Tazria-Metzora

Tazria

She Conceives

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

Metzora

Infected One

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

“Speech Impediments”


by Mark Huey

Having just given instructions about clean and unclean meats, acceptable and unacceptable for human consumption (Leviticus 11), the Torah now turns to what is to be done after childbirth (Leviticus 12:1-8), and with various skin afflictions (Leviticus 13:1-59) and fluid emissions (Leviticus 15:1-33) that can seemingly disrupt intimate communion with the Almighty. This week’s double portion Torah reading (for 2012), which usually occurs on most non-leap years, addresses these circumstances with explicit details that have been subject to a variety of interpretations down through the centuries. While it is interesting to tally and analyze all of the different theories offered, and the practices that have been altered over the years to accommodate these commands in Jewish tradition, there is one particular view that has garnered a great deal of attention in Jewish examination. The material seen in Shemeni (Leviticus 9:1-11:47), as well as Tazria-Metzora, allows Torah readers an annual opportunity to consider the debilitating sin of lashon ha’ra or “the evil tongue.” Malicious gossip and unverified slander are things that lamentably contaminate far too many who claim to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

There is debate among examiners as to whether or not the disease labeled “leprosy,” tzara’at in our Torah portion, is the actual leprosy of today. Our main point in reading the parashah should be to recognize how there would be a noticeable infection that appeared on the skin of the afflicted. The prescribed method for dealing with the disease was handled by the Levitical priesthood, in order to assure that any potential spread of the disease was minimized. Once discerned as “leprosy” by the priest, the afflicted would be isolated for extended periods of seven days, and reexamined until a declaration of being “clean” could be issued. In the lengthy description of how to contend with leprosy in Leviticus 13, it is notable that cleanliness is achievable after the infection has ended, but when the infection remains, the afflicted is required to warn others with the cry of “Unclean! Unclean!” and remain isolated outside the camp:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, ‘When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling or a scab or a bright spot, and it becomes an infection of leprosy on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests. The priest shall look at the mark on the skin of the body, and if the hair in the infection has turned white and the infection appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is an infection of leprosy; when the priest has looked at him, he shall pronounce him unclean. But if the bright spot is white on the skin of his body, and it does not appear to be deeper than the skin, and the hair on it has not turned white, then the priest shall isolate him who has the infection for seven days. The priest shall look at him on the seventh day, and if in his eyes the infection has not changed and the infection has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall isolate him for seven more days. The priest shall look at him again on the seventh day, and if the infection has faded and the mark has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is only a scab. And he shall wash his clothes and be clean’…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 13:1-6, 45-46).

Leprosy and the Evil Tongue

With a detailed explanation of how to deal with leprosy, the Jewish Sages searched for some other passages in the Torah, in order to try and explain what could have possibly brought this affliction upon the Israelites. Many turned to the episode of Moses’ sister Miriam contracting leprosy, and sought out a reason for her contracting the disease. It is noted how in association with her questioning the authority of Moses by speaking ill of him, she experienced a seven-day banishment from the camp until she could be received again:

“Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, ‘Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?’ And the LORD heard it. (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.) Suddenly the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, ‘You three come out to the tent of meeting.’ So the three of them came out. Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, He said, ‘Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant, against Moses?’ So the anger of the LORD burned against them and He departed. But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous. Then Aaron said to Moses, ‘Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not account this sin to us, in which we have acted foolishly and in which we have sinned. Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother’s womb!’ Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, ‘O God, heal her, I pray!’ But the LORD said to Moses, ‘If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again.’ So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again” (Numbers 12:1-15).

In this passage, Moses’ older sister Miriam and his older brother Aaron not only spoke ill of his choice of a wife, but they also challenged Moses’ leadership and his intimate relationship with the Holy One. This angered the Lord to the point of defending Moses to Aaron and Miriam, in categorical terms, about His familiarity with Him as His servant. As a result of Miriam’s actions, but apparently not Aaron because Miriam initiated the attack, the Lord afflicted her with leprosy, turning her skin white. The punishment for the leprous-induced sin was to place Miriam outside of the camp for seven days, paralleling what is to be done to a person afflicted with leprosy as noted in Leviticus 13. To confirm that there was indeed a connection for disobedience and coming against God’s anointed leader, there is a similar admonition found later in Deuteronomy 24, that makes a similar linkage:

“Be careful against an infection of leprosy that you diligently observe and do according to all that the Levitical priests teach you; as I have commanded them, so you shall be careful to do. Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 24:8-9).

