[VIDEO] Brad TV Video Teaching – Parashat Shemini

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Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.

Shalom, my name is Joseph Shulam, and together with Brad TV, we are going through all the weekly readings that are read in every synagogue around the world from the five books of Moses, and today, we are reading a portion that’s called “Shemini,” which, essentially, says “the eighth day,” and that’s how the text starts from Leviticus, Chapter 9, verse 1:

“It came to pass on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel, and said to Aaron, ‘Take for yourself a young bull as a sin offering, and a ram as a burnt offering, without blemish, and offer them before the Lord.’”

And the whole of Chapter 9 is dealing with the different sacrifices that Moses commands Aaron and his sons to offer on the altar in the tabernacle in the wilderness. But the main event of this book starts in Chapter 10, and it starts with a very tragic, one of the most tragic events. There’s two very, very tragic events in our Bible of death related to the holy things of the Lord. The one in the days of David was Uzzah. When David decides to bring the Ark of the Covenant that had been 20 years sitting in Kiriath-Jearim, which is, today, a village less than four miles from where I live, an Arab village, on the top of the Arab village, there is a Catholic monastery, and that was the site of Kiriath-Jearim.

And recently, an Israeli archeologist by the name of Israel Finkelstein dug there, and found a sanctuary, a huge sanctuary, a huge temple, not an Israelite temple, a huge pagan temple, on the very top of that hill, and apparently, the Ark of the Covenant was placed there after the Philistines returned it, and it went to Beit Shemesh, and wreaked havoc in Beit Shemesh like it wreaked havoc in the Philistine cities on the seashore of the Mediterranean.

And it sat there all through the reign of King Saul until David decided to bring it to Jerusalem. He built a special tent for it in Jerusalem, and he decided to bring it to Jerusalem. On the way, bringing it to Jerusalem, a guy named Uzzah thought that the cart, dragged by oxen, which was rocking, going up a hill on a rocky road, and he thought that the Ark would fall.

And he supported the Ark, and died on the spot, which is one of the weird religious things that happened. The first one is the one that we’re talking about in the Book of Leviticus, in Chapter 10. So Chapter 9 gives us all these instructions of what they did, how they cut the fat from the bull and from the rams, and the kidneys, and the liver, and all the things that they did to prepare these animals for the sacrifices. I don’t like dealing with these things, I’m not very good with the butchering, but it’s necessary.

The Holy Spirit saw fit to give us these instructions, and maybe someday they’ll become relevant to us, more relevant than they are now. But I’m jumping to Chapter 10, verse 1. Chapter 10, verse 1. Moses commanded Aaron in Chapter 9 to bring his sons, who were already priests, they were anointed, dedicated, sanctified as priests, and he told Aaron, “Bring you and your sons, and come and do this sacrificial…”

If you ask me my opinion, it was kind of like a practice run of how to do all these animals before it becomes the daily chore, the daily tasks of the priests. This was in the process of dedicating the tabernacle and the priests. So in Chapter 10, verse 1, we read,

“And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer, and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them.”

That’s what the sons of Aaron did.

What God did in reaction is very drastic. It’s very drastic. Verse 2 of Chapter 10,

“So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.”

Two sons of Aaron, the oldest sons of Aaron, they were already priests, they were already sanctified, they were already purified, they were already prepared, but they brought strange fire. Whatever that means, maybe we’ll discuss it some other time. But the issue that I want to talk about is this, it’s enthusiasm. The word enthusiasm, in English, contains the word theos, and theos, it’s kind of a divine presence, a divine characteristic.

The ex-rabbi, Rabbi Sacks, who was the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, of England, for many years, looked at this story and attributed the action of the sons of Aaron to enthusiasm. They were young priests, who had inherited their position as the sons of Aaron, anointed with oil, and their ear, right ear, their right thumb, and their right foot, the big toe of the right foot, was anointed with oil, and with blood, because a priest has to hear from the Lord, to do the work of the Lord, and walk in the path of the Lord.

