PARASHAH: Vayikra (He called)
ADDRESS: Vayikra (Leviticus) 1:1-5:26
READING DATE: Shabbat
AUTHOR: Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy
(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:
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 have given us your Torah.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.
This is the beginning of the book of Vayikra (say "vah-yeek-rah"), also known as Leviticus. The English title comes from the fact that the book is primarily written about the many functions within the Levitical priesthood. Our Hebrew title comes from the ancient practice of naming a book or portion after one of the opening few words. The Stone edition TaNaKH has this to say about the book of Vayikra:
For those of you who are new readers, it is imperative that you understand what I have previously stated in a former parashah concerning sacrifices and our relationship to Yeshua as believers. Here is a brief recap for those folks:
(Taken from Parashat Vayak’hel): Before we become so quick to look down on God’s temporary solution, let’s look at what the sacrificial system of those days could accomplish. In Psalms chapters 32 and 51 we see the heart of man who genuinely experienced the forgiveness of HaShem. In Psalm 32:1 he stated that the man whose sin is covered is blessed! In verse 5 he clearly states that his acknowledgement of his sin brought about true forgiveness from HaShem. Because of unmerited favor, this man could rejoice in the mercies of HaShem (verses 10, 11)!
Psalm 51 was written after Dah-vid had committed the gross sin with Bat-Sheva, the mother of Melekh Shlomo (King Solomon). In this passage we again see a man who, knowing the true goal of the Torah, sought the genuine forgiveness of his Maker.
of this Psalm explain to us readers that a heart given to genuine
faithfulness—the very same heart required of us today!—is what rendered
the sacrifices of the TaNaKH effective. Simply performing the rituals
of rote or mundane actions did not please our Heavenly Abba (verse 16,
17). Rather, it was a heart broken in genuine submission to the Ruach
(Spirit of God) which moved HaShem to forgiveness! This same heart gave
the sacrifices validity
Did Dah-vid, as of yet, know the name of his future descendant Yeshua? No. What he did know is that through Moshe, the Torah promised that one day a "Prophet" would arise and that the people were to obey him (read Deuteronomy 18:15-19)! What he did have was a glimpse of the intended function and nature of the Torah (the "goal"), in that, these temporary sacrifices pointed towards that day when his sins would be forgiven, never again to be brought to HaShem’s mind. This is the day spoken about in Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 31:34,
"…for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (KJV)
And just in case you’ve forgotten, this is a "New Testament" feature (read Hebrews 8:12)!
I've often heard commentaries purporting that the sacrificial system of the TaNaKH period is what really saved those folks, and that now that we have Yeshua's sacrifice to rely on, this is what saves us, and consequently, makes the old system obsolete (a drash on Hebrews 8:13). Well, the players are correct, but the details are incorrect. According to the same New Covenant book of Hebrews, a letter addressed entirely to a group of individuals who knew the intricacies of the Temple sacrifices well, the TaNaKH’s priestly system is what "was made old"; moreover, the effectual sacrifice of the Messiah did what the animal sacrifices couldn't do—namely this: sin was erased! With the sacrifice offered year after year (by the system and its priests), the one bringing the sacrifice was reminded of his or her state of depravity. To be sure, if they did not supply a substitute for their sins, day after day, and year after year, there was no other way to make atonement. However, when our LORD paid the awful price of our fallen condition with his own blood, and when we avail ourselves of that sacrifice, our trusting faithfulness in his substitute—rather than that of the bulls and goats—takes away our transgressions. They are not merely covered—they are eradicated completely! That is a big difference!!
So the "Old Testament" saints were not "saved" by a different system than the one in which we rely on. If they were, then this would suggest that there were really two separate ways unto righteousness—a theory, which we know cannot be true. To be sure, Yeshua himself stated emphatically that he was THE way, and that NO man can come unto the Father except through HIM.’ (Please read my commentary on Parashat Vayak’hel for a complete treatment of this subject.)
I have taken the time to reinforce the above-mentioned truths so that we can properly undertake a good study of the book of Vayikra without the annoying doubts as to why HaShem even used such a system in the first place. Now admittedly, the above treatise deals primarily with the "Chatas", which is the "sin offering". The book of Vayikra has plenty of other offerings to explain, including the "Olah" (burnt offering), the "Asham" (guilt offering), and the "Sh’lamim" (peace offering), not to mention other minor, unnamed offerings. The book of Sh’mot has already discussed the "Pesach" (Passover offering), and as we get into the book of B’midbar (Numbers) we will find that there are also the "B’kur" (firstborn offering), as well as the "Ma’asey" (tithe offering). All of these offerings had specific times, places, manners, and animal types (bull, kid, lamb, ram, sheep, goat, cattle, bird, and male or female of the previously-mentioned), whether they were obligatory or voluntary, whether they were communal or personal, what was to become of the meat of the animals (burned, or eaten, by priest or by anyone), and what to do with the blood (sprinkling, daubing by finger, throwing, or pouring). Concerning the non-animal offerings ("Minchah"), there was the classifications detailing types, quantity, preparation, obligatory or voluntary, shape, recipe, and disposition of the bread or offering. A thorough treatment of the above-mentioned items would not only be impractical for this format—it would be impossibly cumbersome for the average reader to sort out. This is why we will be discussing mainly those aspects that have bearing on us as a predominantly non-Jewish Body.
When the Messiah returns to receive his due honor from the re-unified tribes of Isra’el, and its cohanim (read Ezekiel chapters 40-48), we as grafted-in members will have plenty of opportunities to participate in and understand some of the intricacies of the things of which we will read about in the next few parash’ot. Until then, however, I believe we should focus on the things which we can readily understand, namely, Yeshua’s relationship to the sacrificial system and how it pertains to us today.