Consequently noting the parallels described in other passages of the Torah, the Jewish Sages have widely concluded that speaking evil against someone has serious repercussions—not only to the person being slandered or libeled—but the community itself infected by the lies and or distortions of the truth. Within the Books of Proverbs and Psalms, we especially see how an evil heart and its intentions are directly connected to an evil tongue, which must be tempered and handled properly, lest it do serious damage to God’s people. Simply consider the following summary of some of the main things that the Lord considers to be an abomination to Him:

“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).

Further abominations to the Lord would be those who secretly slander a neighbor, those who speak arrogantly against the righteous, and lying lips:

“A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil. Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; no one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure” (Psalm 101:4-5).

“Let the lying lips be mute, which speak arrogantly against the righteous with pride and contempt” (Psalm 31:18).

“Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal faithfully are His delight” (Proverbs 12:22).

Of course, there is always the Biblical assurance that the Lord will deal specifically with the false witness. The following are warnings from Proverbs about its incumbent punishment:

“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who tells lies will not escape” (Proverbs 19:5).

“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who tells lies will perish” (Proverbs 19:9).

Further examination of the Torah shows us that the problem of falsifying facts is quite real, and would need to be dealt with accordingly in the community of Ancient Israel, especially when resolving conflicts or judging iniquities or sin. This was further detailed in Deuteronomy 19, where a false witness who rises up in a case will be purged, in the same manner as a convicted criminal:

“A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed. If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you” (Deuteronomy 19:15-20).

Note that malicious witnesses were to receive the punishment that they had intended for the falsely accused, in order for the evil to be purged and eradicated from the community. After all, the strife spread by evil hearts speaking wicked things, must be minimized in order to maintain goodwill among the people of God. Proverbs 6:14 admonishes each one of us, Who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, who spreads strife” (Proverbs 6:14).

The Messiah’s Directions

Regrettably, humanity’s challenge with the inherent inclination to speak falsely about others, or simply slander or libel people for a bevy of reasons, continues this verbal malady down through the ages. But beyond the wisdom found in the Proverbs and Psalms, there are additional comments made by Yeshua the Messiah that address not only how to avoid speaking ill of others, but also helps clarify how our Heavenly Father is most concerned about the intentions of the heart rather than rote adherence to vain human traditions. Yeshua speaks directly to the need for people to conduct self-examination, as opposed to constantly judging others with the apparent design to straighten them out:

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:41-45).

Yeshua describes the hypocrisy of self-righteous criticism of others, by summarizing the connection between the evil heart and the evil words of the critic. Once again, as noted in the Proverbs and Psalms, the issue is the heart and how a wicked heart can generate evil comments.

In another encounter later in Yeshua’s ministry, He was confronted by some Pharisees who were criticizing the Disciples’ apparent disregard for following a ritualistic hand washing methods of the elders. In this exchange, Yeshua got right to the heart of the matter as He revealed the true heart intentions of His critics. Here Yeshua quoted from Isaiah who prophesied that people would honor God with their lips, while their hearts were far away. Yeshua then went on to explain that what was truly in the hearts of the wicked would be evidenced by what they say:

“Then some Pharisees and scribes came to from Yeshua Jerusalem and said, ‘Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.’ And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER” [Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16], and, “HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH” [Exodus 21:17]. But you say, “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,’ he is not to honor his father or his mother.” And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: “THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN”’ [Isaiah 29:13]. After Yeshua called the crowd to Him, He said to them, ‘Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.’ Then the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?’ But He answered and said, ‘Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Explain the parable to us.’ Yeshua said, ‘Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? 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. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man” (Matthew 15:1-20).

When asked by Peter to explain the parable, Yeshua categorically stated that a person was not necessarily defiled by what he or she ate, or for that matter how one washes hands—but rather that the significant defilement to be on guard against comes from the wickedness found in the heart and its manifestation proceeding forth from the mouth.

Clearly, the issues of the heart are what matters most to the Holy One of Israel. Yeshua issued a very sobering word, about how everyone will eventually be held accountable for what they say, revealing what is truly in their hearts:

“Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. 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 12:32-37).

This is a sobering reminder to all who seek the Holy One of Israel, in that there will come a point in time, when there will be some sort of accounting for all that one not only does—but also what one also says. The reality of this should not be taken lightly.

