PARASHAH: Tzav
(Give an order)
Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy
Shabbat, April 7, 2001
Vayikra (Leviticus) 6:1 (8)-8:36

(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)

Let’s begin with the opening blessing for the Torah:

Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,

asher bachar banu m’kol ha-amim,

v’natan lanu eht Torah-to.

Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.

Ameyn."

(Blessed are you, O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,

you have selected us from among all the peoples,

and has given us your Torah.

Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.

Ameyn.)

    This week’s parashah is called Tzav, which simply means to "command, or "give an order. This Hebrew word is related to the familiar word "mitzvah, which means "commandment. In fact, one of our previous parash’ot (Tetzaveh) also used the same root word. In the Hebrew mindset, when HaShem "commanded" something to be done, it was always for the good of the individual who would perform it! Here we find no exception. Moshe was commanded to instruct his brother Aharon, the first Cohen HaGadol (High Priest), on the ordinances concerning the "olah", which is the burnt offering.

    In the life of a priest of those days, the very first duty of the day consisted of changing the ashes of the perpetual burnt offering. This eternal flame was even kept lit on Shabbat. This does not contradict the Torah in another place where we read that it was forbidden to light a fire on the Sabbath. Rather, this fire was already lit­and it stayed lit according to the command of the LORD. It is interesting to know that, according to the Mishnah (Tractate Yoma), these ashes were deposited outside of the sanctuary at a ramp near the east entryway to the altar. The priest was then finished with his task of cleaning the eternal flame altar. It was then left to another priest to remove the ashes which would eventually pile up in this location. Because there were multiple priests serving in the Tabernacle on any given occasion, this seemingly mundane task was actually vied for by whomever wished to perform it! According to the Torah (6:3-4) he changed from his "more holy" garment into his "less than holy" garment to perform this task. They were then taken outside of the camp to a designated "pure place".

    What do all of these details inform us about priestly duties in the camp of Isra’el? Since this was the very first mitzvah of the day (tending to the eternal flame), is it possible that even back then the priests saw a great significance in participating in serving their great, merciful God on yet another new day? Can you sense the anticipation and excitement as each new day carried with it a chance to get involved in serving the One who struck all of Egypt with the deadly Ten Plagues! The One who opened up the Sea of Reeds and made his people to cross over on dried ground! The One who brought them out, both slave and free, Egyptian and Isra’elite, to the foot of Mount Sinai and graciously gave them his Words of Life­his Torah!

    You see, the Talmud records for us that the very same altar which was used to keep this eternal flame burning, lasted for about 116 years, during which the fire never died, the thin copper layer never melted, and the wooden structure never became charred! When HaShem institutes a mitzvah, he is sure to provide the necessary miracle in which we­the ordinary­can perform it! Today, in most synagogues around the world, observers can notice the symbolic lamp which rests near (sometimes above) the Ark containing the Torah Scrolls. This is known as the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Flame. It represents this very mitzvah which opens up our portion, Parashat Tzav!

    Allow me to conduct a midrash (homiletic application of Scripture): since this eternal flame dwelt near the Holiest Place, where the Aron Kodesh (Ark of the Covenant) was housed, and since within the Ark, the Testimony­that is, the Torah written by the finger of God, was also kept, can we see a correlation between these natural representations and our lives as living witnesses today? The Torah promises that when we surrender to the Ruach HaKodesh and become living vessels to be used for his glory, that he places the Torah on our inward parts­our hearts! Yeshua described us as the "Light for the world" (read Matt. 5:14-16)! What a blessed description of our spiritual function, given at the mouth of the Source of all Light­the Messiah himself! When we allow his Light to be kindled within us, all the world is made to see the wonderful goodness of his perfect grace and mercy! All the world gains a chance to become involved in the perfect plans and purposes that our Loving, Heavenly Abba has prepared for those who genuinely love him! We must keep our eternal lamp lit for those around us to see! How do we accomplish this?

    The Torah tells us that we must daily maintain these temples. As living lamps, the day to day activities of this world can fill us with ashes, as we attempt to maintain a constant flame upon the altar of our souls. It is up to us to change these ashes­remove them from our lives on a day to day basis! As with the actual eternal flame, HaShem understood that in order to perform this mitzvah, the priests had to monitor the flame on an everyday basis. So it is with our lives today. We must not let the Flame of the Good News of the Messiah’s atoning death extinguish from our temples for even a single day! The world needs to see this Light continually! Yet, for us, it will also entail a daily maintenance of removing the ashes, and checking to see if the Flame is burning brightly. How do we accomplish this awesome task?

