Reflections of redemption in Nisan, Part 3

Jewish teaching about the Nisan lamb(s)


As noted in Part 1, immediately following the first command to Israel as a nation (Exod.12:2) – which is more like a statement of fact – are the commands (v3-ff) concerning the Pesach, the Passover lamb. Why was Israel to “take a lamb” of all things? The traditional answer, that it was to judge one of Egypt’s gods, is illogical. All the other judgments on those gods involved YHVH striking them down, not enshrining them in a holy ceremony for all generations! No, there’s a better reason. In order to fully appreciate it, we will make a side-trip into some unique rabbinic customs for Nisan

During the entire First Month, no one is allowed to fast for a parent’s Yizkor (Yahrzeit, or anniversary of death), or to call for mourning or a public fast (source: Shulhan Aruch). The Tachanun, the petitioning prayer in the Amidah (daily prayer) is omitted for the month as well. The reason given for all this: The continual burnt offering (Hebrew: the Olat Tamid) was established in Nisan (“Be’er Hetev” to Shulhan Aruch, Orach Haim, 429 – Jewish Encyclopedia).

Suspending public petitions, fasting and mourning because of the Tamid’s arrival implies that it is one of God’s greatest redemptive acts, overriding the most intimate sorrows and troubles. Even more curious, to command this prohibition centuries after the Tamid could no longer be offered in Jerusalem is to imply that this supreme Redemptive act is still ongoing somewhere else. But if such an admission exists in rabbinic writings, we haven’t found it.

The Tamid and Redemption

These associations are remarkable to begin with, seeing that Torah gives no explanation for what the Tamid sacrifice actually accomplishes (Exod. 29:38-42). But we know from one commentary (Bamidbar Rabba 21:21) that the sages understood the Tamid to provide forgiveness for unconscious sins committed by the nation: the evening Tamid for sins committed in the day, and the morning Tamid for sins committed in the night.

Hebrews declares that Yeshua offered up Himself as a sacrifice “once for all” (Heb. 7:27), as it’s generally translated. But this verse first mentions the Temple sacrifices offered “daily…for the sins of the people.” Since written Torah mentions no “daily” sacrifice for the nation’s sins, this may be evidence that the apostles had the same understanding of the Tamid’s purpose as the rabbis.

That understanding would explain why Hebrews 7:27 is contrasting the daily sacrifice with Yeshua’s sacrifice of Himself “אחת ולתמיד/Achat uletamid,” as it’s rendered in the modern Hebrew version. This is translated as “once and for all [time]”, but if we read it literally (“One, and for a Tamid”), we solve two riddles about the Tamid: Two lambs being called one Olah/sacrifice (beginning with Exod. 29:42 and recurring throughout Torah), and its name implying one continuous offering (“Tamid” means “always”) despite being repeated daily. The comment in Hebrews makes the two offerings into One, and the daily repetition into Once for Always – just as the Torah Hebrew describes it.

This explanation is reinforced by the apostle John’s report that Yeshua’s sacrifice was already underway before the Mishkan was commanded, and indeed before man had heard of it: “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8, original word order). This has huge implications for Israel’s sacrificial system. If the original Tamid is in Heaven, then it was ALWAYS this Lamb that provided forgiveness of sin while the earthly copies were operating – and also while they weren’t… or aren’t.

As a Heavenly offering occurring outside of time, the Tamid was/is continually able to cover all those who apply its redemptive power, everywhere, in every age. Sure enough, Heaven’s residents from all nations directly connect this sacrifice with their redemption: “You [the Lamb] are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood…” (Rev. 5:9)

We also know that Yochanan (John the Baptist) publicly identified Yeshua as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Since most believers interpret this as the Passover lamb, anti-missionaries are fond of pointing to this as a New Testament blunder – the Pesach was not a sin offering. Actually, the blunder is in the Torah-illiterate assumption (both ours and theirs) pasted over the passage.

Yochanan was from an active priestly family. He knew better than we that the Pesach did not remove sin. He also knew that Torah doesn’t explicitly mention any “lamb” at all that can be offered for sin. He must have been referring to the Tamid; in contrast to the one that takes away the sin of the nation, this Tamid is effective for the entire world.

Was his declaration made in the month of Nisan? Quite possibly, since the Passover is recorded as arriving soon afterward (John 2:13). This would explain how Yochanan’s disciples could be so sure that they had found the Messiah King (John 1:41, 45, 49) just on the strength of that “Lamb of God” announcement. They had been taught that the Tamid symbolized the greatest Redemption of all time, which would be revealed in Nisan

The teaching that Yeshua is indeed the Lamb of God rests on the above Torah foundation linking the Mishkan with the Tamid. This linkage supports Yeshua’s promise that through Him we will become dwelling places for God (John 14:17). And when we consider the timing of His sacrificial death, coinciding with both the Passover lambs and the evening Tamid – we have proof that both Nisan lambs were pictures of Him.