This week, as we read and consider the separation from the Lord, notably to be experienced by skin afflictions—perhaps the Sages were wise to make the much more direct connection between the wickedness of the heart and what proceeds out of the mouth. For certainly, the many words of Yeshua confirm how the Lord is most concerned about the heart intentions of His people. Hence, if you find yourself considering wicked thoughts that may come forth as statements from your mouth, it would be appropriate to confess those sins and repent of them immediately. Certainly learn how to be very careful with what comes out of your mouth!

In the case of the leper, or Miriam, a seven-day period was adequate to be allowed back into the community. But we might question if we have ever taken seven seconds or seven minutes or seven hours—to truly repent before the Lord for wickedness in our hearts that might have come forth from the mouth. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity for each of us to make those confessions, and personally help to clean up the camp—so that any speech impediments will be minimized, and then eliminated.

Shemini

Shemini

Eighth

Leviticus 9:1-11:47
2 Samuel 6:1-7:17 (A); 6:1-19 (S)

“Faithful to be Holy”


by Mark Huey

Now that our annual remembrance of Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread have been completed, Shemini continues where Tzav (Leviticus 6:1[8]-8:36) finished, with the completion of the consecration and ordination of Aaron and his sons after seven days of sacrificial offerings. Recall that the final statement in Tzav reminds the reader that obedience to the word of the Lord took place without deviation:

“‘At the doorway of the tent of meeting, moreover, you shall remain day and night for seven days and keep the charge of the LORD, so that you will not die, for so I have been commanded.’ Thus Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD had commanded through Moses” (Leviticus 8:35-36).

Now as the instructions turn to the first day of the second week, or the eighth day (Leviticus 9:1), our portion focuses more on not only the consequences of taking the Lord’s commands lightly (Leviticus 10), but the imperative for the priesthood—and by extension all of Israel—to be holy by delineating what the Lord considers clean or unclean (Leviticus 11). The Lord was very concerned that Israel be a “holy nation” among the nations of the world (Exodus 19:6). With holiness a theme of this teaching, Moses stated that there was the possibility that the glory of the Lord would appear to Aaron, his sons, and the entire congregation after they followed the Lord’s instructions:

“Now it came about on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel; and he said to Aaron, ‘Take for yourself a calf, a bull, for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without defect, and offer them before the LORD. Then to the sons of Israel you shall speak, saying, “Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both one year old, without defect, for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD, and a grain offering mixed with oil; for today the LORD will appear to you.”’ So they took what Moses had commanded to the front of the tent of meeting, and the whole congregation came near and stood before the LORD. Moses said, ‘This is the thing which the LORD has commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you’” (Leviticus 9:1-6).

While Moses suggested that the presence of the Lord might appear—after completing all of the instructions and blessing the people of Israel—the glory of the Lord actually did appear, and the Lord consumed the offerings with a blazing fire:

“Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:22-24).

Nadab and Abihu

The response to the appearance of the glory of the Lord should be noted, as the Ancient Israelites shouted, and then fell on their faces in awe—and perhaps also trepidation—of what they had just witnessed. One would think that observing a consuming fire and the presence of the Lord, would be enough to seriously put the fear of Him in the hearts of all the witnesses. Yet as Shemini continues, we see that Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons who had been close eyewitnesses to the stupefying event, apparently took their responsibilities somewhat cavalierly. At some point after the glory of the Lord had appeared, Nadab and Abihu did not follow the instructions properly, and instead they are recorded to have offered some sort of strange fire to the Lord. This resulted in their being immediately consumed:

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the LORD spoke, saying, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.”’ So Aaron, therefore, kept silent. Moses called also to Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, ‘Come forward, carry your relatives away from the front of the sanctuary to the outside of the camp.’ So they came forward and carried them still in their tunics to the outside of the camp, as Moses had said. Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, so that you will not die and that He will not become wrathful against all the congregation. But your kinsmen, the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the burning which the LORD has brought about. You shall not even go out from the doorway of the tent of meeting, or you will die; for the LORD’s anointing oil is upon you.’ So they did according to the word of Moses. The LORD then spoke to Aaron, saying, ‘Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them through Moses’” (Leviticus 10:1-11).

In reading this account and attempting to understand why the Lord consumed Nadab and Abihu with fire, one finds that there have been a variety of conclusions by both Jewish and Christian examiners down through the centuries. There is no doubt that Moses’ initial comment, reminding the people of what the Lord said, was, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (ESV). This indicated that Nadab and Abihu had not been in a proper frame of mind to be presenting anything before Him. Some interpretations surmise a prideful heart attitude of these two, who abused their priestly service, and were performing tasks without proper permission or with trying to subvert the position of their father Aaron. Clearly, the fact that Aaron remained silent after witnessing his two sons’ demise, suggests that he was in shock.