As hard as it is for us to comprehend sometimes, our God is the absolute authority on order. As such, each and every detail of the Torah served an important function, especially for those immediately involved. We may have difficulty making sense of it today, but the Torah anticipated our difficulty as well as curiosity. Consequently, I receive quite a bit of mail asking me questions as to why are there such differing details concerning the various offerings. If we serve the same God as they did (and we DO), why the step-by-step format for them, and not for us? First of all, are we interested in learning just for curiosity sake, or do we genuinely desire to identify more intimately with our LORD Yeshua’s sacrificial offering? I would hope that our interest is genuine. Secondly, while cannot answer every single question as to why HaShem instituted such exactingly, minute details about the offerings, I can rest assured that my LORD and Savior had me in mind when he brought to its fullest meaning, each and every single facet of the Temple worship—and his Father’s Torah. Truly and thankfully I can rest completely in him!
With that in mind, we shall have to conduct our study of the sacrificial system based on our understanding of Yeshua’s effectual atonement, because the Torah teaches that the earthly is a copy of the heavenly reality! If we have lost sight of the heavenly, then we just might be inadvertently focusing on the shadow instead of the body!
HaShem’s intent is to draw us close to him in genuine, loving fellowship. To this end, he has designed the entire flow of the Torah to lead us to the goal of developing the kind of trusting faithfulness that produces obedience and surrender to his Son, Yeshua HaMashiach! In the Torah, we see that a broken and contrite heart is the seedbed that will produce such a trust in HaShem. The sacrifices make up for the fact that we are less than perfect (sinless or blameless) in our attempt to secure a right relationship with our Heavenly Abba. Does the Torah expect perfection? No. Rather, it anticipates our failures and shortcomings, and consequently, makes the necessary provisions for them to be taken care of. Consider the example of the parents of Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptiser) in Luke 1:6. The Torah states, in no uncertain terms that,
"Both of them were righteous before God, observing all the mitzvot and ordinances of ADONAI blamelessly."
Does this mean that they were perfectly sinless? Of course not. They were human like the rest of us. The Torah simply recognized their abilities and efforts when it came to walking obediently in a genuine relationship with HaShem, and made it possible to maintain a right and healthy relationship through its system of offerings. But, as I stated earlier, the heart was the beginning of such a genuine relationship. Even the "Shema" testifies of this truth (read Deuteronomy 6:4-5)! Moreover, "the obedience which flows from a genuine heart of trust is the natural, expected result of true, biblical faith!"
The closing book of Sh’mot and the opening few lines of Vayikra have been rightfully recognized by our sages as forming a complete unit of thought. It is easy for us to lose sight of this fact because of the separation of the books themselves. But remember, in the original scrolls no such separation existed. In Sh’mot 40:35 we read,
"Moshe was unable to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud remained on it, and the glory of ADONAI filled the tabernacle."
Our opening verse in Leviticus reads in Hebrew,
"Vayikra el-Moshe va’y’daber ADONAI ey’layv mey’Ohel Mo-eyd, leymor:"
Which is translated,
"ADONAI called to Moshe and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said,"
Concerning their relationship, the phrase "called to Moshe" is very rarely used in the Torah. Usually we find HaShem speaking to, saying, or commanding him, but seldom calling him. The famous medieval sage Rabbi Moshe ben-Maimon, Maimonides (affectionately known as the "RaMBaM") comments on this opening verse in Vayikra:
"God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." (Hebrews 1:1-3, KJV)
Yes, HaShem is calling to us through the person of his only, unique Son! He desires for us to draw close to him in with a true heart! The paradox lies in the fact that unless he draws us, we will not seek his face, yet he bids us to seek him so that in seeking, he may indeed be found!
v’nashuvah, chadeysh yameynu k’kedem."
According to the Midrash, the very fact that the Torah commands the people of Israel to offer sacrifices indicates that God prefers their offerings to those that Noah initiated on his own accord.
How do we evaluate the relative worth of different sacrifices? What distinguishes the service of Israel from that of Noah?
We can assess offerings according to their ultimate goal. The more elevated the goal, the more acceptable the offering. Noah's objective differed greatly from that of the people of Israel. Noah sought to preserve the physical world. He wanted to protect it from Divine retribution. "God smelled the sweet fragrance and said in His heart, 'I will no longer curse the land because of man'." [Gen 8:21]
The offerings of Israel had a far more sublime goal. They sought to establish divine providence amongst mankind. Their goal was to uplift the individual to levels of divine inspiration and prophecy. "Make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst." [Ex 8:25]
This distinction between the objective of Noah's offerings and those of Israel is reflected in the unique phrases the Torah uses to describe them. Noah's offerings had a "sweet fragrance", while those of Israel are referred as "My bread". What is the difference between a fragrance and bread?
When an animal eats vegetation, the plant life is absorbed and transformed into part of the animal. In this way the plant has achieved a higher state of being. When a human consumes an animal, the animal is similarly elevated, as it becomes part of that human being. This transformation to a higher state through consumption corresponds to an offering that strives towards a higher state of existence. The offerings of Israel are appropriately called 'My bread', as the change to which they aspire - perfection as prophetic beings - is similar in magnitude to the transformations of plant to animal and animal to man.
The offerings of Noah, on the other hand, had only a 'sweet fragrance'. They gave off a wonderful smell and appealed to the natural senses, but did not attempt to effect a change in nature. Their purpose was to maintain the natural world, to perfect man within the framework of his normal intellectual capabilities.
In fact, the offerings of the Jewish people encompass both of these goals. Therefore they are described both as 'sweet fragrance' and 'My bread', as we aspire to perfection in two areas: natural wisdom and divine prophecy. [Midbar Shur pp. 155-158]
The closing blessing is as follows:
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 have planted everlasting life within our midst.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.
Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy