considered to be one’s love for God, followed by one’s love for his or her neighbors. It is commonly observed that if you love a God who cannot be seen, then you should certainly love your neighbors who can be seen. We have the opportunity every day, to visibly display love for our neighbors or brethren, by the actions we demonstrate toward them. Whether these actions are positive or negative is entirely up to us. Will we lend a helping hand when needed, or will we treat others with discord and disgust?

Loving Our Neighbors

As you dig deeper into Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, you should detect how Leviticus 19:15-18 explicitly tells us how to love our neighbors. We are commanded to judge fairly. “You shall not render an unjust judgment” (Leviticus 19:15a, NRSV) or “You shall not render an unfair decision” (NJPS). We should not fall into the trap of thinking that our neighbors are totally beyond judgment, because life being what it is, there will inevitably be times when we are called to judge circumstances, make decisions, and render some kind of evaluation about another person’s character. Of course, when we find ourselves in such predicaments, the admonition is very clear to judge fairly and equitably:

“You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (Leviticus 19:15).

The Prophet Zechariah reemphasizes this premise, telling us that impartiality is critical for implementing proper justice:

“‘These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate,’ declares the LORD” (Zechariah 8:16-17).

It is certain that if you judge with evil in your heart, that you will be in opposition to the Holy One of Israel. You will have exposed yourself as one who does not love the Lord, or love his neighbor as himself.

The second principle that Acharei Mot-Kedoshim declares to us relates to the chronic problem of the evil tongue. In Leviticus 19:16, the offender is referred to as a “slanderer” or “gossipmonger” (ATS):

“You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:16).

There is nothing more damaging to a person, short of physical harm, than the wickedness of defaming someone by speaking falsehoods. Sadly, this is one of the most prevalent sins among God’s people today. Within the siddur or prayer book, the Jewish Sages have included a traditional, daily prayer that people might be guarded against evil speech, and other similar acts:

“May it be Your will, HASHEM, my God, and the God of my forefathers, that You rescue me today and every day from brazen men and from brazenness, from an evil man, an evil inclination, or evil companion, an evil neighbor, and evil mishap, an evil eye, evil speech, informers, false witnesses, the hatred of others, libel, unnatural death, harmful illnesses, unfavorable occurrences, the destructive spiritual impediment, a harsh trial and a harsh opponent—whether he is a member of the covenant or whether he is not a member of the covenant—and from the judgment of Gehinnom.”[6]

The Talmud makes some very poignant remarks about the effect of the tongue on the community of Israel:

It has been taught on Tannaite authority: Said R. Eleazar b. Parta, ‘Come and see how great is the power of slander [evil speech]. From whence do we learn that lesson? From the case of the spies. Now if such [was the penalty exacted from] one who slandered wood and stone [that is, the spies spoke poorly of the Land of Israel], how much the more will be [the penalty] for one who slanders his fellow.’ [Compare T. Ar. 2:11, as follows: R. Eleazar b. Parta says, ‘Lo, it says, And the men who brought forth an evil report about the Land died (Num. 14:37). Now about what did they bring forth an evil report? Concerning wood and stones. And does not this yield an argument a fortiori: Now if they who brought forth an evil report only about wood and stones were punished, and not by a trifling punishment but by a most severe punishment, and not by a transient punishment but by one which lasts for generations, he who brings forth an evil report concerning his fellow man, in like manner how much the more so will he be punished!’]” (b.Arachin 15a).[7]

Among some Rabbis, the admonitions about avoiding slander are coupled with the command to “not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed” (Leviticus 19:16, ATS). With this being the case, how should we react when we hear our neighbor’s name or character being slandered—meaning murdered? Should we not stand up and prevent character assassination? Sadly, I have found via life experience that various people within the Body of the Messiah largely do not know how to properly do this. We would all benefit greatly if we simply came to our brother’s or sister’s defense, when we know that they are being unjustly spoken against.

Next, we are commanded not to hate our neighbors in our hearts:

“You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17).

Many Believers talk a great deal about the “intentions of the heart.” Here in the Torah, the Lord makes sure that the issue(s) about what is present in one’s heart is amplified. We are not to hate our fellow countryman. Some may assume that this pertains only to acts of hatred, but by telling us “Do not hate your brother in your heart” (NIV), any confusion is immediately stopped. The teachings of the Apostles mention the sin of one’s heart many, many times. In fact, John equates it to a battle of light and darkness in the human soul:

“The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11).