That’s the biblical anointing of priesthoods, the ear, the thumb, and the hand, right hand, and the right toe, because that’s the work of the priest, to hear from the Lord, to do the will of the Lord, and to walk in the ways of the Lord. So they were already sanctified, they were already purified, they were washed, they were prepared, and they heard the instruction that Moses gave, and then what happens is, they go and they take their censers, which is an instrument like a little shovel in which they shovel the incense sometimes, and also the hot coals for the fire to put it on the altar of the Lord. And Rabbi Sacks attributed their action, their careless action, to being overzealous, overenthusiastic. The word enthusiasm is one of the words in the English language, it’s a Greek word, but the English language has more synonyms for this word than any other word that I know.

If I look at the dictionary, then I’ll tell you some of the synonyms that it has: urgent desire, fancy, whim, crusade, cult, furor, fever, a crush, passion, quickness, ambition, gusto, zest, frivolousness, passion, zeal, readiness, willingness, casualness, ach, a long list of synonyms that the word enthusiasm has. And here they were, that was their big day. They were supposed to, together with their father and with Moses, to go through several of the main sacrificial orders in the Torah, in the Law of Moses, and they were enthusiastic, they were in a hurry, they wanted to do it with passion, they wanted to do it to prove themself.

They didn’t think about the details, about the fine text, underneath their desire to prove themself, underneath their desire to do the right thing, so they were overzealous, overenthusiastic, and instead of going a little bit further, or a little bit deeper, or a little bit more seriously, in their enthusiasm, they got a strange fire, a fire from the wrong place. What happens?

Fire comes down from heaven. Verse 2 of Chapter 10:

“Fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.”

There are several things that I want us to learn from this. First of all, when it comes to serving God, we need to have zeal, yes, we need to have passion, yes, but zeal and passion have to be controlled with discipline, with obedience to the details, with accuracy to the commands of the Lord, and if they’re not, instead of getting good out of our obedience, instead of getting good out of our enthusiasm, desire to serve, desire to participate, desire to be active, desire to be pleasing to God, to our Father, to the leadership, to the people, to the crowds, beside all these things, we’re dealing with God, and God is a consuming fire.

We cannot afford to be casual, relaxed, overrelaxed, overzealous, and not to be very exact, very obedient, following the instructions of what God desires from us. Now, I’m going to continue with this text a little bit in Chapter 10 of the Book of Leviticus, because it becomes even more serious than this. Moses, the brother of Aaron, sees his nephews devoured by divine fire from God, family, fire from God comes and burns these two boys. They weren’t boys, they were already men, well in their 20s, maybe more, and this is Moses’ reaction to his brother Aaron, verse 3 of Chapter 10: And Moses said to Aaron,

“This is what the Lord spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.’”

Here is Aaron’s reaction. I get chills when I read this text. I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve read it, but hundreds and hundreds of times, how many times I’ve taught this lesson, also hundreds of times. Every time I read the text, I get chills all over my body. Moses says to his brother Aaron, to his older brother, Aaron, that just saw his two boys burned, he said, “This is what the Lord spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near to Me,’” means those who are come to serve Me,

“‘I must be regarded as holy.’” I shouldn’t be regarded casually, as a friend, or a passer-by. No, I am holy, and those who serve Me must take My holiness very seriously, and before all the people, I must be glorified. And hearing the words, that just shock me, in Hebrew, two words, and Aaron “shut up,” said nothing, reacted nothing. His two sons were burned, Aaron is standing there, stoic, firm, no questioning of God. “God, why did you do that? They were my boys, they were your priests.”

No, Aaron shuts up. In the New King James, “So Aaron held his peace.” So Aaron had nothing to say moments after his sons die.

“Then Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, ‘Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.’ So they went near and carried them by their tunics out of the camp, as Moses had said.”

