“You shall not desecrate My Holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among the children of Israel...” 22:32
Much of Vayikra has been about the sanctification of the children of Israel. The entire Holy Day schedule follows this verse in Vayikra 23 and the rules governing the holiness of the kohanim was discussed in the preceding verses. But this command to sanctify the Name of G-d goes far beyond the Holy Day and the priesthood but defined the very purpose for the existence of the people of Israel, and by extension, ours as well.
Israel’s purpose was to be G-d’s ‘pilot project’, His model nation, the people who would follow Him as an example to all the other nations. They were set apart (sanctified) for this purpose by G-d, they were given a central location (Eretz Israel) from which to launch their mission, and they were given Torah to show them how to accomplish the mission and remain G-d’s ‘set apart’ people. Torah shows how to do this in every area of life from the clothes we wear, the times we celebrate, the way we plow our fields, the food we eat, the regulations of our relationships and all the other teachings of Torah that define who we are as the people of Israel, the children of Avraham. When we do these things, we sanctify G-d Name, we show Him to be the true G-d and we demonstrate the fact that He has one way and one special people. Yahushua said that people would see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven, we would sanctify His name. Even Adolf Hitler acknowledged that the Jews were the conscience of the world. That is our job.
It is a heavy responsibility and that is why the penalties for Israel’s (and our) disobedience are so harsh. G-d’s Name, Honor and Sanctity are at stake. When we fail to sanctify His Name through our actions, when we act like everyone else, when we assimilate into our culture, when our clothes and speech and entertainment habits and worship habits are all the same, we are not ‘set apart’ and G-d is not sanctified in us. Even worse, when our behavior is wicked, when our morality and ethics are just as low or lower than those around us, ‘G-d’s Name is blasphemed’ among the nations on account of us (Isa 52:5, Rom 2:24), and we all know what the penalty for blasphemy was. It is a serious thing to be part of the nation of Israel. The privileges, both in the here and now and in the hereafter are available no where else. But with those privileges come a heavy responsibility. G-d’s honor is a stake in our lives. That is why Yahushua warned us to count the cost before we signed up. That is why Hebrews says that for the one who tastes of the Lord and turns away, it would have been better if they had not come to knowledge of the truth. Once one enters the community of remnant Israel through decision and mikvah, one takes on those responsibilities forever. It is not a ‘phase’, it is not a step on the ladder of religious enlightenment. It is the end of the road, there is no higher way that the way of Torah in Messiah. If we place His name on our life, we cannot turn back, we cannot even look back, we cannot take the chance that His name will be blasphemed on our account. Holiness is who we are, it is our primary responsibility. We are to ‘Sanctify the Name’ in everything we do and say.
In the middle of this week’s parasha is the most complete list of the Holy Convocations of YHVH. They begin with Shabbat, the weekly piece of sanctified time from which the rest of them derive their holiness. And in case there was any doubt about the seriousness of these ‘appointed times’ the death penalty for the desecration of shabbat was declared and several of them include as the penalty for non-participation the ‘cutting off’ from the people of Israel. There is something crucial to these ‘festivals’ in the eyes of G-d.
The word for the ‘appointed times’ is ‘moedim’ or meetings. The ‘ohel moed’ was the tent of meeting where Moshe met with G-d. So crucial to understanding these festivals and their importance to the relationship between YHVH and the people of Israel is the use of this word ‘moed’ or meeting.
What this word brings to our understanding is that while the festivals like Pesach and Sukkot recall historical events and the recollection of those events is a large part of their understanding, they are much more than celebrations of wonderful examples of G-d’s provision. For those of us who have come out of a Christian or popular religious paradigm of understanding, the religious celebrations are not much more than markers in the calendar. Although significant things supposedly happened on those days, Christmass and Astarte (I mean Easter), the days themselves hold no special significance. They mark serious events for Christians with clear historical and theological meaning but in reality they are no different than the fourth of July for Americans, which also marks a serious historical event pregnant with philosophical meaning that has impacted the world.
The difference with YHVH’s festivals is that they are moedim, meetings. They not only mark historical events but they are also times that G-d marks on His calendar to come and meet with His people in a significantly different way.
“Whenever the Israelites on earth rejoice in the festivals, give praise to the Lord, adorn the table with viands and don fine garments, the angels above inquire, ‘Why do the Israelites pamper themselves so much?’. G-d replies, ‘They have a distinguished guest with them today’.” (Zohar 3, 94a)
We don’t just have a special day to remember something, but we actually meet with the King of the Universe that day. That is why we cannot choose the days, we cannot move the Shabbat to Sunday. The King has set his appointment book and we do not have the right or authority to alter it. He, by His very presence, fills the day with sanctity and that sanctity cannot be transferred by His subjects. Why are those who do not participate in the meeting cut off from the people, or worse? Because one does not miss a meeting requested by the King. These days are unique because they include a revelation of G-d, He comes from the heavenlies to meet personally with His people.
