Thursday, May 25, 2017

Parashat Bamidbar ("In the desert") Numbers 1:1-4:20

Parashat Bamidbar ("In the desert")    Numbers 1:1-4:20

Bamidbar translates to "in the desert" and it begins with the census of the shevatim (tribes) and a description of machaneh Yisrael (the Israelite camp). The Levites are not included in the senses as they are responsible for the Mishkan, and have a special status within the nation.

“The LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, "Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head." (Numbers 1:1-2)
The LORD had Moses take a census in order to raise funds for the construction of the Mishkan and to provide atonement for shed blood during battle. This collected money was called kesef hakippurim (atonement money), and was to be melted down to create the 100 adanim (sockets) used to hold the pillars of the Mishkan (tabernacle).

It is interesting that the “cost of atonement” was used to hold up the pillars of the Mishkan; we read the prophet Amos 9:11 which states that “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old” and we see that in Acts 15 (the Council of Jerusalem) that Hashem is rebuilding a spiritual Mishkan through the work of  Yeshua in which His atonement is holding up the pillars.

Moses (and the chiefs of each tribe) counted a total of 603,550 men of draftable age (20 to 60 years) in Israel. Of these, 22,273 were firstborn sons.   The tribes were then arranged symbolically.
The Mishkan occupied the central location, with the Levites surrounding it.  Moses and the Kohanim camped at the entrance on the east.

The Tribe of Judah was prominent and guarded the entrance to the inner camp of the Levites at the eastern (main) gate. Each tribe's tents were to face the Mishkan. This camp formation (of over 2 million people) was maintained while traveling throughout the wilderness.

The Gershonites - Descendants of Levi's firstborn son Gershon (Ger-shon). This clan was responsible for caring for the Mishkan's woven articles (i.e., the coverings for the walls and roof of the tabernacle). They dwelt on the West side of the Mishkan.
The Kohathites - Descendants of Levi's middle son Kohath (Kehat). This clan carried the sacred objects of the Mishkan. Note that the kohanim are a subset of this clan (see below). They dwelt on the South side of the Mishkan.

The Merarites - Descendants of Levi's youngest son Merari. This clan carried the wooden parts of the Mishkan as well as the ropes and sockets used for the curtain of the courtyard. They dwelt on the North side of the Mishkan.

 The Kohanim - Descendants of Levi's great grandson Aaron. This clan was responsible for performing all of the korbonot (sacrifices) and other rituals on behalf of all of Israel.  Only the Kohanim were allowed to perform avodah (priestly service) on behalf of Israel. They dwelt on the East side of the Mishkan.

Some scholars have pointed out that the arrangement of the tribes details a cross; a short top beam, two arms and a long lower half – but it could be a square.

The north and south arms of the cross represent nearly identical populations of 25% and 26%, each almost exactly a quarter (1/4) of the whole (the outstretched arms). Taken together they represent just over half (51%) of the population. The other 49% is distributed on the east and west arms which are divided into 18% (the head) and 31% (the legs) for a ratio of roughly 3 to 5, the same as the proportions of the Ark of the Covenant (Exo 25:9) which was housed in the heart of the Tabernacle at the center of the camp.

My favourite part of this parashah is the rock phenomena.

According to midrash, a watergiving rock accompanied the Israelites in the desert (the rock was later called the "Well of Miriam"). Whenever the Israelites prepared to camp, the 12 nesi'im (leaders of the tribes) would sing praises to the LORD, and the rock would gush forth four streams of water. One stream surrounded the Mishkan, another surrounded the camp of the Levites, and another surrounded all the Israelites. The fourth stream marked out the boundaries for each of the 12 tribes of Israel.

It is fascinating to note that the Apostle Paul correlated the life-giving Rock that provided supernatural water for the Israelites with the Mashiach Yeshua;  ..and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ”. (1 Corinthians 10:4)    In other words, Yeshua Himself was the source of life for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness of Sinai.    It is still true to this day.    

