weeks Torah portion takes us back to where we left off in the story of
Nadav and Avihu, who were “consumed” because they offered “Esh Zarah—Strange
Fire” to God. In Leviticus 10 we read about this incident, but we don’t
conclude the story until chapter 16 of Leviticus in this portion,
“Acharei Mot—After the Death.” It says, “Acharei Mot Shnei
Bnei Aharon B’Karvatam Lifnei-Hashem V’Yamutu—After the death of the two
sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord, and died…” |
Two weeks ago, in Parsha Shemini, I brought up the idea that the error of Nadav and Avihu was their search for an “eternal spiritual high” while missing their true purpose “…to unite heaven and earth by inviting God into the world and [to] invite[e] humanity into God’s presence.” On the Chabad website concerning Nadav and Avihu, they write, “The Chassidic masters explain that life—the retention of a spiritual soul within a physical body—entails a tenuous balance between two powerful forces in the soul: Ratzo (striving, running away) and Shuv (return, settling). Ratzo is the soul’s striving for transcendence, its yearning to tear free of the entanglements of material life and achieve a self-nullifying reunion with its Creator and Source…however, every human soul also possesses Shuv—a will for actualization, a commitment to live a physical life and make an imprint upon a physical world.”
It was the force ofRatzo (a desire to return to the Creator and source) that overtook Nadav and Avihu and they were “Tochal—Devoured” by the fire of God. I believe I can sum up the thinking of Nadav and Avihu with one question, “If God is better than life, then why live?” And seriously, I think we need to ask ourselves the same question. It takes us back to one of the oldest questions that has puzzled philosophers throughout time…“What is the meaning of life?”
The answer is simple. It can be answered in one word, Shuv. God continuously tells the people of Israel through the mouths of His Prophets to make “TeShuvah—Repent/ Return.” God is crying out to His children “Shuvu Elai V’Ashuv Alaichem—Return to me and I will return to you.” God is telling Israel; turn from your wicked ways, begin the journey back to me, and I will meet you there. It reminds me of the story of the Prodigal told by Yeshua in Luke 15. In the story, the Prodigal is returning home to his father. As he returns home, it says, “…when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” God wants to return to us! But remember, “God only dwells where He is invited.”
If we continue
on, in between chapter 10 and 16 of Leviticus, stuck in the middle of
the story of Nadav and Avihu, we have the kosher dietary laws, purity
laws, and the laws concerning leprosy. Why are all these laws put
between the start and conclusion of this story? If the story about Nadav
and Avihu is to teach us about the importance of “TeShuvah—Repentance,” then the other laws tell us what we are turning away from.
The kosher laws teach us to separate ourselves from our animal nature,
the purity laws teach us to “keep the marriage bed undefiled,” and the
laws concerning leprosy teach us to guard against “Lashon Hara—The Evil
Tongue.” True “Teshuvah—Repentance” means we leave behind these cardinal sins and look towards the place we are returning to. Note: If “Teshuvah—Repentance” does not lead to God, then it is NOT repentance.
Just as switching from alcohol to cigarettes isn’t true change, its
just replacing a bad habit with a different bad habit, so too, if we
change our spiritual “habits” but don’t turn back to God, it is for
naught. And that is why, right after we read about “Acharei Mot” the
death of Aaron’s sons, we jump straight into the ceremony and order of
“Yom HaKippurim—The Day of Atonements.” It is called “Day of Atonements”
in plural because of the many different people and things being atoned
for on this day. But what is this day really about? Why do we need one
day a year to “afflict our souls?” |
In Hebrew, the word “Afflict” in this verse uses the root word “Anah.” This word can also mean, “to be bowed down” or “humbled.” Because of this, many people think of “Yom Kippur—The Day of Atonement” as a very somber and serious occasion. And it is in some ways. In the days of the Tabernacle and the 1 and 2 Temples, there was a sense of foreboding, whether God would accept His people’s atonement or not. But when He did, the Day of Atonement was no longer a day of apprehension, but was instead a day of joy! To “afflict oneself” on this day has been understood to mean abstaining from the comforts of life. But food and the like aren’t everything to existence, as our Rabbi Yeshua said in John 4, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work….” What does it mean, “…to finish His work?” It means to bring the world back to a place of “Shuv,” a place of “returning to God.” Yeshua Himself said to Nicodemus the Torah Teacher, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” = “Shuv,” that the world would turn back to God.