After two cousins carried away the smoldering corpses (Leviticus 10:4), two other sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, were commissioned to replace their brothers (Leviticus 10:6). Moses issued some clarifying statements which would further advocate the importance of taking their priestly responsibilities seriously (Leviticus 10:7). Finally, the Lord spoke directly to Aaron about the need for the Levitical priests to avoid drinking alcohol when they would come to perform their priestly duties—otherwise they would die (Leviticus 10:8-11). This admonition to Aaron, in such close proximity to the preceding events, has drawn many to conclude that Nadab and Abihu were perhaps intoxicated when they offered up the strange fire. This is a logical deduction, especially when it is followed by the requirements to teach God’s people about the distinctions between the holy and profane, and the clean and unclean.

Regardless of what the absolute interpretation of this morbid episode truly is, modern-day followers of the Messiah of Israel should adhere to the admonition to avoid wine or strong drink to the point of intoxication, especially when or if they are involved in the Lord’s service. Several statements by the Apostle Paul in the First Century, regarding the character of elders and deacons, confirm this advice:

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the assembly of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the assembly, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Timothy 3:2-10).

“For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:7-9).

Following Instructions

After the gruesome expiration of two of Aaron’s sons, and the admonitions about what had been done incorrectly and the priests’ responsibility to teach Israel the differences between the holy and the profane and the clean and the unclean—Moses and Aaron were very concerned about following the Lord’s commands accurately. In fact, after some more specific instructions to Eleazar and Ithamar, there appeared to be a difference of opinion about how to handle the goat sin offering:

“Then Moses spoke to Aaron, and to his surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Take the grain offering that is left over from the LORD’s offerings by fire and eat it unleavened beside the altar, for it is most holy. You shall eat it, moreover, in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons’ due out of the LORD’s offerings by fire; for thus I have been commanded. The breast of the wave offering, however, and the thigh of the offering you may eat in a clean place, you and your sons and your daughters with you; for they have been given as your due and your sons’ due out of the sacrifices of the peace offerings of the sons of Israel. The thigh offered by lifting up and the breast offered by waving they shall bring along with the offerings by fire of the portions of fat, to present as a wave offering before the LORD; so it shall be a thing perpetually due you and your sons with you, just as the LORD has commanded.’ But Moses searched carefully for the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it had been burned up! So he was angry with Aaron’s surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar, saying, ‘Why did you not eat the sin offering at the holy place? For it is most holy, and He gave it to you to bear away the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD. Behold, since its blood had not been brought inside, into the sanctuary, you should certainly have eaten it in the sanctuary, just as I commanded.’ But Aaron spoke to Moses, ‘Behold, this very day they presented their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD. When things like these happened to me, if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have been good in the sight of the LORD?’ When Moses heard that, it seemed good in his sight” (Leviticus 10:12-20).

Moses and Aaron took their responsibilities seriously. Neither one wanted to offend the Lord, but instead, desired to perform their duties in a manner that would be considered good and proper before Him. This is a great example that each of us, as His people today, needs to seriously be considering! Attention to detail is something that modern-day Believers should all take to serious note, as they work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Be aware of this exhortation from the Apostle Paul to the Colossians, and how with each person’s individual actions with others, one should recognize that all that is done should be unto the Lord:

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Messiah whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality” (Colossians 3:17-25).

What would be Paul’s specific instruction to us, living in the Twenty-First Century? What diverse groups on the social spectrum would he admonish to be working unto the Lord?

Clean and Unclean

Our Torah reading concludes with a lengthy chapter, Leviticus 11, on what are commonly referred to as the kosher dietary laws (cf. Deuteronomy 14). It is from this section where there is a significant amount of commentary seen in Judaism, regarding how they are to be implemented and applied in diverse situations. While the attention of readers to Leviticus ch. 11 will be particularly given to those animals considered clean and edible, or unclean an inedible—it has to be recognized that there are many more discussions to be witnessed in religious history about what kashrut or kosher is. Above and beyond all of the various details about the different domesticated animals, hoofs and cud chewing, fish scales and fins, different birds, or creeping insects—what the Lord desires most is a set-apart people who seek to be holy as He is holy:

“For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy. This is the law regarding the animal and the bird, and every living thing that moves in the waters and everything that swarms on the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the edible creature and the creature which is not to be eaten” (Leviticus 11:44-47).