Shalom  Jon Eaton

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Parashah Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34)


Double Parashah 
Behar (On the mountain)  -  Vayikra 25:1-26:2
Bechukotai (In my status)  -  Vayikra 26:3-27:34

We see throughout the following Torah Portions, that HaShem doesn't despise the wealthy or blessed, as He Himself blesses and gives the ability for wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18, Number 6:24), He does have however compassion and grace for all creation, for all Yishrael will know His grace and blessing, and be refreshed. Through understanding that ultimately HaShem owns all things and allows a person to live in His blessing, Yishrael was required to also partake in this extravagant generosity and grace, allowing for all Yisrael to have an equally proportional opportunity to a fresh start every Jubilee (Yowbel).

  • Behar (On the mountain) -

This Torah Portion starts with HaShem reminding Yishrael, it was Him who gave the land to them and as occupiers there were requirements, as 25:2 states, "When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD". Following this HaShem gives instruction that an Israelite farmer must let his land remain fallow every seventh year, this allowed for the land to regain fertility, and for man to rest, as did HaShem on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2:2-3). HaShem shows us in this text of His mercy and grace towards His people 25:6, though a person was not permitted to work the land, the land will still produce. What comes of the land with no required labour, is available not just for the owner but for all, including the poor, slaves, and even the beast. In the year of Jubilee HaShem treats the land and its harvest as His own, allowing the freedom for whoever wills to eat off it, being refreshed, filled, and blessed.

Matthew 6:31-33, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ “For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you".

When we obey HaShem and live according to his commandments, we find that our day to day is blessed, even so in the times of rest the blessing still flows.

In verse 8 the generous heart of HaShem is expressed to a whole new level. HaShem states that every 49 years on Yom Kippur the shofar is to be sounded to state the 50th year is Jubilee. HaShem once again reminds Yishrael who their provider is, where their blessing comes from, and whose land it is 25:23, "The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me". Just as HaShem supplied extra manna on the 6th day to cover the 7th day of Sabbath rest during the wilderness exodus in Genesis 16:5, HaShem also covered the year of Jubilee by supplying 3 years worth on the 49th year - this cover the 49th, the 50th and the new year of sowing, while waiting for the 2nd years harvest 25:20-22. Jubilee was a year of “release” for the land and all its inhabitants - Slaves would be set free, debts would be canceled, and the stewardship of the land would revert to its original titleholders. HaShem made a way for debt to be over turned, property to be re purchased, people to be redeemed, and poverty restructured.

In the last 2 verses of this parashat 26:1-2, HaShem reminds Yisrael that there is no other G-d, and they are not to create gods, and He also reminds them of the importance of keeping His sabbaths and to reverence the Holy Place.

  • Bechukotai  (In my status) -

I would consider Vayikra 26 as an emotional black and white chapter, moving from promises of blessing to promises of mayhem, back to an open door for blessing - almost as though HaShem conflicts within Himself between His passion for Yisrael, and Holiness, a tention between disobedience and His desire to bless and love upon Yishrael. HaShem time and time again reminds His people of His Lordship, as creator and owner of all things, and through His love and grace for us He is always making a way that we can return to Him, as 1 Timothy reminds, "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth". 

Vaikra 27 on the other hand, is a fantastic last chapter to a book that is not full of mere traditions and customs, though men began to attach traditions and customs to these commandments; these were – and are – the commandments (not suggestions) of the Lord. So moving and liberating were these, many people consecrate themselves, others and things to the HaShem.

Vayikra 27:2, "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When a man consecrates...".

Consecrates is the Hebrew word 'pala' and means, 'to do a wonderous thing'. Chapter 27 expresses exactly that, however in exchange to HaShems blessing upon them, Yishrael is moved to do wonderful things for Him.

  • In summary

The idea of these chapters being partnered together gives a fantastic overview of the relationship desired and had between HaShem and Yishrael. Obedience is freedom, obedience releases blessing, as well as favour, and when HaShem's love is received one can't help but respond. This parashah demontrates the freedom and blessing that comes through obedience which was later manifested through Yeshua, but no longer so much due to obedience, but rather faith which in turn requires obedience to be outworked, as Galatians 5:1 says, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage".  To be obedient is one thing, but in order to stand fast, one requires faith with obedience. This weeks parashah examplifies the heart of HaShem and the nature of humanity.

Graeme Politanski

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Parashat Emor ("Say!" אֱמֹר) Leviticus 21:1-24:23

Parashat Emor ("Say!" אֱמֹר)    Leviticus 21:1-24:23
Parashat Emor begins with the commandment to Moses to speak the commandments of holiness for the priests.