These holy convocations between Israel and G-d, between you and G-d, are detailed here so that we know what G-d’s appointment book looks like. Are you wondering why G-d seems distant? Are you showing up for the holy convocation (Lev 23:3)? It is a convocation, a ‘mikra’, a calling together. You cannot ‘call together’ all by yourself. If you’ve got a place to fellowship, go, mark your calendars and don’t miss your appointment with the King.
Our parasha begins with a detailed discussion of the Kohanim (priesthood). It lays out specific rules and regulations about their family life, eating habits and personal appearance. It outlines who they may marry, how their children must behave and what they may or may not do at the death of a close relative. It all appears very restrictive to us today. Who is G-d to tell me who I can and cannot marry! What about love? If my daughter is rebellious, what am I supposed to do about it, you know teenagers. And I can’t go to my mother’s funeral, who do you think you are! The worst is yet to come...what is this that I can't be a priest if my one arm is longer than the other or my eyebrows are too bushy! Hasn’t G-d heard of the ‘American’s with disabilities act’? Where’s my lawyer’s number....
It is difficult for us to understand today why being born outside of a particular family or having some physical abnormality would disqualify one for serving in the Holy Place, close to G-d. We have grown up with the idea that we are all equal and each one has an opportunity to be anything they want to if they work hard enough. Not in ancient Israel and not in the Kingdom. No amount of work will make one a Kohen if they were not born one. No amount of plastic surgery will restore the physical perfection that the job demands. No desire or sense of unfairness will allow the Kohen to go to his mother’s funeral. Part of humility is understanding one’s place in life, accepting it and then maximizing it.
One of the things these regulations teach us is an important lesson about the fundamental nature of the universe. In the world that G-d created, there is shalom and there is chaos. We can look at it as a continuum.
shalom/order———————————chaos/disorder In our discussion of tahor and tamei, we learned that a dead body is the representation of complete chaos, physically speaking. Haman, Pharaoh or Hitler would represent the same thing in the moral realm. Idolatry is complete chaos while Torah based religion is shalom in the religious spectrum. Michael, guardian angel of Israel is shalom while hasatan is total disorder in the angelic realm. I think you get the picture.
What went on the the Mishkan or the temple, where the Glory of G-d resided, was a place of complete shalom/order. Religiously and spiritually. Nadav and Avihu found out what happens when one brings religious disorder into the presence of G-d. The same holds true for moral and physical disorder. If there is moral disorder in the priest’s family (his daughter is a harlot), he cannot come into the presence of G-d. If he has contacted the dead, a place of complete chaos, he cannot bring that into the presence of G-d. If he has a physical blemish, the physical order that exists in the Mishkan will be disrupted. Every level of reality must be accounted for when in the Mishkan and/or the presence of G-d.
This will go for our lives as well because Sha’ul said we are temples of G-d. If we want G-d to reside in our temple, we must have our lives in order-physically, religiously and morally. This means you take care of your body, you follow Torah, you resist temptation. An ordered life is a life of Shalom and one in which the Glory of G-d will dwell.
“The food of his God...” (21:22) “You may not offer the food of your God from any of these....” (22:25) “A satisfying aroma to YHVH...” (23:18) “You shall place them (12 loaves of bread).....upon the pure table, before YHVH” (24:6) These are certainly strange things to say about the invisible God, are they not? God eats, or requires sacrifices for food, or needs his table set with bread by the priests or desires various drink offerings. What does this mean? Is it simply a holdover from paganism, since we know that the pagans believed they had to feed their gods to keep them happy. Does the Creator of all need or require such things?
The obvious answer is no. God does not eat. The loaves set out by the priests were still there the next day and the day after that. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. It would appear from this scripture and others, as well as the historical fact that Israel has operated without the temple for the vast majority of it’s history, that sacrifices and the other food of God are secondary. We cannot say that sacrifice is a requirement to have contact with YHVH. Three examples will be sufficient. Moshe was called to the burning bush and then exercised the power of God without sacrifice. Both Daniel and Ezekiel as people in exile after the destruction of the first Temple engaged in prophetic activity, speaking with God, without sacrifice.
