Reflection for Emor

“Torah Corrections”

Matthew 5:38-42
Galatians 3:26-29

by Mark Huey

This week because of the Hebrew calendar (2010/5770), Torah students will be examining two parashot in Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30) and Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27). These readings describe the details of how to commemorate Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, and emphasize overall the admonition of what it means for God’s people to pursue holiness—because He has set His chosen people apart to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). In our selection this week, He undeniably requires His people to not just be designated as holy—but to actively 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”’” (Leviticus 19:1-2).
  • “You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 20:7).
  • “Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I  set you apart from the peoples to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26).

As you might read the various commandments and regulations that detail personal holiness regarding blood, family relations, and how to live uprightly with your neighbor and community—the summary benefits will result in Ancient Israel maintaining residence in the Promised Land. Yet, the warning is very precise that if these commandments and regulations are not respected and followed, then the Land itself will spew out the disobedient Israelites:

“You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out. Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them” (Leviticus 20:22-23).

Appropriately, when selecting teachings from the Prophets for the Haftarah readings, Ezekiel 20:2:20; 22:1-19; and Amos 9:7-15 were chosen—because in each case both Prophets warn about disobedience, and the consequences of Israel becoming unholy like the other nations. Despite promises to be restored as seen throughout the Tanakh, the fact remains that Ancient Israel largely did not obey God as specified in Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, being the holy people that He wanted. Hence, history records that Israel was scattered into the nations, with the promise of eventual restoration still something to be fully realized today.

It is undeniable from any reading of the Gospels, that Yeshua the Messiah was a consistent advocate of holiness—and required it of all His followers. Frequently in His teachings, Yeshua refers to verses that are found in Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, exhorting His Disciples to pursue holiness in their lives, making a concentrated difference in the world around them. However, far beyond simply keeping one’s vows (Matthew 5:33-37), controlling the tongue (Matthew 15:1-11), or honoring parents (Matthew 15:4-6)—is the often-repeated emphasis to love one’s neighbor as yourself. Yeshua by no means just invented this axiom as some of today’s Christians might think; He appealed directed to the authority of the Torah:

“You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not 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 19:16-18).

One of the most significant and well-known quotations of Leviticus 19:18 appears in Yeshua’s Sermon on the Mount. Here, the Lord elaborates on the essence of love to subvert some of the common religious ideas present among His listeners. How many of them really liked to hear that they were to love those who persecuted them?

“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. 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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:39-48).

Loving enemies and praying for those who persecute you—substantially raises the standard of love. Loving those you do not instinctively want to love is required in order to be a mature Messiah follower, perfect just as God is perfect.

The principle of loving one’s neighbor is seen quoted throughout Yeshua’s teaching ministry. In a variety of settings—either when the Messiah was asked questions of inquiry, or directly challenged—Yeshua often just referred people back to the Torah’s teaching on what it means for people to live holy and upstanding lives. Consider the scene of when a rich young ruler asked about how one can obtain eternal life:

“And someone came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ Then he said to Him, ‘Which ones?’ And Yeshua said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ [Exodus 10:12-16; Deuteronomy 5:16-20]. The young man said to Him, ‘All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?’ Yeshua said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. And Yeshua said to His disciples, ‘Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’” (Matthew 19:16-24).

The command to love one’s neighbor is associated with other requirements from the Ten Commandments—but the point made is that loving your neighbor requires sacrifice from those who have material possessions. The rich young ruler had followed the ethical statutes of the Torah since birth, but to what degree was he really willing to give of his property to help His fellow man in need? This does not mean that rich people have to become destitute to “be saved,” but they cannot just “love” others from a distance. Those with means should see to it that those without means are provided for with things like food, clothing, and shelter (cf. 1 Timothy 6:17-19; James 2:16).

Perhaps most well known to Bible readers is how Yeshua appeals to the commandment to love one’s neighbor as being among the two greatest commandments in the Torah. The Lord expected His ancient followers—and us today—to be actively remembering these statutes:

“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.’ 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 4:35; 6:5], is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Yeshua saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions” (Mark 12:28-34).

“But when the Pharisees heard that Yeshua had silenced the Sadducees, they  themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘“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 6:5]. 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 22:34-40).

“And a 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, ‘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’ [Leviticus 18:5]. But wishing to justify himself, he said to Yeshua, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Yeshua replied and said, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.” Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?’ And he said, ‘The one who showed mercy toward him.’ Then Yeshua said to him, ‘Go and do the same’” (Luke 10:25-37).

There were people who approached Yeshua who knew how the Torah’s requirement to love one’s neighbors was quite significant. Yet, how many of them were really willing to expel the effort to demonstrate this in clear, tangible actions of goodwill? In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the need to be a good neighbor includes helping those who were traditionally despised because of ancient ancestral and racial animosities. People of all ethnicities and nationalities are invited to be Messiah followers—not just First Century Jews—and they are to be about demonstrating the love and compassion of God to all! Yeshua Himself demonstrated the greatest love for neighbor that one can ever dream of—laying down His life so that we might be saved (John 10:11-18; 15:13, 1 John 3:16; cf. Romans 5:8).

Yeshua’s half-brother, James the Just, classifies the Torah requirement to love one’s neighbor as “the royal law”—something that is followed because one is not just a part of God’s Kingdom, but is diligently following after King Messiah:

“Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ [Leviticus 19:18], you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:5-10).

The Apostle Paul likewise appealed to the Torah requirement to love one’s neighbor, in issuing some corrective instruction to both the Galatians and Romans:

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ [Leviticus 19:18]. But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:13-15).

“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET’ [Exodus 20:13-15, 17; Deuteronomy 5:17-19, 21], and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ [Leviticus 19:18]. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).

As you read and mediate upon Acharei Mot-Kedoshim this week, and reflect upon what it really means to be holy like the Holy God we serve—perhaps you can demonstrate in some more tangible actions what it means to love one’s neighbor. This can evidence itself in a multitude of ways, many of which are not that hard to see enacted. How do you respond to those in your local community when they are in need? What do you do when someone insults you? Do you have a cheerful demeanor when you interact with people on the street? How do you present yourself as a son or daughter of the King, fulfilling His royal law of love?

It might be relatively easy to love a God who is eternal, and who sits in Heavenly places far beyond our universe. But it is far more challenging to love one’s neighbor—with all of his or her flaws—whom you can very much witness and see for yourself in person. Rather than judge a neighbor, perhaps you should introspectively analyze the kind of neighbor you are (cf. Matthew 7:3-5)? Is how you treat the people you see every day, indicative of the kind of relationship you really have with a God you have never seen?

If you at all discover this week that you are wanting in terms of some of your “neighborliness,” is any confession and repentance in order? Will you have to apologize to some of the people in your neighborhood or workplace (or congregation), because you were mean to them? Will you have to enact some new disciplines and routines in your life, so that you are consistently being renewed by the love of Messiah Yeshua—which has saved us all from our sins?

Be conformed to the image of the Messiah Yeshua! Make sure that you have a transformed heart! Love your neighbor!

This teaching has been excerpted from TorahScope Apostolic Scriptures Reflections by William Mark Huey