The basis, for understanding the importance of the kosher dietary laws, is in understanding how eating the way God prescribes, is a matter of being a part of His holy people. While violating the dietary laws is surely not as severe as murder or adultery, not allowing the Lord to have a say on what we eat—ignoring His Instruction—can be an offense to Him.

Be Ye Holy…

As we reflect upon Shemini this week, the overwhelming theme of the reading is the Lord’s desire that His faithful followers seek to be holy as His witnesses to the world. Being holy is a critical call placed upon God’s people to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6)—a definite theme that has reached its climax via the arrival of Yeshua the Messiah. However, in order for any of us to be that light to the nations, we must each know the Lord’s instructions to us, keep and obey them, and above all understand their intent. By studying the Torah, today’s Believers can more fully appreciate that the Lord has our best interests in mind, as He wants to see us protected from sin and its devastating consequences (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11).

Modern-day followers of the Messiah, upon examining Shemini, should be better able to understand that the Lord will use what has been preserved in the Torah, to spur His people to truly seek holiness. As the Apostle Peter exhorted First Century Believers,

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY [Leviticus 11:44, 45].’ If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Peter 1:13-17).

The requirement to seek holiness is not something that has changed. Instead, reminders of how the Lord wants His children to take His instructions seriously, like those commandments seen in Shemini, are found all throughout the remainder of the Bible. The examples of Moses and Aaron wanting to follow the sacrificial system accurately, contrasted to the tragedy of Nadab and Abihu, should make one pause when considering our individual approaches to the Holy One. We might want to specifically recall the recorded testimony in the Book of Acts, about a couple which deceived the Apostles regarding a sale of property:

“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.’ And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband” (Acts 5:1-10).

This tragic incident should serve as a recollection that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and that He should never be mocked (Galatians 6:7). And so, I pray that this week’s parashah would be a vivid reminder that as faithful children of God we are to seek holiness according to His ways, so that we may urgently accomplish His tasks, and affect a difference in our sin-cursed world.

Tzav

Tzav

Give an order

Leviticus 6:1[8]-8:36
Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-23

“Sacrificial Aroma”


by Mark Huey

The previous week’s Torah reading, Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26[6:7]), encompassed the first five chapters of Leviticus, continuing God’s instructions to the Ancient Israelites on the various sacrificial offerings that were to be presented to Him. Now as we turn to Tzav, the emphasis is seen on specific commands to Aaron and his sons, who constituted the Levitical priesthood, and how it was to prepare, handle, and offer the different sacrifices. Details are given regarding not eating animal fat or blood, with Tzav concluding with a description of the actual consecration of Aaron and his sons. Providentially perhaps, this week’s study precedes the annual commemoration of the Passover. Allow this timing to seriously prepare your hearts to obey the instruction for God’s people to remember the Passover—and by extension, all of His appointed times. After all, Tzav ends with the admonition that Aaron and his sons complied with all of these ancient commands of the Lord:

“Thus Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD had commanded through Moses” (Leviticus 8:36).

From a relatively passive explanation about how individuals were supposed to offer up sacrifices in Vayikra (Leviticus 6:1-7), our Torah portion describes an imperative command that was to be adhered to by the Levitical priesthood (Leviticus 6:8-9). We then see meticulous details specified for the different offerings, which include: the burnt offering (Leviticus 6:10-13), the grain offering (Leviticus 6:14-23), the sin offering (Leviticus 6:24-30), the guilt offering (Leviticus 7:1-10), and the peace offering (Leviticus 7:11-16). While there might be some different classifications provided by readers for the different offerings or sacrifices to be made in Leviticus chs. 6-7, one overarching theme really struck me in reviewing them all. The Holy One desired His chosen people to be continually offering different sacrifices from evening to morning:

“Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law for the burnt offering: the burnt offering itself shall remain on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire on the altar is to be kept burning on it’” (Leviticus 6:9).

The Lord was very particular about how the Levitical priesthood was to maintain the sacrifice, and He reiterated the command to keep the fires burning without interruption:

“The priest is to put on his linen robe, and he shall put on undergarments next to his flesh; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire reduces the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it. It shall not go out, but the priest shall burn wood on it every morning; and he shall lay out the burnt offering on it, and offer up in smoke the fat portions of the peace offerings on it. Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out” (Leviticus 6:10-13).