If a person has any hatred for a brother or sister, he or she needs to check if any darkness is present in the heart. We should not have any malice toward someone, but the reality is that disagreements do occur in human relations. The Torah gives us a very solemn warning about reproving our neighbors without incurring sin. The Apostle Paul further amplifies our understanding of how to lovingly rebuke those in the faith:

“Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Messiah Yeshua and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thus share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin” (1 Timothy 5:19-22).

Here, Paul gives Timothy instruction about how to properly handle a problem with an elder in the assembly. The key is to do so soberly and without falling into sin. Too often, people level charges against other people for the slightest provocation. In this account, as should be practiced with others, the necessity for multiple witnesses to a charge should be obtained. The sin of a spirit of partiality is sternly warned against. Obviously, if you harbor hatred in your heart, then you will not be able to be impartial.

Finally, Leviticus 19:18 tells us that we are to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is very important that the concept of loving is coupled with the prohibition against taking vengeance. The Apostle Paul reiterates this, instructing the Romans to let God discipline those who do them wrong:

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY’ [Leviticus 19:18], says the Lord. ‘BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD’ [Proverbs 25:21-22]. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21).

Paul links verses seen in Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, with teachings that Yeshua Himself made, as well as a well-known proverb:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21-22).

The Final Measure

When we consider the referenced verses in this week’s Torah selection, we lay the foundation for one of the most important commandments in the Bible. Many refer to this as the Golden Rule, derived from Yeshua’s statement, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12, NRSV). Remember that after loving our Heavenly Father, we are supposed to love our neighbors. As you meditate upon this word, you might ask yourself just how well you are presently loving your neighbor.

If you are married, you might start by considering your spouse as your closest neighbor. Are you looking out for his or her needs? Are you putting his or her needs ahead of yours (cf. Philippians 2:3-4)? Are you seeking ways to serve him or her? Are you coming to the defense of him or her when your spouse is being wronged? This list could go on and on. But, when considering this most crucial of human relationships, you must exercise love by putting your husband or wife’s needs ahead of your own.

After going through this exercise, you might want to consider contemplating how you love your other neighbors. This can range from those in your fellowship or those in your neighborhood that you interact with on a daily basis.

Finally, allow me to give you an important thought to meditate upon. Imagine that the Golden Rule is a measuring rod which determines your degree of holiness. If you are honest with yourself, hopefully you will conclude you are probably lacking some holiness. After all, when analyzing our human interactions with other “neighbors,” just about all of us can recall times when we were partial in judgment. What about times when we said something that could be considered slanderous? What about the times when we hated someone in our hearts because of something done to us? Is it possible we said or did something to take vengeance? Is it possible that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves?

I hope that you see the picture. If you take the time to perform some personal introspection you might conclude that this is a very convicting exercise. Obedience to the second greatest commandment may be more theory than it is reality in your life. But this is why the faithful Torah student can be blessed. Every year we have the opportunity to let the Spirit of God instruct us about loving our neighbor!


NOTES

[1] Leviticus 16:1-34.

[2] Leviticus 19:9-10.

[3] Leviticus 19:13.

[4] Leviticus 19:31; 20:6.

[5] Leviticus ch. 18.

[6] Scherman and Zlotowitz, Complete ArtScroll Siddur, 23.

[7] The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary.

Tazria-Metzora

Tazria-Metzora

She Conceives
Infected One

“Clean! Clean!”

Leviticus 12:1-13:59
2 Kings 4:42-5:19

Leviticus 14:1-15:33
2 Kings 7:3-20


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Every year, in a systematic fashion through the consistent study of the Torah, we have an excellent opportunity to review one of the most devastating transgressions that plagues not only the human race, but even those within the community of faith. With the double portion of Tazria-Metzora, the issues regarding unclean and clean and their relationship to leprosy (Heb. tzara’at), are once again considered:

“As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46).