    In the Mishkan, HaShem saw to it that the priests never had to want for supplies, with which to perform their daily functions. Do you think that our God is any different today? In Romans chapter 12 we read,

"I exhort you, therefore, brothers, in view of God’s mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart for God. This will please him; it is the logical "Temple worship" for you." (verse 1)

    We see here in this passage that our lives are likened to the service of the priests of which we are reading about in Leviticus! Yes, as believers in Messiah we are all priests unto our LORD! Just as the light, holiness, and sanctity of the Mishkan was maintained by daily service, so too our lives are to be maintained and marked by a constant "performance of the mitzvot", that is, a consistent surrendering to his Light and holiness! Let’s read on:

"In other words, do not let yourselves be conformed to the standards of the olam hazeh. Instead, keep letting yourselves be transformed by the renewing of your minds; so that you will know what God wants and will agree that what he wants is good, satisfying and able to succeed."(verse 2)

    Now, the ‘olam hazeh is this age. What are the standards of this age in which we live? Holiness? I certainly think not!! In fact, just the pull of everyday living has a way of dimming the Light within our spiritual lives if we allow it to. Imagine what would have happened to the eternal flame of the Mishkan if the priest allowed the mundane flow of everyday living to engulf his way of thinking! Imagine having to attend to the sacrificial needs of millions of people day after day, year after year! Blood, blood, blood­and more blood everyday! It would be easy (from our 21st century perspective) to become enamored and bogged-down with all of the minute details of the priestly functions, were it not for the fact that this particular service played such a vital role in the community of God’s chosen ones. In other words, they, like us today, must of necessity remind themselves daily for whom this service is being performed. They needed to saturate themselves with the holiness of a holy God. Their satisfaction must’ve come from the fact that all of these functions were spoken of as a "satisfying aroma unto HaShem" (6:8[15] and 14[21]).

    In chapter seven we read about the prohibition concerning the consumption of blood. Indeed, this will become a central point of discussion in both the Torah and the Talmud.

"You are not to eat any kind of blood, whether from birds or animals, in any of your homes. Whoever eats any blood will be cut off from his people."(7:26, 27)

    What is so special about the blood of living things which makes it prohibited from consumption? Let me turn to a previous discussion of this subject in my commentary to Yom Kippur. First, let’s examine the most well-known verse on this issue of blood and it’s primary function:

"For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for yourselves; for it is the blood that makes atonement because of the life." (Leviticus 17:11)

    This single verse of the Torah has caused no small disagreement between Christian missionaries and my people­especially the rabbis. The missionaries use this verse as a launching point by which to propagate the necessity of the atonement of Yeshua the Messiah for the forgiveness of sin. The rabbis teach that according to further insight (usually provided for them by the Talmud), this verse is not exclusively addressing the issue of sin atonement. As a Messianic rabbi, I have studied the arguments and responses of both camps, and I’m not ashamed to provide an authoritative answer.

    First of all, the rabbis have a somewhat valid point to make; the Torah does address the issue of atonement in other sections. Likewise, HaShem did use the blood of animals in other types of sacrificial requirements, where sin is not the primary issue (such as the consecration of the Mishkan, its priests, and the utensils). But what the rabbis seem to misunderstand, is that the above quoted verse was not intended to confuse the average reader! Citing the rules of standard, grammatical-historical exegesis: to have validity, our method of interpretation (i.e. our hermeneutic) must be consistent and without contradiction, and it must never by governed by a theological predisposition or a school of thought; if our hermeneutic is controlled by our theology, then the Bible can be twisted to say whatever our theology would have it to say! In other words, did the average unlearned reader, living in the time period of the TaNaKH, understand what HaShem was asking of him? Of course he did. If he did not, I imagine we would have read about the difference in interpretation somewhere else in the Torah. But our verse here in Leviticus contains little or no ambiguity. I am not reluctant to place the blame on over-examination. Because of this, we sometimes miss the simple explanation that the Torah is trying to teach us. To use modern language "We miss the forest for the trees!" Another rather obvious cause for the disagreement here is the fact that the rabbis don’t consider the New Covenant Scriptures authoritative, and therefore, they usually ignore it’s teaching.

    But the Torah, as revealed by the Messiah and his first century followers, is authoritative concerning this issue, so it is there that we will settle the issue:

"But God demonstrated his own love for us in that the Messiah died on our behalf while we were still sinners. Therefore, since we have now come to be considered righteous by means of his bloody sacrificial death, how much more will we be delivered through him from the anger of God’s judgement!" (Romans 5:8, 9)

    Yeshua has now become the means by which all men must satisfy the righteous atoning requirement of the Holy One! This is why the Torah is so stringent on its teaching concerning blood. This prohibition is so important that it plays an important role in the life of all non-Jewish followers as well! Speaking to the Yerushalayim Council in Acts 15, Ya’akov, the brother of Yeshua stated,

"Therefore, my opinion is that we should not put obstacles in the way of the Goyim who are turning to God. Instead, we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from fornication, from what is strangled and from blood." (19, 20)

    This same conclusion is repeated in the actual letter, found in verses 23-29 of the same chapter. By this, we can begin to understand that the entire Word of God is a continuous and harmonious thought. One set of teachings doesn’t replace and supercede another set of teachings. To be sure, the Renewed Covenant simply builds upon the foundation set by the previous covenants. Let’s move on.