Most of us want the Ratzo (the soul’s striving for transcendence) version of things. God comes back, makes everything better and calls us to a heaven in the clouds. But God doesn’t do things this way. God wants to dwell among us in this realm. We know about the King, now we need to establish His Kingdom.
“Yom Kippur—The Day of Atonement” helps remind us that the Judge of the entire world is coming back to earth; we don’t go to Him, He comes to us. We shouldn’t ask ourselves “Am I going to Heaven when I die?” Instead, we should ask ourselves the question, “…when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
You see, God doesn’t surgically remove our sins and transgressions; He wants to elevate us above our sins and transgressions. We don’t pray that this world would be burned up and destroyed, instead, we should pray that this world would be elevated to having the ability to receive God in our midst. We are not “elevation offerings” in the sense that Nadav and Avihu were. We don’t live life only to evaporate into God’s essence. We live our lives as “elevation offerings” that bring the world around us to a heightened sense of God’s presence.
| As we read through this portion we arrive at one of the most important verses of the Torah. Leviticus 19:2 tells us, “Kedoshim Tihyu Ki Kadosh Ani Hashem Elokeichem—You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”|
The word holy in Hebrew is the word “Kadosh.” This word can also mean, “set apart, dedicated, or consecrated.” What is interesting to think about, is what makes something “Kodesh—Holy/Set Apart?” Well, holiness originates from God. Therefore, if true holiness originates from God, the only things that can become holy are the things He bestows His holiness upon. So the phrase “Kedoshim Tihyu Ki Kadosh Ani Hashem Elokeichem—You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,” is actually an invitation to take His holiness upon one’s own self.
There is another famous verse in this portion as well, “V’Ahavta L’re’eicha Kamocha, Ani Hashem—You shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.” The instruction manual for these commands is the rest of the Torah. Torah is the practical application of these verses. As the Band 4Him sings, “To love God, love people, that’s the center of the mark.” We miss the mark however, when we don’t live separate/holy lives. When we compromise our holiness or we mistreat our follow human, we not only lower our own set-apartness, we also misrepresent the God we serve. When we say, “I have been crucified with Messiah; it is no longer I who live, but Messiah lives in me…” What do we mean by this? Do we really live lives that are “Messiah fueled?” Is it Him living through us, or are we still trying to get off the execution stake? (In a figurative sense) We all must learn to surrender our “rights.”
The last thing I wanted to write about is something I read on the FFOZ website. They wrote, “All of the commandments of Torah, in some aspect or another, reveal Messiah. They each reveal some essential element of His person or character.”
The Torah tells us who Yeshua is. Each commandment reveals something deeper about the nature of His true character. He is the “Living Word of God.” He embodies Torah in the flesh. God gave us the Torah for our benefit. As He (God) said in Leviticus 18:5, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.” What does this mean, “…if a man does, he shall live by them?” Of course…if someone keeps, say a traffic law, like not speeding, he is living by the law. You could interpret this to mean, an individual who keeps the law is kept alive by the law. But there is another interesting interpretation the Lubavitcher Rebbe makes concerning this verse. He writes, “The Hebrew phrase ‘to live by them’ can also be read, ‘in order to imbue them (the commandments) with life-force.’…By observing [the commandments],
we bring them to life.” How is the word of God alive today? Through us! We bring Yeshua and the Torah to life in this world. Yes, they are alive of themselves, but we are the representatives of God in this earth. Therefore, my last encouragement would be, make the word of God shine through you into a world that desperately needs it today!
Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
If you have never heard of Otto Koning, often referred to as the “Pineapple Man,” he was a missionary to New Guinea. Check out his “Pineapple stories,” where he shares about his experiences while giving a great message on surrendering our rights to God.