For centuries the Jewish Rabbis have taught that this text, which addresses a wide array of physical issues, actually reaches beyond the physical dimension and reflects upon a person’s spiritual condition. One of the challenges that faces all people is the reality of our fallen nature. Whether a person believes the fact that he or she is a recipient of the Fall in the Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 3:16-19), the empirical evidence speaks for itself.

Fallen humanity is burdened with various degrees of understanding or misunderstanding inherited from tasting the forbidden fruit. The problems generated affect all of us, and Ancient Israel even though chosen by God as His special people, was not exempted. Israel was called by the Lord, however, to obey Him and be a testament to the rest of the world so that all might be redeemed. The Bible is a Divine chronicle of what the Creator wants to convey to the world, so that all might have reconciliation and redemption. The problem is that all of us have to constantly battle with a proclivity to follow the ways of our flesh instead of turning toward God for our salvation and deliverance.

Speak No Evil

Traditionally in Judaism the material of Tazria-Metzora and the law of leprosy (Leviticus chs. 13-14) has been probed beyond just the need for a leper to be physically cleansed of the ailment, but has been viewed as the root of what the Sages refer to as lashon ha’ra or “the evil tongue.” J.H. Hertz details how “The Rabbis regard leprosy as a Providential affliction in punishment for slander or tale bearing….; thus teaching that the slanderer is a moral leper, and should find no place in the camp of Israel.”[1]

One of the most prevalent calamities that can infect the human soul is the inherent need to build oneself up, and in so doing, in the deep recesses of the mind, a person can attempt to justify, or at the very least, cover up and deny his or her sin nature. One of the most frequent ways to enhance one’s personal image and self-estimation is to put other people down and to disparage them. This can occur by leveling insults against someone, thinking oneself to be superior, or by simply hating another person. By doing so, this allows the sinner to believe that he or she is better than the one being disparaged. The Scriptures are replete with admonitions against this, as God’s people are to be those who fight against the temptation to look down upon others with discord and revulsion (cf. James 3:9)! This is most especially true when negative thoughts and feelings manifest in the spoken (or even written) word. Consider this admonition from Proverbs regarding how vile the Holy One considers improper use of the tongue, among other bad things:

“There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Upon reading this, it seems likely that there are six major causes of lashon ha’ra or the evil tongue. They all originate from “A mind that hatches evil plots” (NJPS), because what comes forth from our mouths somehow originates with us. Yeshua taught that what comes out of one’s mouth is often a reflection on the wicked nature of one’s inner person:

“But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matthew 15:18-19).

As you read this instruction from the Messiah, did you notice His use of the words “false testimonies [and] blasphemies[2]” (HCSB)? These are two of the most vicious forms of killing that are present in our age today—and they go far beyond homicide. In fact, when you compare the difference between physical murder and the chronic character assassination perpetrated by a false witness against a person by slander, you might conclude that to be murdered is (sometimes) preferred over the possible perpetual consequences of lies. An example to be considered is that slander against another is like tearing open a feather pillow that has been cast into the wind. There is no way to recapture all of the feathers that have been blown in all sorts of directions!

Due to the fallen nature of humans, with our proclivity to want to feel better about ourselves more than what reality often dictates, when gossip or rumor or slander of false witness is heard, there is a natural inclination to want to share such “juicy news” with others. This innate problem in our psyche has the effect of not only spreading a bad word, but it often goes in every direction and lands down upon others at almost any unexpected time. Even though attempts can be made to stop such sinful news, it is impossible for it to stop, just like it is impossible to collect all the feathers from a pillow that has been ripped in two.

Unclean and Clean

I hope that you can see some of the reasons why these Torah passages deal with the condition of unclean versus being clean. When reviewing Leviticus chs. 13-14, and looking at some of the statements made about skin conditions and different conditions because of various excretions from the body—you should see that a point being made is that for a considerable amount of time during the normal course of our lives, men and women are simply in a state of “uncleanness.” Our tendency to be unclean is something we cannot do very much about, with having leprosy as one of the most significant forms of uncleanness. A condition of physical uncleanness should highlight the spiritual cleanness we can only have via the salvation of the Messiah Yeshua!