From these instructions seen in Tzav, it is evident that the Lord desired a continual sacrificial offering, between Himself and His chosen people. We can see how a perpetual pattern of spiritual service was established for the future generations of followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to pursue.

Post-Resurrection Sacrifices

In ancient times, before the destruction of the Second Temple, the Levitical priesthood presented the various sacrificial offerings, as specified by Torah portions like Tzav. But since the ultimate sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) and His resurrection from the dead—coupled with universal availability of the Holy Spirit—we definitely see a shift toward the responsibility of God’s people to offer “sacrifices” to Him in the form of the worship offered by born again Believers. The Apostle Paul communicated how,

“[D]o you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Most frequently, this has been interpreted from the perspective of individual Believers being filled with the Holy Spirit. While absolutely true, it can also be viewed from the perspective of “body” pertaining to the Body of Messiah or whole community of faith as well. Certainly, the actions performed, by a claiming individual Believer, are to be reflected within the whole Body of Messiah, as we all strive to build one another up—or in some cases, tear one another down. With this in mind, consider Paul’s preceding admonition:

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

The body of Believers—whether it be individuals redeemed from sin, or corporate bodies of Messiah followers—is to be consecrated to God because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Paul, being the teacher of Israel’s Scriptures that he was, would have understood the significance that according to instructions like those seen in Tzav, not only were the sacrificial offerings considered holy, but even those who touched the offerings were consecrated in their duties:

“Now this is the law of the grain offering: the sons of Aaron shall present it before the LORD in front of the altar. Then one of them shall lift up from it a handful of the fine flour of the grain offering, with its oil and all the incense that is on the grain offering, and he shall offer it up in smoke on the altar, a soothing aroma, as its memorial offering to the LORD. What is left of it Aaron and his sons are to eat. It shall be eaten as unleavened cakes in a holy place; they are to eat it in the court of the tent of meeting. It shall not be baked with leaven. I have given it as their share from My offerings by fire; it is most holy, like the sin offering and the guilt offering. Every male among the sons of Aaron may eat it; it is a permanent ordinance throughout your generations, from the offerings by fire to the Lord. Whoever touches them will become consecrated” (Leviticus 6:14-18).

Living Sacrifices

What duties do you faithfully perform as a Believer in the Messiah Yeshua? In your quest to obey the Lord, are you continually sanctified more and more, as you serve Him in the world? One of the most classic passages, as it concerns Messiah followers’ sacrifice before the Father, is Romans 12:1-2:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).

Romans 12:1-2 speaks about the people of God and the worship they are to offer before Him. What happens when we enter into worship, either individually or corporately? Hopefully the many differences we think are important to us—those human achievements or status identifiers that we think make us “special”—become far less important in view of Him and His supreme holiness. What Yeshua the Messiah has done for us, as the sinless Lamb of God, has opened full access to the Father:

“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Messiah Yeshua once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET [Psalm 110:1]. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:10-14).

Think about the power of these statements the next time you enter into worship. Think about how much we might take Yeshua’s sacrifice, and the permanent atonement and forgiveness it offers, (utterly) for granted. In view of what the Messiah has done for us, perhaps we can better understand what Paul says in Philippians 3:8:

“I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Messiah.”

Believers in the accomplished work of the Messiah can discover great joy, fulfillment, and purpose for their lives—if they can place what He has done at the center of their being. This requires a steadfast willingness to surrender to the will of God, being an imitator of God, and walking in the love of God:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Messiah also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Just like the fragrant aromas of the sacrificial offerings found in Tzav (Leviticus 6:15, 21; 8:21, 28), we find that the Messiah’s sacrifice was also a fragrant aroma offered unto the Father. Yet, when we offer ourselves up to the Lord in service, are we a fragrant aroma to Him—or something else? As you consider the various sacrificial offerings found in this week’s Torah portion, perhaps it would be spiritually beneficial to focus on your personal choice, to offer yourself to Him. None of us want to be a smell of burning, stinking garbage before the Lord!

Do you want to be a pleasing aroma to the Lord in all that you do? What about the privilege of being a witness for the gospel, as the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Yeshua permeates everywhere you go?

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Messiah, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Messiah to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Messiah in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).

While one can spend much time this week focusing on the details of the different offerings described in Tzav, perhaps it might be more necessary for you to consider just how you are personally offering yourself as a living holy sacrifice to the Lord’s service. Will this at all affect you in your approach to the Passover, which is soon coming? What about all of the things that you have to do, as a man or woman of faith?