In the Torah Reading Cycle, we have arrived at the threshold of the exciting and challenging book of Leviticus – called, in Hebrew, VAYIKRA, meaning “And He Called.”
Leviticus is the shortest of the five books of the Torah, but is rich and filled with content and details about, among other things: the Tabernacle -the House of God on earth, the priesthood, sacrifices, holiness, and specific commandments of God.
Leviticus is set in the very center of the Torah, at its heart, as it were. [I like the English abbreviation, which is LEV – meaning ‘heart’ in Hebrew!] The book is poised between the revelation at Sinai and the completion of the Tabernacle, and its setting is the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness.
The original Hebrew name for Leviticus was Torat Kohanim – Teachings for Priests. The book contains instructions of the requirements associated with worship and service to God in His Sanctuary, and we see guidelines and illustrations of how to live as a “kingdom of priests.”
Why is it relevant for us today? Because, as the people of God we still are called to be “a kingdom of priests.”
In Orthodox Judaism, children at the age of 5, begin their study of the Hebrew Scriptures with this book! Why not at the beginning – with the exciting stories of Creation, of Adam and Eve, of Noah and the Flood, of the family of Abraham?? A sweet explanation is given in the Talmud:
The Holy One, Blessed be He, said, “Since the children are pure and their sacrifices are pure, let the pure come and occupy themselves with things that are pure.”
The concept of purity is central to the themes that are woven through the book. The understanding of ritual purity is one of the reasons God gives for His teachings – see in 10:10,
“…that you may “lehavdil bein kodesh le’chol” – distinguish between holy and unholy; and between unclean [tamei – impure] and clean [tahor – pure].”
HOLINESS VS EVIL?
In Hebrew, the opposite of holy is not evil; it is ‘ordinary.’ Another meaning of chol is sand! Can we distinguish between the gold of God’s glory and holiness and the ‘sand’ of the ordinary ways of man? The opposite of evil or bad – ra – is tov – goodness or righteousness. Once evil is overcome and the ordinary becomes good and set apart unto God then the person, or place, or object can become holy.
God calls us to “be holy as He is holy,” and he gives us His Word to assure us that the holiness He calls us to can be achieved. We soon learn that holiness – kedusha, from the root kadosh, is not random.
With holiness comes order and harmony; individually and communally. There is a flowing together in unity of purpose, to serve Him; and when service to Him is done from the heart – in love and with pure intent, then His blessing flows and the glory of His Presence becomes evident.
Life is a battle against chaos on various levels. When God’s Word of Truth and Love are rejected then chaos follows. We see how hatred, terrorism, war, and murder are unleashed and whole countries are thrown into a chaos of fear, turmoil and suffering. When we are walking in His ways, we are lifted from the sand and mud of man’s ways into the beauty and holiness of His Presence. We are warned, however, to value and guard this precious holiness.
KADOSH – HOLY
The first thing called kadosh in the Bible is time. God sets the seventh day, the Sabbath, apart from the first six days and calls it holy! He also sets apart specific days and times to be celebrated and observed monthly and annually – as we see in the Festival Cycle.
What else is called holy – kadosh?
His Holy Nation…His people Israel
His Holy House – Tabernacle and Temple…Beit HaMikdash [the Holy House]
The Holy Vessels…specifically the Menorah, the Table of Showbread, and the Incense Altar
His Holy City… Jerusalem
His Holy Land – Israel
All are to be set apart to God and are to reflect His holiness. There must, somehow, be separation between the holy (sacred) and the ordinary or profane (secular).
Another theme in Leviticus is that of sacrifices. The question must arise, “Why does God need sacrifices at all?” He is Creator of all things, Almighty, all-sufficient. He certainly doesn’t need any physical thing we can give Him.
We find an answer in the Hebrew word for sacrifice – korban. The root is karav, meaning to come close or to draw near. To offer a sacrifice gives us the opportunity to draw closer to God. He calls us to Himself and gives us the means to draw near.
There is a misunderstanding that to sacrifice means to give something up to one’s own detriment in order to appease a god of wrath and vengeance! No! We know that our God is Love and He calls us to draw close to Himself constantly. HIs grace and mercy are unending. We need the sacrifices for our own benefit, and as a reminder that, even in our weakness and when we fail, His will always is to grant us new life and a new beginning.
There are different types of sacrifice described in Leviticus.
* An individual’s sin-offering, chatta’t [sin – chet] which is connected with repentance – teshuvah, which literally means to return – to restore something to its proper place. After portions are offered on the altar the rest is eaten by the priests.
* The olah, a burnt offering, offered for the sin of the community, which is completely burnt.
* The shlemah – whole offering, which is a thank offering – a practical way to offer gratitude to God for any good in one’s life. It is offered at festivals and is eaten both by the priests and the people.
* A meal-offering – mincha – composed of various combinations of flour, oil, frankincense and wine. Also called a “poor man’s offering” as even flour and water could be offered by those who could not afford animals.
We can look back to the first sacrifices man offered God – those of the brothers Cain and Abel. God received Abel’s offering of the choicest of his flock but rejected Cain’s of vegetables from the ground. Why? Doesn’t God like vegetables? We know there are offerings of fine flour, oil and wine, but I think He likely was wanting to emphasize that the major sacrifices of repentance and deliverance from sin would involve blood, as we saw with the Passover lambs in Egypt.
Another major lesson, regarding Cain and Abel, is the heart of the matter! The purity of the intentions of one’s heart either renders the sacrifice holy or can destroy its effectiveness altogether. God sees the heart – and a person can sacrifice 100 bulls as an offering but if his heart is not sincere it means nothing.
In the Second Temple times the priesthood, at the highest levels, became corrupt and their hearts were far from God. They were a perfect illustration of man serving himself and not God. They proved that access to God is never automatically, by religious rituals alone. A life in relationship with God that generates purity and holiness comes only by obedience to the commands of the Holy One of Israel. As His Word tells us:
Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.
So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.
Joshua said, “… put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.”
John 17:4, 7, 17, 25 Yeshua prayed:
[Father,] I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave me to do.
Now they know that everything that You have given me is from You.
Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.”
May you be blessed as you persevere in the Study of His Word of Truth – and may you be raised to new heights of holiness…for His Name’s sake in Love!
~ Keren Hannah