NO RIGHTEOUSNESS WITHOUT PURITY

alternate textIt is often said that this week’s Parashah (Exodus 27:20 – 30:10, called “Tetzaveh”, meaning “You shall command”) is the only Torah Portion from the beginning of Exodus to the end of Deuteronomy, not containing the name of Mosheh (in the first book of the Torah, Genesis, Mosheh of course had not yet been born). Strictly speaking, the statement is not entirely true, because there is a large portion of Deuteronomy where no specific mention is made of the name of Mosheh, although the words are all Mosheh’s words, spoken on behalf of Yahweh to the people of Israel. Over the years and centuries, commentators have come up with many possible reasons as to why Mosheh’s name may have been left out of the portion, Ex 27:20 to Ex 30:10.

Some say it is related to the fact that in most years this Parashah is read during the week in which the seventh of Adar falls, which is considered by the Jews to be the day of Mosheh’s death. This year the seventh of Adar (on the Jewish Calendar) was two days ago, on the 22nd of February. The absence of Mosheh’s name from this week’s Parashah, they say, is to express the loss of the greatest leader in Jewish history. Others are saying it is due to Mosheh’s plea towards Yahweh to forgive Israel, which is part of next week’s Parashah (Ex 32:32). “If not,” says Mosheh, “blot me out of the book You have written.” There is a Jewish principle that “the curse of a sage comes true, even if it was conditional”. Thus, for one week his name was “blotted out” from the Torah. Then there is a third view: It was a result of Yahweh’s anger, when (at an earlier stage) Mosheh declined the invitation to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt, saying, “Please send someone else”. We read that Yahweh “became angry with Mosheh” (Ex 4:13-14) and told him that his brother Aharon would accompany him. For that reason Mosheh forfeited the role he might otherwise have had, of becoming the first of Israel’s priests, a role that instead was given to Aharon. That is why his name is missing from the Parashah of Tetzaveh, which is dedicated to the role of the priests and the high priests, with the prime focus on Aharon the priest.

One of the unique features of the people of Israel is that they have not only one, but two forms of religious leadership: prophet and priest. The prophets have always been the ones in the limelight, the priests have done their duties in the background and mostly in silence. Prophets are mainly concerned with righteousness, compassion and kindness, while priests are focusing on purity, sacrifice and atonement. Mosheh is seen as the greatest of all the prophets; Aharon is revered as the foremost of all the priests. The fact is, you cannot have the one without the other. Both the prophet and the priest represent aspects of Yahweh’s relationship with his people, that are irreplaceable and eternally true. The fact that Mosheh’s name is mentioned almost three times as many times as the name of Aharon throughout Scriptures, may deceive us into thinking that prophets are more important than priests. But we should remember that the people of Israel (including the “Johnny-come-latelies”, like ourselves) were called to become a kingdom of priests, never a kingdom or a people of prophets (e.g. Ex 19:6; Isa 61:6; 1 Pet 2:9 and Rev 1:6). Even when Mosheh exclaimed in Numbers 11:29, “Oh that all the people of Yahweh were prophets”, he was not referring to the actual situation in his day – he was merely expressing a wish and, perhaps without even realizing it, a prophecy that one day all the true followers of Yahweh would be prophets, in one way or another.

The priests however, and the important role of the priest, should NOT be overlooked. Therefore it is so significant that this week we have come to a portion of Torah where the focus is not upon Mosheh, but almost entirely upon Aharon. In a sense, the priests were removed from the people, they had to be purified, their lives needed to be set-apart, even their social conduct, their clothing, their methods of cleaning, their means of atonement, their family-life had to be different. It was not only the golden plate on the head-dress of the high priest that was supposed to be engraved with the words “Set-apart to Yahweh” – the entire life of the priest, and his lifestyle – his words, his actions, his thoughts and his attitude, had to be engraved with these words. The words “holy” and “holiness”, that are used by the majority of Bible translations in these and other chapters in connection with the required lifestyle of the priest, are words that do not do justice to precisely what Yahweh expected from his priests. He did not expect of them to have the outward appearance of “holiness” as it is understood in many different forms of religion today. No, He wanted them to be different than the rest. He expected of them to be set-apart, because He was the Set-apart One, par excellence. And because that would never change (Yahweh would always remain the Set-apart One), the office and the unique role of the priest would never change. It would never become redundant. It is “a law forever”, throughout all the generations of Israel.

We have some clear clues in this Parashah that the role of the priest would never come to an end. The Parashah starts off with these words: Ex 27:20-21 “You are to command the children of Yisrael to bring clear oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually. In the Tent of Appointment, outside the veil which is before the Witness, Aharon and his sons are to tend it from evening until morning before Yahweh – a law forever to their generations, on behalf of the children of Yisrael.” This is why the menorah is such an important symbol of our belief in Yahweh. It symbolizes the light that emanates from Yahweh and without which we cannot have any kind of impact in this world. It is a law forever. It is for all generations. The lamp must burn continually. When the light is put out, or removed or neglected, the darkness will take over. Quite significantly is the fact that we have the same kind of language here that was used in the period of creation. The lamp must burn from evening until morning. After each day of creation the same words were sounded, day after day: it was evening and it was morning … Not only was light the first thing that Elohim created, the entire creation was the introduction of Yahweh’s activity and Yahweh’s words into this world and, with that, the introduction of his light into this world. When Yahweh acts, those acts are always aimed at enlightening and illuminating the lives of those who feel themselves drawn to Him. And when He speaks, his words brings light into people’s lives. Ps 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Ps 119:130 “The opening up of Your words gives light, giving understanding to the simple.”

From time to time prophets may stand up and speak out words that may bring light into people’s lives. But our belief is not only “from time to time”. We need priests to burn the lamp of Yahweh continually. In fact, we ourselves, were called to be such a kingdom of priests. And the only reason why the words “kingdom of priests” are so extremely meaningful to us, is because of Y’shua, the forerunner and prince and perfecter of our belief, who became a priest forever according to the order of Malkitzedek. The name “Malkitzedek” means “king of righteousness”. He, Y’shua, became our King of righteousness because He died for our sins and bestowed his perfect righteousness upon us so that we may receive the gift of eternal life and not be punished for our sins. But He also set the perfect example of how to live as a priest; how to live a set-apart life to Yahweh and practice purity and honesty at all times; how to remain faithful to the words of Yahweh at all times; how to be in the service of Yahweh, behind the scenes, even when no one is looking, at all times; how to bring set-apart offerings to Yahweh at all times; how to keep the menorah alive and reflect the light of Yahweh at all times and how to intercede for others and be of service to others at all times. We do not reject or neglect the prophetic dimension of what it means to be Yahweh’s people (although we most definitely reject the cheap kind of prophesy out there that is only intended to bring a man-made, “feel-good” word to people and is not of the same kind as the prophesies we find in Scriptures). We need to hear the prophetic word of righteousness, truth, compassion and repentance in our time. But above all, we need to remain anchored in Yahweh, like the priests of old and like our forerunner, Y’shua, the Son of Elohim. There is a big, ongoing debate in the Messianic world today, as to how we should go about bringing home the truth of Matthew 5:17-19: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Torah or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to complete. For truly, I say to you, till the heaven and the earth pass away, one yod or one tittle shall by no means pass from the Torah till all be done. Whoever, then, breaks one of the least of these commands, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the reign of the heavens; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the reign of the heavens.” Perhaps the time has come for us to remember that we have been called to be a kingdom of priests in this world: (among other things) kindlers and spreaders of light. Let us therefore not begin our debate with Matthew 5:17. Let us begin with Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, so that they see your good works and praise your Father who is in the heavens.”

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