4 May 2024

alternate textThe Torah portion of this week includes Leviticus 16, which is an entire chapter dedicated to YOM KIPPUR (The Day of Reconciliation) – the role of the high priest; the preparations that needed to be made for Yom Kippur; the offerings that were required; the various atonements for the set-apart place, for the priests and for all the people, and the requirement to put this day aside as a day of complete rest, like a Shabbat, and also a day of fasting (“afflicting one’s soul”). The Torah portion is called “Acharei Mot”, which means “After the death”, and includes 3 chapters, Leviticus 16, 17 and 18. It got its name from Leviticus 16:1, “And Yahweh spoke to Mosheh AFTER THE DEATH of the two sons of Aharon, as they drew near before Yahweh, and died.” Every year, this Torah portion is read around the last week of April, or the first week of May. There were TWO THOUGHTS that came to my mind, as I read Leviticus 16, this time around. Firstly, this portion just seemed to me like the one portion of the Torah that was completely MISPLACED, in proportion with the annual feast days. It would have been much more fitting, I felt, if Leviticus 16 were read around the months of September or October, the allocated time for the Day of Yom Kippur.

And the second thought was this: Is it a coincidence that the name of this particular Torah portion is “Acharei Mot”, putting the entire passage within the period “AFTER THE DEATH of the two sons of Aaron”, when Yom Kippur, on a deeper level, is pointing towards another period, the period “AFTER THE DEATH of the one Son of Elohim”? Is it not true that the very essence, and purpose, and fulfilment of Scriptures, came to the surface, for the first time, AFTER THE DEATH of the one Son of Elohim – not after the death of the two sons of Aaron! Is it not the death of Y’shua, and what happened AFTER the death of Y’shua, that brought you and me into the picture, and introduced us to the plan and the character and the ways of Yahweh (including the choice to embrace a feast like Yom Kippur)? Is it not true that the themes of repentance, and forgiveness, and reconciliation – the themes that are part and parcel of what Yom Kippur is all about – became real and personal for us, only AFTER THE DEATH of the One who was revealed as the priestly Son of Elohim?

But it was exactly this realization that took me back to my FIRST THOUGHT – the thought about Leviticus 16 seeming to be completely misplaced, and belonging to a period 5 or 6 months later in the year. It would have been CONVENIENT if the Torah portion containing an entire chapter about Yom Kippur, only came up in September or October, and not in April or May. And, for the same reason, it would have been fitting if the Torah portion containing an entire chapter on PESACH (Exodus 12), came up in March or April (during the time of Pesach), and not in January, as is usually the case. The same may be said about the classical chapter on SHAVUOT and the receiving of the Torah, Exodus 19, which is usually read in February, instead of May or June, when the feast of Shavuot actually takes place. Quite simply, the Torah reading program follows the successive chapters of the 5 books of the Torah, and does not deviate from this pattern, just so that it may run parallel to the timing of important days and events in Scriptures.

And in the end, I realized the ERROR of my own way of thinking. I wanted the Torah program to be aligned with the feasts, based upon my own limited understanding of the feasts, and of Scriptures as a whole. I wanted to categorize Scriptures and put passages in the boxes where I thought they belong. But I forgot that there was an Author behind the various writers of the books of Scriptures, who has never been in the business of putting boxes in a straight line, and neatly separating one aspect of our walk with Him, from another. When He takes us through the time of Pesach, with its emphasis of redemption, He doesn’t want us to forget about Shavuot’s emphasis on keeping the commandments, and Yom Kippur’s emphasis on repentance and forgiveness. And when we find ourselves in the time of Counting the Omer, realizing that Pesach is behind us, and Shavuot is before us, nothing is more refreshing, and more appropriate, than doing introspection and pinpointing the areas in our lives where we, once more, needs Yahweh’s forgiveness, through his Son, Y’shua. In fact, Counting the Omer, a process that quite literally started AFTER THE DEATH of Y’shua, around April of one of the years between 27AD to 30AD, is not at all unrelated to the Day of Yom Kippur, which, even before the coming of Y’shua, was only deemed to be valid and meaningful, AFTER THE DEATH of the sacrifice being offered for the sins of the people.