On a very practical, functional level, a sacrifice is food, food for us. In Hebrew, sacrifice and slaughter are the same word. By importing spiritual meaning to the act of killing an animal for food, we take a physical act and elevate it to a spiritual level. Something as mundane and normal as eating now takes on a spiritual significance, it reminds us that we do not operate merely on a physical level like the rest of the animals. But even that is the wrong way to look at it because there is, in reality, no separation between the physical and the spiritual to begin with. That is a dualist lie perpetrated on us by the greeks which colors everything thing we do and every bit of thought we have about God and the Bible. We think God is ‘up there’ and the kingdom is ‘to come’ yet the scriptures teach that the kingdom and God are within us.
Really the problem is in asking the wrong questions. Does God need or require food? No. God is self existent, He needs nothing, we can add nothing to Him, we take nothing from Him. Good greek answer, one meant to satisfy children who ask things like ‘where does the rain come from.’ Greek answers polarize things. If God needs nothing, then we are really insignificant, even to Him. To say he desires a relationship means He has a need that He cannot fill and therefore our tidy greek concept of God with all it’s ‘omni-this and omni-that’, is inconsistent. Our questions need to come from a different place.
The temple, and the whole sacrificial system are a children’s lesson. Adam didn’t need a temple and revelation tells us that one day there will be no more temple as well because we will all walk with God as Adam did. Y‘shua said that in the future men will no longer worship on Mt. Gerezim or in Jerusalem but in spirit and in truth. The Kingdom is within, you are the temple, you are made in His image and He lives in you. We are a kingdom of priests, you don’t need someone else to assist you in worshiping or finding what you already have within you. The Temple, Torah, the sacrifices are all training to lead us to maturity and wisdom. Yet with our greek minds in pursuit of knowledge we treat the training as if that is all there is. We learn, we dissect, we try to apply and understand as if the exact proper application of every commandment is the goal. That is what Y’shua condemned the Pharisees for. Torah is not the goal, it is the means. The best means of training our minds and bodies to have an authentic, intimate relationship with God. We need, as Paul said, the renewing of our mind. We need to take off the greek hat, remove the dualist clothing of our thinking and begin to understand God and the world the way Avraham, Moshe, David and Y’shua did.
This Shabbat we are in the midst of a very important festival, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is one of the big three pilgrimage festivals and it lasts for seven days. It has two shabbats associated with it and another day of remembrance within it. It is a commemoration of the haste with which the people of Israel left Egypt. Today, it is usually overshadowed by Pesach with it’s seder meal and associated messianic implications but Unleavened bread is actually the more important festival and the lessons we learn from it are crucial to our walk with God.
The festival occurs in the spring of the year, in the first month. That alone gives us some clues as to it’s meaning. Spring is a time of renewal, of new life. In recognition of this, most ancient peoples had a festival at this time; today we know it as Easter. In our culture, the calendar begins in January and one of the things done is the making of New Year’s resolutions, the desire to change something negative about oneself. In the Jewish calendar, that is done in the spring and the fall. Not some much in the form of ‘resolutions’ but an examination of life and the change associated with it. Leaven is almost always associated with sin, the places we miss the mark, and removing it from our homes is a picture of removing it from our lives.
There are, of course, many other lessons to be learned from this festival. Consider the circumstances. They were being kicked out of Egypt and were beginning their journey to the promised land. They made a drastic change in their living situation. They realized that they could not seek God and serve him in their present situation and they left. Even when Pharaoh offered to let them sacrifice in the land, they had to say no. They were in a system and society that was the antithesis of that which God desires. They could not be part of it, they could not be separate within it, they had to get out of it. As such it was the beginning of their journey to Sinai and, beyond that, the promised land. It is we who must make the same resolve. We have become slaves to our society, like sheep we consume, we internalize values, we work for...what? So we can consume more or pay more taxes? This is the time to resolve to change this. To stop being a part of the system, to begin our journey. Not to make some simple adjustments but to remove ourselves from the system and begin life anew. The eating of unleavened bread is a symbol of the break with the past and the beginning of a new life.
The bread teaches us what that new life is like. Matza is very simple bread. On their journey in the wilderness they were going to live a very simple but free life. Free from the trappings of Egypt, free to go where the cloud would lead them. How many of us could say the same? I know I can’t. We are held back by houses with mortgages, cars with loans and a huge pile of stuff that keeps us from going anywhere without a great deal of effort, all courtesy of our having adopted a consumer society. And leaving that consumerism and going elsewhere is scary. Our stuff provides us comfort, to live without the convenience store around the corner would be unthinkable. Life in a tent in the wilderness where one lived day to day with one’s needs provided day to day is a simple, stress free life. Our lives are just the opposite. We are not free. The days of Unleavened Bread encourage us to make a break with our present, to adopt simplicity and to begin the journey in earnest. It is in doing so that we will finally find Sinai and the promised land.