Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:3-27:34
(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.
(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.
We have finally come to the last portion of Vayikra, known as Parashat B’chukkotai (say "b-choo-koh-tie"; the "ch" is as the "ch" in Bach). The root word from which our Torah portion’s title is taken is "choke", and it means "law", "regulation", "ordinance". This should not be confused with its counterpart "Torah" which is also sometimes translated along these same lines. The main difference is the meaning that each word is attempting to convey: choke=law; Torah=teaching.
This week’s Torah teaching introduces one of the central aspects of the covenant made through Moshe rabbenu (Moses our teacher): obedience. The Torah clearly teaches here in this parashah that blessing is predicated upon obedience to its chukkim (laws). What sort of blessing? Physical, social, and financial, to name a few.
But not spiritual.
The Torah is not teaching its adherents to follow it in pursuit of spiritual well-being, that is, eternal life. The Torah is simply NOT a salvific document (pertaining to salvation). HaShem clearly outlines step-by-step what will happen when and if the House of Isra'el follows his laws. He also clearly outlines the consequences of disobedience. History has proven that ‘Am Yisra’el failed to heed HaShem’s dire warning of punishment, and indeed sunk to the absolute depravity of even consuming their own offspring from fear and want of food (read Lev. 26:27-29)!
Where does the misunderstanding that the Torah is a document of legalism and not grace stem from? It stems from a human misunderstanding of the purposes and calling of HaShem.
When an individual misappropriates the true intent of the gracious teachings of the Torah, he is a prime target for the misguided heresy called legalism!
It is here that I want to address the differences between the Covenant made with Avraham, and the Covenant made with Moshe. Some of my material will be drawn from the excellent teaching provided by First Fruits of Zion Publications book ‘Torah Rediscovered’, which can be purchased through their website of the same name. It can also be read online at Aleph-Tav.org.
By way of an introduction, when we are talking about obedience to the Torah, we are referring to what I call "Shomer Mitzvot. The Hebrew word "shomer" means "keeper of" or to be "observant"; the Hebrew word "mitzvot" is the plural form of the word "mitzvah" meaning "command"; thus, "shomer mitzvot" means "keeper of the commands", or more properly "Torah observant".
In Judaism, keeping the Torah is central to performing the will of HaShem. Indeed, as properly understood from HaShem’s point of view, the whole of Torah was given to bring its followers to the "goal" of acquiring the kind of faith in HaShem that leads to placing one’s trusting faithfulness in the One and only Son of HaShem, Yeshua HaMashiach. To this end, the Torah has prophesied about him since as early as the book of Genesis (3:15), and continues to speak of him until its conclusion in Revelation (22:20). In this capacity, the Torah acts like its etymological counterpart ("yarah") in that it "teaches" its adherents how to properly identify with HaShem by helping them to "reach the mark". To be sure, the Hebrew word used to identify "sin" literally means, "to miss the mark".
Obedience to the Torah has long since been an oft-misunderstood subject, both in the Jewish community and the Christian one. It is my understanding that the errors can be corrected once a person resolves the issues surrounding legalism, begins to understand the intended nature and function of the Torah in the first place, and then faithfully applies it to their own lives. Because the Messiah has already come, the Torah is now a document meant to be lived out in the life of a faithful follower of Yeshua, through the power of the Ruach HaKodesh, to the glory of HaShem the Father. It should not be presumed that it could be obeyed mechanically, automatically, legalistically, without having faith, without having trust in HaShem, without having love for HaShem or man, and without being empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh. To state it succinctly, Torah observance is a matter of the heart, always has been, and always will be.
It is my desire that this explanation here in this parashah will assist the average non-Jewish believer, or new Messianic Jewish believer in his desire to become a more mature child of God.
For what does the Torah teach in another place?
"And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer"
(Deuteronomy 10:12-16, NIV).
If the Jewish Nation as a whole had understood the central meaning behind the teaching of the Torah, legalism and mistrust would not have been the result and HaShem would not have resorted to punishing them so severely for their gross disobedience. We have been given this historical Torah so that we might learn from the lessons found therein and avoid the same pitfalls! The following material has been borrowed from my Shomer Mitzvot series, available at my website MessianicArt.com.
Many believers, specifically Jewish believers without a formal background in Judaism, and Gentile ones who wish to identify with the Scriptures of Israel, have questions about what it means to be "Torah Observant" or "Shomer Mitzvot" (say: show-mair meets-vote) as it is known in Jewish circles. It is my desire that this commentary to Parashat B’chukkotai will assist the average non-Jewish believer, or new Messianic Jewish believer in his desire to become a maturer child of God. Walking out the new life that we as believers have in Messiah Yeshua is sometimes referred to as "halachah", coming from the Hebrew word for "walk".
Because the Torah is written on the hearts of all who truly name the name of Yeshua as LORD and Savior, it is meant to be followed to the best of our ability. We have no reason for fear of condemnation, or the trappings of legalism!
(Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Romans 7:22; 8:1; Hebrews 8:10)
The following explanation is meant to serve as a primer to the individuals’ search to become "Torah Observant". The hearers of our current portion would have done well to understand its meaning. It is not meant to be an exhaustive definition on the subject, rather, it is simply an introduction to the concept of blessing which stems from obedience. To be sure, this Torah Teacher is not the subject matter expert. But the following "midrash" (teaching example) should enlighten the average believer:
‘Most new automobiles come with two important pieces of literature: an owner’s manual, and a set of registration papers. The first of these is free with the purchase of the car. The latter needs to be obtained legally by the purchaser. ‘In the event of a traffic altercation (accident, speeding, etc.), the driver of the vehicle is required to produce the proof of registration (among other things) to the police man making the report. Failure to do so will have serious repercussions on the part of the driver, as this information vitally links the driver to the ownership of the car. Obviously the registration paper is very important.
‘On a similar vein, a long trip out and abroad on a hot summer day, without the use of the air conditioner, will prove to be uncomfortable, to say the least. Especially, if the region is a humid one. A flat tire during this trip would spell "double disaster". Because this is a new car, the driver is unfamiliar with the climate controls, so the heat is unbearable! Also, he or she may be ignorant when is comes to changing a flat tire! Where does the driver turn to for assistance? Fortunately the owner’s manual covers such topics as "climate controls, changing a flat, oil pressure, engine maintenance, and even radio features". The owner’s manual proves to be a valuable tool in providing both comfort and peace of mind in this situation.’
The matter of Torah Observance is made clearer when one understands the relationship he or she has to the Covenants. Once again, our recipient of the message of Parashat B’chukkotai would have done well to grasp the following central truth! The Torah spells out at least two very important Covenants in the life of a follower of HaShem. There is the Avrahamic (with Abraham) Covenant and the Moshaic (with Moses) Covenant. The Avrahamic Covenant serves to represent the registration papers, in our above drash. Prior to coming to faith, the Torah served as a reminder of sin (Romans 7:7-12). This is not the only function of Torah, but it is a primary one. After coming into a relationship with HaShem, through His Son Yeshua, the person underwent a change in relationship to the Torah. The Avrahamic Covenant became for him or her, a "promise of inheritance". An "inheritance" of what? Of "eternal life", through trusting faithfulness. It became their "proof of ownership" so-to-say. It still reminded him or her of their sin. However, because we now constitute the "Righteousness of HaShem" (Ephesians 2:1-10; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21), we are now free to pursue following HaShem without the threat of death for disobedience! To be sure, the Torah spelled certain death for some disobedient acts committed by the supposed covenant follower (see: Exodus 31:12-18 "Sabbath violation"). Even the New Covenant Scriptures (B’rit Chadashah) teach that "the wages (payment) of sin is death". But now Yeshua’s atoning death has "redeemed us from the curse of the law" (Galatians 3:13, KJV). "Death" and "condemnation" is no longer our wages (Romans 6:23; 8:1).
"For those who trust HaShem for the promises, the proper order for faith and obedience is set by the sequence in which the covenants were given. In other words, faith must precede obedience. But the kind of faith accepted by HaShem is one, which naturally flows into obedience. True obedience never comes before faith, nor is it an addition to faith. It is always the result of true biblical faith." (Taken from ‘Torah Rediscovered’ by Ariel and D’vorah Berkowitz, First Fruits of Zion Publications, emphasis mine.)Torah Observance is a matter of the heart. It always has been and always will be. The Torah Proper (first Five Books of Moshe) instructed the people of Isra’el to "love ADONAI your God with all their heart, all your being and all your resources" (Deuteronomy 6:5). This is where "Shomer Mitzvot" begins—by loving HaShem, and accepting Him on His terms. By this, I mean accepting His means of covenant obedience. For today, this means acceptance of Yeshua, His only Son, for Jew and non-Jew alike.
Covenants require a response on the part of the follower. HaShem, for His part, has provided the "promise of inheritance" for all those who participate in the Avrahamic Covenant. The response to this covenant is "faith". The nature of the Moshaic Covenant is "blessing, maintenance, and enjoyment of promise". For them that wish to participate, the response to this covenant is "obedience". It’s that "easy". But not so easy for the original hearers of the blessings and curses of Leviticus chapter 26! For as the history of the Torah will graphically demonstrate, an entire generation failes to understand God’s important message and is forced to die in the wilderness before even reaching the Promised Land of Inheritance (coming up in Numbers chapter 14)!
The lesson for us today is important indeed!
This idea of commandment keeping is a state of mind, as well as a daily function! We should never fall for the age-old, compulsory reasons for keeping the commands of HaShem! Legalism, that is, keeping the Torah for the sake of salvation or behavioral preference with HaShem, is simply NOT Scriptural! To be sure, it is a misuse of the Torah itself! Torah observance is a matter of the heart!
It is a natural action of ours, urged on and empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) within us! It is the result from having the Torah placed on our inward parts, as new creations in Messiah Yeshua! It is not something we do to BECOME saved; it is something we do BECAUSE we are saved!
It is customary after the completion of a book of the Torah to say,
Chazak, chazak, v’nit’chazek!"
(Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!)
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.
(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.
Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy