Thoughts and Teachings: Haftarah for Tzav

In last week’s Haftarah the LORD proclaimed, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay heed than the fat of rams,” (I Samuel 15:22).[i] It is noteworthy that this week’s Haftarah, Jeremiah 7:21–8:3; 9:22–23, alludes to the same same concept:

“For on the day that I brought your fathers out of the land of Egypt I did not speak to them nor did I command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I explicitly commanded them: ‘Obey My voice and I will be your God to you and you will be My people. Walk in all the ways that I command you that it may go well with you.’”[ii]

However, just as we saw in I Samuel, in Jeremiah it is not that the sacrifices themselves are corrupt or needless, but the issue is that obedience, in a sense, constitutes a “weightier” or “higher” ideal. Remember the words of Yeshua to the Pharisees and teachers of the Torah:

“Woe to you, Torah scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites! You tithe mint and dill and cumin, yet you have neglected the weightier matters of Torah—justice and mercy and faithfulness. It is necessary to do these things without neglecting the others.”[iii]

It is never the point that the sacrifices are unnecessary. It is simply that obedience, the attitude of the heart, leads one to have the desire to walk in the ways of HaShem. Remarkably, “justice and mercy and faithfulness” are in fact cornerstones of the Torah itself. The Ruach HaChodesh, through Moshe, required all of Bnei Israel to be fair, loving, and trustworthy toward their neighbor, treating them as an equal. In Parasha Kedoshim we read, “You are to do no injustice in judgment. You are not to be partial toward the poor nor show favoritism toward the great, but you are to judge your neighbor with fairness…. but love your neighbor as yourself.”[iv] In other words, obedience to the precepts of the Torah means not only being rightly related to HaShem but to our fellowman. The LORD is not only concerned with our relation with Him but equally with out relations with our brothers and sisters, with our neighbors. Yeshua suggested this when He told His disciples that the world would know of their relationship to Him by their love for one another.[v]

King Saul’s disobedience cost him the kingdom. In Jeremiah’s prophecy, it is Israel’s idolatry and disobedience, that for a season, caused the LORD’s judgment to fall on the Southern Kingdom, the children of Judah – just as it had already fallen upon Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom. In response to the exhortation in Parasha Nitzavim…

“I call the heavens and the earth to witness about you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life so that you and your descendants may live, by loving Adonai your God, listening to His voice, and clinging to Him. For He is your life and the length of your days, that you may dwell on the land that Adonai swore to your fathers—to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob—to give them.”[vi]

… this week’s Haftarah records the disturbing declaration of what will happen since life was not chosen:

“So death will be chosen rather than life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family that remains in all the places to which I have driven them.” It is a declaration of Adonai-Tzva’ot.”[vii]

As is the pattern, the Rabbis did not leave this Haftarah on a negative note. Instead it ends with the LORD’s affirmation to Jeremiah, “I am Adonai who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth. For in these things I delight.”[viii] This echoes the words of ADONAI through the prophet Micah, “He has told you, humanity, what is good, and what Adonai is seeking from you: only to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”[ix] Equally in Micah, we find further encouragement, a guarantee that the LORD’s punishment will not be forever:

“Who is a God like You pardoning iniquity, overlooking transgression, for the remnant of His heritage? He will not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.”[x]

It is this mercy and grace, spoken of by the Torah and the Prophets that Rav. Shaul affirms to the believers at Ephesus as well as to you and me today:

“But God was rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us. Even when we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive together with Messiah.”[xi]

From the beginning of the Tanakh through the Prophets and concluding with the Apostolic Writing, the mercy and grace of the LORD is present every step of the journey through history. Even when He disciplines, there is restraint. And He disciplines not because He desires our harm, rather He disciplines because of His love toward us;[xii] for our good, never our harm, all the days of our lives.[xiii]

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] Jeremiah 7:22-23
[iii] Matthew 23:23
[iv] Leviticus 19:15,18
[v] John 13:35
[vi] Deuteronomy 30:19-20
[vii] Jeremiah 8:3
[viii] Jeremiah 9:23 (verse 24 in English)
[ix] Micah 6:8
[x] Micah 7:18 (see Psalm 103:9)
[xi] Ephesians 2:4-5
[xii] Hebrews 12:5-10; Proverbs 3:11-12
[xiii] Jeremiah 29:11
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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.