We need to acknowledge the fact that the Torah reading cycle is only an AID, in our quest to build our lives upon the pattern presented to us in Scriptures. Just as the various feasts, and the periods between the feasts, and the commandments and guidelines of Scriptures are aids to assist us in standing in a proper relationship with Yahweh, and his Son, Y’shua. I am not saying that the clear commandments in Scriptures are OPTIONAL. That we are free to choose whether we want to do them, or not. No. They were given to us by our Creator and our Father, who knows the very fibre and essence of our being. He is not trying to punish us. He is helping us more than any doctrine or professional can help us. His commandments are vitally important for our SURVIVAL in this world. But they remain only a means to an end. They are the GUIDEPOSTS that will guide us towards the greater goal of love and compassion and patience and forgiveness and shalom and pure hearts, focused on Yahweh and his words.

I would like to proceed now, by calling on a rather UNUSUAL witness, a Jewish rabbi, to illustrate that the Biblical commandments, however important, were all given to help us moving closer to the deeper and GREATER VALUES of Yahweh’s character, like love, forgiveness, and purity. The amazing thing is that Jews, from our viewpoint, may sometimes come across as unnecessarily meticulous, but also somewhat superficial, in the way they keep the commandments. They have a long tradition of adding lots of practical detail to the text of the Torah, and seem to be showing much less interest in bringing across the truly great themes like love, redemption, and a deep relationship with Yahweh. The fact is, however, that believing Jews are indeed VERY serious about the great moral themes of Scriptures and I have come across a number of writings in which this may be seen, very clearly. I would like to quote a few statements and thoughts from one Jewish author only – not only words of wisdom, but also the intimate language of someone who has a genuine desire to grow in belief. The author is Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who lived a 100 years ago and is considered to be one of the fathers of religious Zionism.

I shall begin with a remarkable POEM by Rabbi Kook: “I am love-sick – I thirst, I thirst for Elohim, As a deer for water brooks. Alas, who can describe my pain, Who will be a violin to express the songs of my grief, I am bound to the world, All creatures, all people are my friends, Many parts of my soul are intertwined with them, But how can I share with them my light?” I have seldom read something expressing the human desire after a true relationship with Yahweh, and the urge to share this with others, more clearly. Rabbi Kook believed that it was impossible to have true FAITH in Yahweh, if there was no true desire to obey his commandments: “Every transgression and neglect of a commandment deposits in the inner life, and in the world, impressions that are completely contrary to what faith in Elohim, in its fullest sense, requires.”

Rabbi Kook often spoke about the danger of PRIDE – very much in line with the way we are warned against pride, and encouraged to pursue humbleness, both in the Pre-Messianic and the Messianic Scriptures. Here are some of the things he said: “Of all evil traits, none vulgarizes a person more than pride, so that he cannot rise toward the majesty of the spiritual”; “As long as the heart is pervaded by pride, one cannot comprehend any concept of purity”; “Pride blemishes the will and when the will is blemished there is no possibility for any virtue to develop in a person”; “All thoughts that arise in the heart of one who truly hates pride, become words of Torah”; “One who hates pride, will be made worthy of enjoying the pleasure of cleaving to Elohim”; “When humility leads to depression it is defective (broken); when it is genuine, it inspires joy, courage and inner dignity”; “The Biblical form of humility enhances one’s health and strength, while the counterfeit forms of humility makes one feeble and depressed. A person must therefore choose for himself the qualities of humility in their proper form that he may grow stronger and sturdier – Those who WAIT upon or TRUST in Yahweh, will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).

Y’shua, our Master, humbled Himself in complete obedience to his heavenly Father. AFTER THE DEATH of this One who suffered to a point of being depleted of his strength, but subjected Himself in waiting and trusting, Yahweh’s reward for humility was revealed in a way that the world has never seen before. Yahweh renewed his strength – just like it was prophesied in Isaiah 40:31, and quoted by Rabbi Kook. Y’shua rose up from the grave, He was highly exalted, and received a Name that was above all names. And that was only the BEGINNING … those who believe in Him, and choose humility, will be exalted in a similar way!