Aah, what a sad picture. What a serious thing this is. And Moses says to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons, he had four sons, two are gone, burned, the two that are left,

“‘Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the people. But let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the Lord has kindled. You shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of meeting lest you die, for the anointing of the Lord is upon you.’ And they did according to the words of Moses.”

The next text is very interesting in this context.

“Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, ‘Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between what is holy and what is unholy, between the unclean and the clean, that you may teach your children, the children of Israel, all the statues which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.’”

The proximity of this command not to drink alcohol, intoxicating drinks, to this very sad event, according to rabbinical commentaries, is an indication that the reason why the enthusiasm of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, brought them this calamity, this tragedy, was because before they went to serve the Lord, they drank, and their mind, their enthusiasm, was not guided with logic, with obedience, with thought, with forethought.

But in Hebrew we have the word , they were overly zealous, overly excited, overly enthusiastic, that their enthusiasm led them to carelessness, their enthusiasm led them to over-desire, to get the work of the Lord done. Yes, yes, we need to be zealous, we need to be enthusiastic when we do the work of Lord, but we need to be also careful, to think about it, to be obedient to it. And I just want to give you an example.

We have texts in the New Testament that tell us what the early church did when they gathered. We have Acts, Chapter 2, verse 42, that the disciples gathered daily from house to house, breaking bread and continuing in teaching and in prayer.

Okay, so we have that example. We have in the Corinthian letters telling what they came together, and I think it’s Chapter 13 or 14 of First Corinthians, they had where the one brought the word of wisdom, another brought, you know, a song, another one brought a spiritual song, which means a melody without words. A spiritual song is a melody without words, because even the song with the words is spiritual, but the Hebrew understanding is that a spiritual song is just the melody.

Ach, Hasidic Jews do that very well. Aah, they do that very well. When I was in the Orthodox Yeshiva, for hours, they’d be singing, and dancing, and carrying on, without saying a word, just, ♪ Abba, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye ♪ ♪ Ba bye, bye, bye, bye, bye ♪ Yeah, that kind of… So you could say, in tongues, if we put it in modern charismatic context.

Yes, this is the portion of Shemini, and this amazing event is not only here in this text in Leviticus, Chapter 10, it’s again mentioned in Leviticus, Chapter 16, verse 1, and in Numbers, Chapter 3, verse 4, and in Numbers, Chapter 26, verse 61, and, yes, several times, four times in the Law of Moses. This event is so dramatic, so sad, and so important that it’s mentioned four times in the Law of Moses.

What shall we learn today, as pastors, as teachers, as rabbis, what shall we learn from this event? Here is what we should learn. First thing, the obvious thing is that when we serve the Lord, we shouldn’t be drinking alcohol. We shouldn’t come to the congregation even after having half a beer. It’s not a sin to drink alcohol, except for the Baptists, but it’s a sin to drink alcohol in a time when you’re supposed to be serving the Lord, preaching the word of God, conducting funerals, conducting baptism, conducting weddings. Yes, when you are serving the community and the Lord at the same time, or the Lord alone, even, you should not be drinking alcohol.

That’s the upshot that the rabbis get out of this story. One of the morals of this story is this, because of the proximity of the text. The second thing is, yes, we should do the work of the Lord with zeal, with enthusiasm, but also in obedience. We are not hired by the Lord to have shortcuts. We are not hired by the Lord to invent new, supposedly more effective ways of serving the Lord. We need to be much more circumspect in the way we serve God.

And this is an important lesson for pastors, for elders, for deacons, for teachers. Yes, the Book of Leviticus has this pivotal story in Chapter 10 of the Book of Leviticus, and as I said, it’s mentioned four times in the five books of Moses, which means that it’s very, very important that we should have enthusiasm controlled by obedience, by respect, by knowing the difference between what is holy and what is unholy. We’re not supposed to be creative above and beyond the commands and the instructions that God gave us in His word, both the Old and New Testament. My dear brothers and sisters, God is holy, and He demands us to treat Him in His holiness, and not in our casualness. May God bless you all. Shalom from Jerusalem.

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.