Thoughts and Teachings: Haftarah for Acharei Mot

This coming Shabbat will see Pesach and Unleavened Bread 5776 (2016) become a thing of the past (at least in Israel). However, since the last day of Unleavened Bread is Friday, this means that though it is over, there will still be no no Challah on the table and matzah will reign supreme one more day. But never fear, Sunday’s Coming!

The Torah reading for this week (Leviticus 16:1-18:30) begins, “after the death of Aaron’s sons” (Nadab and Abihu) Aaron was instructed, “not to come at just any time into the Holiest Place behind the curtain,” Leviticus 16:2). While the exclusivity of the entrance to the Holy of Holies in the Tanakh is often contrasted to the freedom of entering into the Presence in the Apostolic Writings, the is one thing that we should take note of here. The aspect of “not to come just any time” is described by John Sailhamer as, “The priests could not enter the tabernacle at their own whim; they had to enter properly. God’s presence was “behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark,” and any improper entry into the tent would result in death.” [i] It is possible that the “any time, or “their own whim” could well mean with improper kavanah or the wrong attitude, a lesson that not only learnt Nadab and Abihu, but also by Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5:1-11) The Psalmist reiterated the proper attitude and condition when he wrote:

Who may go up on the mountain of Adonai?
Who may stand in His holy place?
One with clean hands and a pure heart,
who has not lifted his soul in vain,
nor sworn deceitfully. (Psalm 24:3-4)

It is no different today, even though we have the assurance that Yeshua has prepared the way to enter (Hebrews 10:19), we still are responsible to come before the LORD “clean hands and a pure heart” not at just any time or at our own whim. Jacob (James) may well have had this in mind when he wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives so you may spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3)

Looking to the Haftarah, (Ezekiel 22:1-19), Ezekiel lifts his prophetic voice from exile pronouncing not only the LORD’s indictment and discipline upon Jerusalem for her iniquity and transgressions, but also holding out the hope of her future restoration in her covenant land, Israel. Verses 3-12 list a series of charges against Jerusalem which Michael Fishbane describes as “sins (which) are grouped in several clusters and emphasize moral and sexual crimes in the family and society, with special emphasis on the oppression of socially dependent and powerless persons. The prophet also charges the city with desecrating the Sabbaths and sacral offices.”[ii] In the middle of the charges dealing with moral and ethical impurities the LORD includes, “You have despised My holy things and profaned My Shabbatot.” (Ezekiel 22:8) The despising or defiling of “holy things” brings to memory Nadab and Abihu. Then He adds “and have profaned My Shabbatot.” This is not just the Sabbath, this is all of the Sabbaths or Mo’edim as listed in Leviticus 23 (and other places). In other words, it is not only the moral and ethical transgressions that brought about the LORD’s judgment and Israel’s exile – it was the ritual transgressions as well. The prophet Isaiah stated as if to respond to Ezekiel’s charge:

Preserve justice, do righteousness.
For My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.
Blessed is the one who does this, the son of man who takes hold of it,
who keeps from profaning Shabbat, and keeps his hand from doing any evil. (Isaiah 56:1-2)

Ezekiel’s next statement is a definition of the LORD’s discipline, “I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you throughout the lands. I will purge your uncleanness from you. You will be defiled in the sight of the nations. Then you will know that I am Adonai.” (Ezekiel 22:15-16) It is through the dispersion that the LORD will purge Israel’s uncleanness. In their separateness or uniqueness, they will come to understand that the LORD is ADONAI. Thus the dispersion is not only a judgement, it is also the method of return and eventual redemption. Concerning the nations, Shaul, speaking to the believers in Rome, quoting from the Torah (Deuteronomy 32:21) wrote, “I will provoke you (Israel) to jealousy by those who are not a nation, with a nation empty of understanding I will vex you.” (Romans 10:19) The exile was not simply judgement, it was the roadway back home as well. Fishbane again reminds us that, “Ezekiel’s view of exilic punishment as a purification through suffering.”[iii]

With all the accusations and judgement in this passage, it is easy to read over the future hope, “Because you have all become dross, therefore behold, I will gather you into Jerusalem.” (Ezekiel 22:19) Shaul, also looking to this hope, continues in his address to the believers in Rome, concerning Israel’s perceived falling away,

God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!
The Deliverer shall come out of Zion.
He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.
And this is My covenant with them,
when I take away their sins. (Romans 11:1, 26-27)

As we remember the “season of our deliverance” we need to remember as well that our deliverance is past, present and future, or as some would say, in the “already, not yet.” In other words, we can rejoice in what the LORD has done and is doing, and we look forward to what He will do in the future.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Sailhamer, John H. The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary. Zondervan, 1995. p341

[ii] Fishbane, Michael. The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot (English and Hebrew Edition). The Jewish Publication Society, 2002. p128

[iii] Fishbane, Michael. The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot (English and Hebrew Edition). The Jewish Publication Society, 2002. p130


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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.