There is a prophetic picture seen in the Book of Ezekiel, which does an excellent job at describing some of the inherent problems associated with being spiritually unclean. The Prophet Ezekiel was moved by the Lord to speak forth on how sinfully unclean Israel has been, but in the end how He will restore Israel, and the people will all be clean once again:

“Son of man, when the house of Israel was living in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds; their way before Me was like the uncleanness of a woman in her impurity. Therefore I poured out My wrath on them for the blood which they had shed on the land, because they had defiled it with their idols. Also I scattered them among the nations and they were dispersed throughout the lands. According to their ways and their deeds I judged them. When they came to the nations where they went, they profaned My holy name, because it was said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD; yet they have come out of His land.’ But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you’” (Ezekiel 36:17-29).

In this passage, Ezekiel compared Israel to a woman in a major state of menstrual uncleanness. Because Israel did not walk in obedience before the Lord, it was scattered to the nations and punished. In spite of the gross sin committed, however, God Himself will restore His people and declare them to be clean (Heb. tahor) before Him. Israel will be forgiven of its idolatrous sins of filth, and be supernaturally empowered to keep God’s Torah.

When I think of the process of God making each of us clean by the power of the gospel, I am most prompted to consider Paul’s words about Yeshua dying for us as the ekklēsia, and us being washed by the water of the message:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah also loved the [assembly] and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26).

What is perhaps important to note is that the “word” being referred to here is rhēma, meaning “that which is said or spoken, a word, saying” (LS).[3] While we all must be made clean by the continual study of God’s written Word, has He spoken the words “Clean, clean!” over us as a result of our being convicted by Scripture? The key “spoken word” that is to make each of us clean is that quintessential declaration “Yeshua is Lord!” (Romans 10:9), as we acknowledge Him as the Supreme One to whom all must give honor and worship (Philippians 2:10; cf. Isaiah 45:23).

As Ezekiel continues his prophecy, he talks about the new heart of flesh that God is going to give His people in order for them to be able to fully obey Him, and experience all of the blessings that He has in store:

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

Along with Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27 is regarded as a key Tanakh attestation to the New Covenant that Yeshua inaugurated by His very sacrifice (cf. Luke 22:20).[4]

As I contemplated these verses in light of what Tazria-Metzora admonishes us this week, I have readily concluded that a heart of flesh, washed by the message of the gospel, with the Spirit of God indwelling us—is the only way to enter into a degree of being clean before a holy and righteous God. Attaining “cleanness” by human means is something that is almost impossible, given the proclivities of the sinful world in which we live. The Apostle Paul understood the absolute need for us to be made into new creatures, so that we might be transformed into those significant vessels able to function in the Master’s service:

“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Messiah according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).

The Apostle Peter also reflects on this, indicating that we can partake of Messiah Yeshua by exhibiting His Divine qualities in the world around us:

“For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:4-9).

Both of these Apostles were urging the First Century Believers to take their purification in Yeshua most seriously. When you see the character traits that Messiah followers should be evidencing as a result of being made clean, you will find that they are the exact opposites of the evil sins and behavior that cause malicious gossip and slander to manifest.

Those who perpetually operate in lashon ha’ra, and yet to some degree claim to know Yeshua or Jesus, may not be as much immature as they may still have a fallen, unregenerated heart of stone. We need to pray that they are convicted by God’s Word so that they can be saved and cleansed by the Lord, and that He can pronounce “Clean!” over them. Some might be reading the Word, but things are not changing in their stony hearts. Instead, they continue to evidence common sinful traits like the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). These are the people who speak words of destruction from their mouths, rather than words of life and edification to others.

The only solution to all of these maladies, whether they are spots on one’s skin, lips that attempt to praise God when the heart is far removed from Him, or speaking slander and false witness against one’s brethren, is only embodied in the faithful decision to confess the inherent need mortals have for a Divine Savior.

Understand your need for a Redeemer! Confess and repent of your individual sins and transgressions, and cry out to the Lord for mercy! In His mercy to you, as a result of the sacrifice of His Son, you can be transformed into a new creature and be made clean (Revelation 7:14). With your new heart of flesh, you will be compelled by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to continue to be cleansed as you grow in your love for God because of the work He has done to make you His own.


NOTES

[1] Hertz, Pentateuch & Haftorahs, 461.

[2] Grk. pseudomarturiai, blasphēmiai.

[3] LS, 717.

[4] Consult the article “What is the New Covenant?” by J.K. McKee.