THE MEANING OF SACRIFICES

alternate textIn the Torah reading schedule that we use, this week’s portion starts at Lev 6:1, but this is according to the verse numbering followed in the Hebrew Bible. In most of the Bible translations, the verse numbering is slightly different and Parasha “Tzav” starts with Lev 6:8, not Lev 6:1. The parashah covering Leviticus 6-8, is one of several reading portions in the Torah that deal with the subject of sacrifices. Both animal and meal offerings are mentioned and the duties of the priests with regards to the offerings and sacrifices are set forth, in great detail. Various types of animal offerings or sacrifices are touched upon in this reading portion, and they are called by names related to the REASONS why those offerings are brought to the set-apart place: sin offerings, guilt offerings, peace offerings, and so forth.

The passages in the Torah related to animal sacrifices are usually glanced through briefly, or skipped altogether, because of the fact that we do not have a tabernacle or temple today and, for all practical purposes, animal sacrifices are no longer relevant to us. I came across a very interesting comment with regards to sacrifices, made by the well-known Jewish Philosopher, Maimonides (also known as “Rambam”) who lived in 12th Century Spain. Maimonides wrote that the reason for the Biblical offerings may be seen by looking at the nations who came into contact with Israel. When the Israelites lived in Egypt and Babylon, the Egyptians worshipped sheep and the Babylonians worshipped demons in the form of goats. And people in India never slaughter cattle. So, the Egyptians never slaughtered sheep, the Babylonians never slaughtered goats and the Indians never slaughtered cattle. Thus the Almighty commanded the Israelites to slaughter sheep, goats and cattle, so that worshipers of the other nations would know that the Almighty required the very act that they considered to be the utmost sin, and through that act He would forgive Israel’s sins. The Creator of heaven and earth thus intended to cure the people of the other nations of false beliefs, which Maimonides characterized as diseases of the soul, for diseases are healed by medicines that are antithetical to the diseases.

As we all know, the same principle for healing diseases, is followed and recognized up to this very day. Vaccination for the Coronavirus epidemic, like many other vaccinations, work on the principle that if a person is injected with a weakened or modified part of the same or a similar type of virus as the Coronavirus, he or she will be protected against the virus. (This is just an effort to state the general principle in plain language, not the proper “scientific” explanation!) In the end, it boils down to something similar to what Maimonides stated: A disease may be healed by exposing it to the very thing that caused that disease! And by saying this, I am not trying to become an advocate promoting the advantages of Coronavirus vaccination. I simply think that Maimonides has a point in saying that not only diseases, but also fears and wounds and inabilities may be “healed” and treated by exposing people to the very things that they need to be redeemed from.

The idea behind a sin offering is that the animal is slaughtered to death, so that the person who sinned, may be redeemed from death. The principle remains the same, even for a guilt offering or a peace offering. In the case of the guilt offering: The slaughtered animal is, in a sense, treated as “guilty”, so that the remorseful person, the real guilty one, may be pardoned and declared “not guilty”. In the case of the peace offering: The slaughtered animal is punished (and stripped of its peace!) so that the man or woman who became engaged in activities that once stripped them of their peace, may be fully restored again to a peaceful relationship with Yahweh. Of course, there has always been a preliminary and imperfect side to the slaughtering of animals. It has always been a “shadow” that pointed towards something greater, something more perfect, that was yet to come. This “shadowy” nature of sacrifices was already suggested, numerous times in the Pre-Messianic Scriptures. As an example we may refer to the episode where Yahweh instructed Avraham to sacrifice his own son (not a sheep or a goat or a cow), something that eventually did not happen but it paved the way for Yahweh to provide his own Son, much later, to be “slaughtered” at what is believed to be the very same place where Avraham found himself ready to offer his son, Yitzchak. In 1 Samuel 15:22 Samuel or Shemuél spoke these words to the people of his nation: “Does Yahweh delight in ascending offerings and slaughterings, as in obeying the voice of Yahweh? Look, to obey is better than a slaughtering, to heed is better than the fat of rams.” And the prophet Hoshea revealed the very heart of the Father when He said, on behalf of Yahweh: “I delight in loving-commitment (showing favour) and not slaughtering, and in the knowledge of Elohim more than ascending offerings” (Hos 6:6). In the Messianic Scriptures, in Heb 10:1, it is stated in so many words: “For the Torah, having a shadow of the good matters to come, and not the image itself of the matters, was never able to make perfect those who draw near with the same slaughter offerings which they offer continually year by year.”

It may be needed here to say something about the idea of “fulfilment”. People often say that we do not need to bring any kind of sacrifice today, because Y’shua was the perfect fulfilment of the “shadowy” sacrifices of Pre-Messianic times. But let us remember that this is not the primary way the writers of the Biblical books understood the word “fulfil”. In the Hebrew idiom “fulfil” does not normally mean “brought an end to”. So, when Y’shua said in Matthew 5 that He did not come to destroy Torah but to fulfil it, He was using the word “fulfil” in the sense of DOING. In the Hebrew understanding, a father would say to his son, “Please fulfil what I told you to do”. Y’shua came to DO Torah and to show the world how it was supposed to be DONE and PERFORMED, right from the very beginning. In order to eliminate the possibility that we misunderstood what Y’shua is really saying in Matthew 5, and what He really came to do in this world, in my view, it is better not to use the word “fulfil” – even when we refer to animal sacrifices. Animal sacrifices came to an end, because of the absence of the temple, not because Y’shua “fulfilled” them. The Pre-Messianic sacrifices were indeed imperfect and shadowy and temporary in nature. But let us rather say: They foreshadowed and anticipated the coming of Messiah. They demonstrated how absolutely imperative it was for Yahweh to send his Son to become the perfect offering and sacrifice for the sakes of people who had become estranged from Him as their Maker. Even if the temple is to be rebuilt (sometime in future) and sacrifices are to be resumed, these sacrifices will still point towards the perfect sacrifice that Yahweh provided when He sent his Son to this world. Let us not be obsessed with the idea that certain things came to an end when Y’shua came to this world!

It is extremely meaningful that this particular parashah (this year) coincides with Pesach and the week of Unleavened Bread. There is no doubt that Pesach, in its original sense, signifies a very specific type of animal offering. And Unleavened Bread, both in its original sense and in the sense in which we observe these 7 days from year to year, signifies a very specific type of meal offering. Let us start with the meal offering. Restricting oneself to eat unleavened bread only for seven days, is a meal offering of some sorts. Its a sacrifice that we make with regards to our daily meals, in order to become aligned with Scriptures and to acknowledge that we need Yahweh to remove every form of impurity from our lives. As for the aspect of animal offerings, at the beginning of this feast, 6 days ago, we referred to 1 Cor 5:7, “Messiah our Pesach was slaughtered for us”. According to Shaúl or Paul, this was something that was foretold in Scriptures – “Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). John the Baptist said that Y’shua was the Lamb of Elohim who would take away the sin of the word (John 1:29) and Y’shua Himself said, “For this is my blood, that of the renewed covenant, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). Y’shua came to this world to bring an end to a disease much more dangerous than the Coronavirus pandemic. It was going to destroy mankind. And the treatment that He provided was his willingness to be subjected to an injection of death – the very danger that was staring each one of us right in the eye and the only remedy that would save us from destruction! This is the feast that signifies, above all, that, if not for Y’shua and what He came to do, we would have been beyond healing and without hope in this world!