This Shabbat we are starting to read from the book of Leviticus. The book of Leviticus is called “Torat Cohanim” – The Law of the Priesthood.
The reason is obvious, and the name in Greek, Latin, English and in all other languages is Leviticus – meaning the book for the Levites. In Hebrew the name is very simple – it is the first meaningful word that starts the book, “And He Called…” (“Vayikra”).
Our Torah portion this Shabbat is from Leviticus 1:1 – 6:7. From the prophets we and all the Jewish synagogues in the world will be reading from Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23, and from the New Testament from Hebrews 10:1-18.
You ought to notice when you read from the Torah and from the prophets and the New Testament that there is a logical connection in the choices that are made by tradition in all these readings. They are connected by their topics, and sometimes by the historical connections.
The book of Leviticus, as stated above, is a book that deals with the priesthood and the Levites, their job, their responsibilities, and God’s relationship to Israel through the priesthood and their tasks.
Of course, one of the main tasks of the Levites was the administration of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem. One of the main tasks of the priests and Levites was the sacrificing order, and that included the inspection of the animal that is brought to the Tabernacle for sacrifice, and the handling of these animals, and their preparation.
The other major task of the priesthood in Israel was the administration of of the purity laws, that also included the inspections and protection of those who have infectious illnesses, like leprosy, or other infectious skin sicknesses, pandemics, and the impurity of touching the dead – human or animal.
The priests in ancient Israel were also involved in the arbitration between brothers who have some dispute or serious disagreement, especially on issues of faith and religious practices.
The book of Leviticus deals with all these issues, and also with the issues of the health of the land, the earth, and the life cycle of the land. This included the issues of the Sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee, that was the celebration of seven sabbatical years.
The first reading of the book of Leviticus that falls on this Shabbat, is wholly dedicated to the sacrificial order and basic practices that relate to the handling of the animals for sacrifice, and preparing them for the particular task in the sacrifice. Leviticus speaks of seven different tasks for the sacrificial cultus in the camp of Israel.
The very first paragraph of the book of Leviticus limits the sacrificial animals to the bovine, cows, bulls, and to the sheep and goats, and by doing this it excludes human sacrifices and sacrifices of animals that are forbidden by the book of Leviticus for human consumption.
We know already from the book of Genesis that Noah, before the flood, already knows the clean animals from the unclean animals. The Lord commands Noah to have seven pairs of the clean animals that can and ought to be eaten by humans, and only two pairs from the unclean animals that ought not to be eaten by humans. This is, of course, many generations and many hundreds of years before Moses and the giving of the Torah in Mount Sinai to the children of Israel.
One of the most important and interesting elements of the book of Leviticus that is a revelation for anyone who reads carefully the book of Leviticus is the relative attitude and demands that The Lord deals in relationship to the social and economic status of the worshiper in Israel.
This principle is of such great importance for all generations, and in all forms of worship and giving throughout the Bible. I apologize that for the 60-plus years that I have been teaching the Word of God I have never heard a sermon or a teaching on this so-very-very important principle, that for me is a revelation of God’s character and consideration for the human element in worship, and in service, and in status within the community of the sanctified men and women in God’s Holy Community.
I could have used the word “church” in place of “holy community”. But, I think that the words “church”, “congregation”, and “synagogue” have lost their true and real meaning in the 20th and 21st centuries after Yeshua’s death, burial, resurrection and ascension to Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Almighty One of Israel – the Father of us all!
Here is the teaching in Leviticus on the relativity of God’s relationship with the individual worshiper and the requirements of worship:
“And it shall be, when he is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing; and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin. If he is not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring to the Lord, for his trespass which he has committed, two turtledoves or two young pigeons: one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. And he shall bring them to the priest, who shall offer that which is for the sin offering first, and wring off its head from its neck, but shall not divide it completely. Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood of the sin offering on the side of the altar, and the rest of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar. It is a sin offering. And he shall offer the second as a burnt offering according to the prescribed manner. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin which he has committed, and it shall be forgiven him. But if he is not able to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then he who sinned shall bring for his offering one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a sin offering. He shall put no oil on it, nor shall he put frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering. Then he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his handful of it as a memorial portion, and burn it on the altar according to the offerings made by fire to the Lord. It is a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement for him, for his sin that he has committed in any of these matters; and it shall be forgiven him. The rest shall be the priest’s as a grain offering.” – Leviticus 5:5-13 [NKJV]
This same relativity in the relationship between God and His human children is of such great important principle in the days of the Temple, and also today in every synagogue and in every holy community of the saints.
Here is the same principle as it is presented by Yeshua himself to His disciples in the First Century, and good for us today also:
“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.’” – Mark 12:41-44 [NKJV]
We even have a clear warning in the New Testament against treating the rich differently than we treat the less financially-fortunate. I have not seen a church or synagogue that I have ever visited around the world practicing what James commands us all in his letter. (“Jacob” in the original Greek texts, and in every other language except English.)
“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” – James 2:1-4 [NKJV]
I am not condemning anyone, or any church or synagogue that I have visited in the last 60 years of ministry around the world. It is our human condition to be partial to the rich and powerful, and beautiful and capable in our communities, and we are all guilty of this partiality that Jacob the brother of Yeshua is speaking of in his letter.
But, the fact that we are all guilty of this sin doesn’t mean that we ought to ignore this practice and forget about it. On the contrary, dear brothers and sisters, we ought to remember that we are talking about the very nature and character of God, who pays attention to His children according to their abilities and gifts, and does not look at us, His human creatures, and measure us all with one measure.
He made some blond and some red-haired, others He made without much hair, and others yet, He made tall, and some He made short. Some were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, and others were born in poverty.
All these people and their different status that was handed to them, not by their choice or their sins, but by the Almighty Creator of us all, ought to be evaluated and appreciated in the same way that the Father of us all deals with us, His children.
In practice, Jacob (James) the brother of Yeshua gives us a good and very-practical instruction of what not to do. And from what Jacob teaches us what not to do we much learn what to do.
In simple terms, we ought to have more social awareness and sensitivity as disciples of Yeshua and live it out, and also make sure that we stop and control our own behavior and bring it up to the level that Jacob in his letter to the 12 tribes in the diaspora is demanding.
God looks at us and gives us a discount according to our abilities. God grades us on the bell curve, and we must be able to also grade each other on the bell curve, and consider our fortunes or misfortunes.
We need to take into account to be like the four elements of Sukkot. We take in Sukkot the palm branch, the willow branch, the myrtle branch, and the citron (Italian wild lemon) branch, bound together, fulfilling each other’s weaknesses, and enjoying each other’s benefits and blessings. Looking into our fortunes as God’s grace, and looking at the misfortune of our brothers as a test and a challenge from God for us!
Let us pass the test and learn to look at each other as brothers that are there to give us an opportunity to be like God, and take into account to make us God’s children, that today we might be on top of the horse and tomorrow those that are walking beside the horse might be on top, and we would be walking on the ground.
The grace and the judgement of God come in the same package, and that is why the principle of God’s relative evaluation and opportunity in our service is such an important principle for us Yeshua’s disciples to put into practice.
The Lord bless us as we learn more from Leviticus how to serve God by serving our fellow brothers and sisters with the same principles that God is serving and evaluating us!
This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.