“And the LORD said to Moses, “Speak (Emor  אֱמֹר ) to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘None shall defile himself for the dead among his people”.  Lev 21:1  “But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to defile himself.” Lev 21:4

Rashi noted that the verb emor (אֱמֹר) has a softer tone than the “dibber” (speak, as in a command), suggesting almost a pleading quality: "Speak softly again and again..."   We find the same instruction to defend the faith with meekness and gentleness in , 1 Pet. 3:15 and Col. 4:6 respectively:
1.      “and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear”.
2.      “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”

According to Samson Raphael Hirsch, the word kohen (כּהֵן) is related to the Hebrew word kivun (כִּוּוּן) meaning "direction."   And not “commanding” or “bosses” but rather God wanted the priests to function as role models for the rest of Israel.  The repetition of emor, then, suggests that the priests shouldn't simply tell people what to do or believe, but rather should both tell and demonstrate Torah.

Either way, this first aliyah shows that there are different responsibilities for different callings – in speaking and living.   The first aliyah includes specific restrictions for Kohanim and the Kohain Gadol concerning marriages, sexuality, and mourning

When Rav Shaul stated, “there is neither Jew or Greek” (Galatians 3:28) he never imagined how absolutely twisted that passage became when middle age/modern Christianity construed it to mean that there is no longer ANY distinctions between Jews and non-Jews.
A VERY simple study of the rest of the verse shows that he makes the same statement about boys and girls, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”   Do Christians really think there is no difference between boys and girls?  Of course there is (just look in mirror nakey), but we are all saved and one in Christ YET we have different roles and different responsibilities and even different commandments to follow.

So yes, there were additional restrictions for the Kohanim (priests).
There were additional restrictions that applied to them that did not apply to the rest of the Israelites in general.   They were not touch a dead body or they would be considered tamei (unclean) for service at the mishkan.    There were some exceptions which included burying close relatives such as his wife, mother or father, son or daughter, and brother or (unmarried) sister and also burying an abandoned Jewish body when there is no one else who can do so.

Even then, the priest was still considered “tamei” and unable to serve in the mishkan until he was ceremonially purified by water mixed with ashes from a parah adumah (red heifer).

There are other restrictions for the priests:  “They shall not make bald any part of their head, nor shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any gashes in their flesh.”

And some which included heavy consequences, “And the daughter of any priest, if she defiles herself by playing the harlot, she defiles her father; she shall be burned with fire.” V9

In addition, a priest may not marry a woman who has been divorced, “They shall not take a wife who is a harlot, or defiled; nor shall they take a woman put away from her husband; for he is holy to his God.” V7.

WHY is this important to note?   Well, if you cast your mind back to the context of the early church, where new converts and the new “sect” are trying to manifest the out-workings of salvation through belief in the Messiah rather than the toil of works and then the Apostle Peter drops a “bombshell” and states, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation” 1 Peter 2:9, quoting Exodus 19:6.

And whilst it is true that we are not high priests, it stands that the Goal of Torah is to determine the perfect will of HaShem.    And instead of moving the goalposts to make it easier to reach, (because we miss the goal), we trust in the saving Grace of Messiah that our shortfalls are forgiven – but we never change the goals.  

A few years ago, some unbelieving friends of mine were preparing to marry, and the soon to be bride asked if she could have the priest remove, “to love and obey” from the vows.  The target was too hard/confronting/illogical so they removed it. 

Let us continually seek to grow in obedience, trusting in Yeshua for salvation whilst striving to win the race.

A quick note that today is also Lag BaOmer (Hebrew: ל״ג בעומר), also known as Lag LaOmer amongst Sephardi Jews, is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the thirty-third day of the Counting of the Omer, which occurs on the 18th day of Iyar. One reason given for the holiday is as the day of passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Modern Jewish tradition links the holiday to the Bar Kokhba Revolt against the Roman Empire (132-135 CE). In Israel, it is celebrated as a symbol for the fighting Jewish spirit.  (hebcal).

Some modern commentators have suggested that Lag B’Omer is also the date that Yeshua rose into the air (the ascension) – but I personally have my thoughts on the 40th day of the Omer count.


Jon Eaton