    In chapter eight of our parashah we find Moshe playing the unusual role of High Priest himself, in that HaShem instructs him to anoint his brother Aharon and the sons of Aharon for the office of priests. An important point is brought out in verse three. We learn that the entire community assembled within the proximity of the entrance of the tent of meeting. Obviously everyone could not fit within that small space, yet HaShem had them gather there for a very important purpose I believe.

    Remember that it was Aharon­this same individual now being inaugurated as the High Priest of the people, which perpetrated the building of the golden calf! Yes, Aharon was the officiator of that gross incident. Yet, by demonstrating in full view of everyone assembled that HaShem was still choosing him as his anointed one, chosen to fulfill a very important and vital function within the community, the people catch a glimpse of the awesome forgiveness and mercy of their Heavenly Father!

    Consider the truth of this passage from a previous portion of the Torah:

    A very interesting genealogical list appears in Sh’mot 6:14-30, and at first glance, seems to be sort of "out of place" with the narrative flow. We must remember that the people were greatly discouraged as a result of the cruel forced-labor of their task masters, as well as the recent turn of events with the punishment inflicted as a result of the apostasy of the golden calf, and that they, as ordinary human beings, were subject to doubt and disappointment (see Sh’mot 6:9). I believe that the list appears early on in the story to sort of "validate" the authority of Moshe and his prophet/brother Aharon. In fact Moshe the human author of the book of Sh'mot seems to indicate this detail of their ministry more than once, in verses 26, 27. In other words, there should be no mistake as to who exactly Moshe and Aharon were.

    And who were Moshe and Aharon? Why, they were the very ones standing before the people now being demonstrated as HaShem’s anointed chosen ones! I’m sure that the golden calf incident wasn’t completely erased from the memories of these two great leaders, nor from the people as well. Imagine what they must’ve been thinking that day! Were they perfect? Far from it! Would they yet make serious mistakes in the future to come? Would HaShem still punish them for these shortcomings? Well, I think you get the idea. By reading ahead into the narrative we find that even though they were chosen for an awesome task which placed them in the very presence of God­sometimes on an everyday basis, their lives were lived out the same way that HaShem expects us to live as his children today….

    By faith.

    Anointed? Surely! Right down to their decorated belts (read 8:6-13, 30)! It is easy sometime to place the "Old Testament saints" into some sort of different reality of life than that of our own today. We imagine that with all of that glory radiating from the Holiest Place that they were more than human, and that it was easy to serve God. We complain that we live in a day and age when the voice of God is difficult to hear. Did Moshe and Aharon really have it easier?

    What about our LORD Yeshua? He was 100% human just like Moshe and Aharon­just like you and me! 100% human and yet 100% God! Moreover, the Torah tells us that, in facing temptation­he did not sin! What an awesome reality for me to rest my faith in! Moshe and Aharon sinned, and HaShem forgave them. They turned around and sinned again, and still HaShem forgave them! And these were the two men that handled all of that "holy stuff" that we are reading about in our current Torah portion! Where does that place you and me?

    Yeshua became like us­frail and human, so that he might intimately identify with our weaknesses­including Moshe and Aharon­and thus become our ultimate High Priest! Because of his anointing we are also counted as anointed! Consider these closing words from the book of Messianic Jews (Hebrews):

    "For both Yeshua, who sets people apart for God, and the ones being set apart have a common origin­this is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers when he says,

"I will proclaim your name to my brothers;

in the midst of the congregation I will sing you praise."

    Also,

"I will put my trust in him,…"

    and then it goes on,

"Here I am, along with the children God has given me."

    Therefore, since the children share a common physical nature as human beings, he became like them and shared that same human nature; so that by his death he might render ineffective the one who had the power over death (that is, the Adversary) and thus set free those who has been in bondage all their lives because of their fear of death.

Indeed it is obvious that he does not take hold of angels to help them; on the contrary,

"He takes hold of the seed of Avraham."

    This is why he had to become like his brothers in every respect­so that he might become a merciful and faithful cohen gadol in the service of God, making a kapparah for the sins of the people. For since he himself suffered death when he was put to the test, he is able to help those who are being tested now." (vv. 11-18)

    The closing blessing is as follows:

Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,

asher natan lanu Toraht-emet,

v’chay-yeh o’lam nata-b’tochenu.

Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.

Ameyn."

(Blessed are you O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,

you have given us your Torah of truth,

and has planted everlasting life within our midst.

Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.

Ameyn.)

"Shabbat Shalom!"