The proof, however, doesn’t end there. The Tamid’s effect is for “always”: a continual process producing permanent spiritual results. We are “living stones” being built into “a spiritual House for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yeshua the Messiah” (1 Pet. 2:5). Since both Yeshua and the Father will make Their dwelling place with/in us (John 14:23), we also understand that God has made His Son equal with Himself in this Redemption process

The Interceding Lamb

As mentioned, Torah doesn’t say that the Passover lamb brought forgiveness, or even redemption. Nevertheless, Torah teachers understood it to provoke God’s compassion, which leads to both: “Of all of God’s creations, the lamb possesses the innate ability to arouse mercy by its voice.” (Sefer HaYetzirah, commenting on the miracles of Nisan)

This idea becomes intriguing when we realize that God brought Israel redemption before they offered any lambs – even before they called on His name. While He remembered their forefathers, they were simply groaning over their troubles:

And the sons of Israel sighed from the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help rose up to God from the bondage. And God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. And God saw the sons of Israel, and God knew. (Exod. 2:23-25, from the Hebrew

Now Torah clearly states that God heard and saw “the sons of Israel.” But the final statement, “and God knew,” has no object – the word “them” is inserted by translators. Whatever it was that He “knew” here, it signaled the time for Israel’s first redemption. But was it really Israel’s crying that aroused His mercy? Or was it the Tamid being offered in Heaven on their behalf? When “God remembered His Covenant” here, was it perhaps the part that testified, “God will provide for Himself the Lamb”? (Gen. 22:8)

If so, it explains why the Passover redemption centered around a lamb. For God it was a symbol of the Tamid that He “knew”, which as yet Israel didn’t know. Moreover, the mercy aroused by this lamb was so powerful it extended beyond the heirs of the Covenant to anyone who would obey the command, even if they didn’t know this YHVH.

In the same way, the Tamid-Pesach Lamb was heard to intercede for the world as He embedded His eternal sacrifice into earthly history: “Father, forgive them – for they do not know…!” (Luke 23:34) Surely “God knew” compassion even in that awful hour when we rejected His greatest gift… because “the Lamb possesses the innate ability to arouse mercy by His voice.”

This Lamb, Conqueror of Death yet appearing as though freshly slain (Rev. 5:6), now sits at the Father’s right hand, still interceding for us and for Israel. How can anyone doubt that the spiritual Redemption of the entire nation is only a matter of time?

Intercession is also symbolized in orthodox Jewish wedding customs for Nisan 1. According to halacha, a bride and groom are normally required to fast on their wedding day, in supplication to have their sins forgiven as they enter their new life together. But if the wedding is on a Rosh Hodesh, they are forbidden to fast because honor of the new month takes priority. Yet on Nisan 1, they ARE supposed to fast (Shulhan Aruch, Rav Moshe Isserles), and the reason for this turnabout was considered a “great wonder” (Hafetz Haim). It was because they were representing God and Israel as Groom and Bride.

Yet there was no explanation as to why the marriage of God and Israel should be mirrored by a wedding couple through a custom of fasting only on Nisan 1. We must assume the influence of some shadowy, mostly forgotten tradition from earlier times connecting the Tamid, cleansing from sin, the promise of God dwelling within man, and Rosh Ha-Hodashim.

We, the Bride of the Lamb, knowing that our Groom is continually interceding with great compassion for His people, can easily relate to these concepts. If we are one Spirit with Him, we feel the heart of our Promised Husband yearning, as the earthly memorial of His atonement approaches, to bring about that final Redemption which even the blinded sages of Israel knew would eventually come. The blindness, says Paul (Rom. 11:25), has always been partial and temporary.

In conclusion, Messianic customs for Rosh Ha-Hodashim could be powerful in bringing together “treasures old and new” (Matt. 13:52) for the Kingdom. It’s strange that none were ever instituted by either church or synagogue. But maybe it was God’s plan to hide these riches until the time of Israel’s final ingathering and spiritual Redemption.

To be continued….

Reflections of redemption in Nisan, Part 2

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Hannah Weiss lives in Israel with her husband Hillel, their three children and two grandchildren. Besides writing on issues relevant for followers of Yeshua, she also works as an English writer, editor and translator for Israeli exporters and academics. Hannah is part of a small home fellowship, Restorers of Zion, which serves the Body of Messiah by focusing on neglected or dysfunctional areas of Scriptural teaching and practice.