Weekly Scripture Reading
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This week's Parashah speaks about obedience to God. Regardless how well intentioned are our actions, or our deeds, in serving God, they pale in comparison with obedience to Him. God, first and foremost, wants us to listen to Him and to do what He asks us to do. All our good intentions are just dirty rags – “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” says the prophet Yeshayahu 64:6. “The road to perdition is paved with good intentions,” goes the saying.
At the end of the previous Parashah, Aharon and his sons are asked to remain at the Tent of Meeting for seven full days. Now, on the eighth day - Shemini, they are inaugurated in their priestly service with a ceremony of sacrificial service commanded by God through Moshe. A joyous occasion filled with offerings and animal sacrifices; a meaningful service to Yehovah. In the end Aharon, filled with a joyous and grateful spirit, raises his hands and blesses the people, at which moment, the Glory of Yehovah appears to the entire congregation and the people respond with spontaneous glad songs and worship by falling upon their faces.
But, as if God’s instruction in performing the ceremony was not enough, two of Aharon sons, Nadav and Avihu, want to add their own “touch” to it and each takes his fire pan, fills it with incense and brings fire before Yehovah under the watchful eyes of the whole congregation of Yisrael. This was not commanded by Yehovah, it had no meaning or purpose. What happens next is an astonishing lesson in obedience. “A fire came forth from Yehovah and consumed them and they died before Yehovah” – Vayikra 10:2. Some may ask, what have they done wrong to deserve this fate? They had good intentions! They were happy that their father was just inaugurated High Priest and wanted to celebrate with their own offering to God.
Some say that they were punished because they brought their own incense and fire not as commanded by Yehovah, thus an alien fire. Even though Yehovah commanded to bring daily incense, He did not tell Moshe to have it done yet, because the fire should have been a holy fire taken from the altar. Others say that the brothers brought the fire in the Holy of Holies — because it says, before Yehovah — where only the High Priest was allowed to enter, thus they were punished for that. Others yet connect the immediately following passage - which at first reading appears to be out of context - with what happened here. Vayikra 10:8-11: “And Yehovah spoke to Aharon, saying, ‘Do not drink intoxicating wine, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the Tent of Meeting, lest you die; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. In order that you may differentiate between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the pure. And that you may teach the people of Israel all the commandments which Yehovah has spoken to them by the hand of Moshe.” Aharon’s sons may have been inebriated thus denigrating the meaning of this holy day; they could not differentiate between the holy and the profane. Yehovah wants us to serve Him and proclaim our faith in public by discerning what is holy and what is profane, with our faculties not afflicted by any detrimental substance; He wants us to serve Him with a pure mind and body.
Regardless of our understanding of what had happened, Aharon’s sons were not in obedience to God. Their offering may have been sincere but was not commanded by God. It was of their own imagination and the whole congregation was watching. Our forms of worship and service to God, our everyday actions, must be within the teaching of the Bible otherwise we put ourselves above God; we put our actions before obedience to God. In a prophetic utterance King David writes: “Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired… Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required… I delight to do Your will, O My God; Your Torah is within My heart." Psalms 40:6,8. Later, in the Brit Chadashah, was revealed who spoke these words, our Lord Yeshua (Hebrews 10:5), and if He, being the Son of God, did not take lightly God's will and the only thing He wanted to do was to be in obedience to His Father's will, shouldn't we take to heart the lesson of this Parashah and make our goal, in everything that we do in this life, to be obedient to God, to delight in doing His will and obey His commandments?
The Parashah not incidentally continues with another obedience test, what it is commonly known as “the dietary law.” Vayikra 11:1-4: “And Yehovah spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying to them, ‘Speak to the people of Yisrael, saying, “These are the creatures which you shall eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Everything among the animals that has a split hoof, which is completely separated, and chews the cud, that one you may eat. But this is what you shall not eat from among those that chew the cud, or of those that have split hooves; the camel, because it chews the cud, but its hoof is not split; it is unclean to you.”
God did not say that these animals are unclean in themselves, but that are unclean to you, to the Jews. And just to make sure we get it, God repeats this phrase – "it is unclean to you" - eight more times in this Parashah, in verses 5,6,7,8,26,27,29 and 31. Why the Jewish believers have to prove themselves to the “Christian" communities as to their faith by eating a ham sandwich when God tells us not to do so? Why people interpret the passage in Acts 10 as being about food when the apostle himself explains that the vision was about the Gentiles being brought into the kehilat Yisrael, the community of Israel, and not about food? “Now on the next day, around the sixth hour, Kefa went up on to the roof to pray. And Kefa became hungry, and was wanting to have a meal; but while they were preparing it, Kefa fell into a trance; and he sees Shomayim having been opened, and a certain object descending like a large linen cloth lowered by four corners upon the ground. In this were all the four-footed animals and creepers of the earth and birds of heaven. And there came a voice to him, "Get up, Kefa, kill and eat!" But Kefa said, "By no means, Adonai! For I have never eaten anything unholy or unclean." And the voice came to Kefa a second time, "What Yehovah made clean, you should no longer regard as unclean." And this happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into Shomayim. Now, while Kefa was greatly perplexed within himself as to what the vision which he saw might be, hinei, the men, who had been sent by Cornelius, and who had, by inquiring, found the house of Shimon, stood at the gate.”
If Kefa, an apostle, was perplexed how can we be so condescending and say that we know better - that it is about food? Isn't it because we put our own desires above God's? Eating is one of the things we do in public, under watchful eyes of our friends, and in which we make a display of our faith, as Aharon's sons did, therefore, isn't our witness jeopardized when we do not respect God's instructions? Please read an excellent book on this subject: "Holy Cow! - Does God care about what we eat?" by Hope Eagan.
In 1 Corinthians 8:8-12 we are given a powerful warning: "But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak... For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Messiah died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Messiah." Yeshua died for the Jewish people first and foremost, His brethren, even if they do not believe that yet, and if we want to be a witness to them our actions must not be a stumbling block. The message of the sacrificial act of Yeshua must speak to them without any impediment; otherwise we sin not against them but against Yeshua.
One can argue for the health benefits of these commandments even in our day-and-age, but one thing remains clear, all of God's commandments were given for our good and today obeying these commandments is a testimony of our obedience to Him. God said that these creatures are unclean to the Jews, not to anybody else, but to the Jews. We do not fully understand yet God's intention in giving such a commandment but why question it? He wanted the Jews to be a holy nation. The harm caused by eating these foods is not physical, but rather, spiritual. Because by ignoring one commandment, giving in to our fleshly desires, slowly but imperceptibly, we will become indifferent to other commandments. He asked us not to murder, not to lie and not to covet, do we question these also? If nothing else these commandments represent a test in obedience. Yes, we are saved not by our actions, not by what we eat, but by the shed blood of Yeshua. But our actions, all of our deeds, reflect our faith and our obedience to God. We do not know who is watching us and how our obedience to God may lead others to be obedient to God also for His glory.