Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #31 Emor (Speak) Vayikra (Leviticus) 21:1-24:23
Haftarah: Yechezk’el (Ezekiel) 44:15-31
B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:38-42
This is one of the most useful parashot for referencing the festivals (G-d’s designated times), and equitable compensation for damage to persons and property. This parashah also lays out in detail G-d’s special requirements beyond those of the community for those set apart (consecrated) for the office of Cohen. Application to “New Testament” times and Yahshua’s observance of these laws and regulations further demonstrates their validity and applicability for today. To understand Chapter 23, we must gain a clear understanding of a “holy convocation” and “designated times” specifically mentioned by G-d through Moshe. Defining these terms is necessary based on comments I’ve heard from spiritually immature Messianic Jews and others that keeping the designated times of G-d is a “take it or leave it” proposition.
A holy convocation is defined by Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition, copyright 1958; the word holy is described as “coming from God.” In the same reference source on page 324, ‘ is rendered as “a group of people called together by summon, especially an academic assembly. Based on these facts, holy convocation is a summons or call, coming directly from God, ( ), for Israel to assemble together at the place where He shall choose to place His name. In fact, there are three pilgrimage festivals required by G-d including Pesach, Shavu’ot, and Sukkot. The people are required to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate these designated times when at all possible. Of course today in the diaspora, many cannot make the journey. However, we can and should gather in our synagogues that meet the requirement of a holy convocation. The academic aspect of such an assembly is also met as we gather together to study G-d’s Torah. The communal assembly provides an excellent opportunity for teaching the meaning of the festivals and their application to eschatological events.
Shabbat is included in the designated times and is important enough to G-d to list it at the beginning of the parashah. Although this command is repeated many times throughout G-d’s Torah, Yahshua knows that repetition is a valuable learning technique for those who have a desire to learn. Indeed, sometimes one who has rejected a teaching in the past, may come around after hearing a teaching for the “millionth’ time. Note that Yahshua emphasizes the concepts and certain details of issues that are critical for winning this earthly race toward salvation. Sometimes an individual attends services for years, hearing some of the same things, but learning something new each time as the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) gives wisdom and knowledge when the time is right.
NO kind of work is to be done on Shabbat. In contrast, on Pesach, the seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Shavu’ot, Rosh Hashanah, and Sukkot, no kind of ORDINARY work is to be done. Ordinary work refers to work done for any type of compensation or that which is mundane. On Yom Kippur there is to be NO kind of work, and this is mentioned twice in the same paragraph.
Next, we learn about a sin that is unforgivable. The unforgivable sin is mentioned in Lev. 24:16 as blaspheming against the name of Adonai. Matthew 12:31 Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.”
There is much debate on this subject for various reasons. Let’s clarify the meaning of this statement.
The unpardonable sin is the sin of rejection. It is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. When Yahshua was on earth, the religious leaders attributed His miracles to demonic powers when in fact they were the product of the Holy Spirit working in Yahshua’s life (Matt.12:12-32). This accusation by the religious leaders demonstrated hearts that had become so hard (like Pharaoh’s) that it precluded repentance. How? Yahshua’s words and works were a clear evidence of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in Him as the Anointed One, the Messiah of the Old Testament. To reject Yahshua and claim His works were from hasatan (satan) was a clear demonstration of unbelief and an unrepentant heart. This is why it is the unforgivable sin. Yahshua spoke of the unforgivable sin in Matt. 12:31-32: “And I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come.”
Note that Yahshua didn’t address his comments to his disciples or a random crowd. He was speaking to the specific group of Pharisees who had personally witnessed the miracle of completely and instantly healing a blind and mute demon-possessed man (Matt. 12:22). Rather than acknowledging the obvious fact that Yahshua was exercising divine power, the Pharisees were so spiritually depraved that they attributed his power to satan (v. 24). Furthermore, this is an example that applies to everyone who saw and those who did not personally witness Yahshua’s miracles during His life. The problem was not blind ignorance, but wilful rebellion and rejection. The deliberate, high-handed refusal to believe even after coming to know the truth is what makes this sin unforgivable. Compare this event to that of Pharaoh and the 10 plagues.
According to the Quest Study Bible, “Yahshua gave the solemn warning in these verses to people whose hard-heartedness placed them on the brink of disaster. Evidently blasphemy against the Spirit is not just a one-time offense; rather, it is an on-going attitude of rebellion- a stubborn way of life that continually resists, rejects, and insults the Holy Spirit. This is what makes it, in effect, an eternal sin (Mark 3:29). Blasphemy against the Spirit is not unforgivable because of something done unintentionally in the past, but because of something being done deliberately and unrelentingly in the present.” In other words, once we come to the knowledge of G-d’s Torah that reveals our sin, and we choose to become reconciled to G-d through Yahshua’s sacrifice, we are held accountable for everything we think, say, and do. Compare this conceptual truth to the first generation of Israelites who were lost for the same reason. How do we know they were not “saved?” We know because G-d told Moshe in Numbers 14:20-24: “I have forgiven as you have asked, But as sure as I live, and that the whole earth is filled with the glory of Adonai, none of the people who saw my glory and the signs I did in Egypt and in the desert, yet tested me these ten times and did not listen to my voice, will see the land I swore to their ancestors. None of those who treated me with contempt will see it. But my servant Kalev, because he had a different Spirit with him and has fully followed me-him I will bring into the land he entered and it will belong to his descendants.” I admonish everyone to take this declaration by G-d very seriously and not be taken in by false doctrine that teaches forgiveness for ALL sins.
Another concept often misinterpreted is the equitable compensation for injury or other insult to person or property. Unfortunately, Jews are often labelled as barbaric based on the statement in Lev. 24:19-20: “If someone injures his neighbour, what he did is to be done to him- break for break, eye for eye, tooth for tooth-whatever injury he has caused the other person is to be rendered to him in return.” Anyone who takes the time to study Hebrew and contextual idiomatic expressions will learn that this statement means equitable compensation for loss. That is, if a person injures someone’s hand who happens to be a surgeon, the offender must pay for the medical care and lost wages. This amount would obviously be less than injuring the hand of a track star. Our current laws for pain and suffering are based on this Biblical law, although today we cannot count on justice being served as when G-d enacted this law. This is one reason it is wise to keep receipts for valuable items, repairs, etc. The amount of reimbursement for a bodily injury was and is generally based on the occupation of the injured party. Today however, a sympathetic prosecuting lawyer or jury may be persuaded to seek more than reasonable damages if the victim is charismatic and appeals to the emotions of those in court. G-d knew this and commanded “You are to apply the same standard of judgment to the foreigner as to the citizen, because I am Adonai your G-d.” (Lev. 24:22).
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31
This week’s haftarah discusses various laws that pertain to the kohanim, the priests, a topic also discussed at length in the first part of the week’s Torah portion.
Ezekiel prophesies about the service of the kohanim in the third Holy Temple. The prophet describes their priestly vestments their personal care, whom they may and may not marry, and their special purity requirements which preclude them from coming in contact with a corpse, unless it’s for a next of kin. He also discusses their calling as teachers and spiritual leaders.
The prophet conveys G d’s word: “You shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession.” The kohanim do not receive a portion in the Land of Israel, instead they partake of the sacrifices as well as various tithes. This is one of the proof texts for sacrifices in the Millennial Kingdom. At this time there will be those who survived the Tribulation but have not accepted Yahshua as the Messiah. This is a “last chance” to realize there is an eternity, there is a Messiah and King, and there are rules we will have to follow if we are to obtain salvation.
B’rit Chadashah: Matthew 5:38-42
This is one of the most misinterpreted passages in the “New Testament.” Yahshua is not telling people they must stand and let people beat them up and then turn over and let them finish the job. Yahshua is trying to teach us not to be offended and seek vengeance on those who attack our character. Throughout G-d’s Torah, Yahshua stood as a lamb going to slaughter while people of all social stations attacked his character. Examples include Isaiah 53:7. In the King James version reads: 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. When the Pharisees and Sadducees attacked Him personally, He did not defend His character. However, He defended the Father and G-d’s Torah to His death. We must trust G-d to provide and protect as He promises. Part of the self-nullification required to ascend to G-d mandates internalizing and demonstrating this philosophy and behaviour.
“38 You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other…”
Yahshua continues to flesh out what true righteousness is for His listeners. Remember He began this section by saying that He is the One who fulfils all righteousness. Reading these sections, we are first learning more of G-d’s character in the role of Yahshua, and therefore of the complex unity of the G-dhead. The meaning, shape and character of righteousness does not come primarily from what G-d says, but out of who G-d is. In this section we see that righteousness, G-d’s righteousness, involves a freedom to love and serve others, that is in no way bound by the other’s character, motives, or relationship with the One who loves. The righteousness that Yahshua fulfilled and provides for us is rooted in the attributes of grace and love, unmerited kindness (chesed); freeing the giver to give without regard to whether she or he will receive equally back from the one being given to.
Yahshua begins this passage, as He has the preceding ones, reminding His readers of what they already know and is still valid. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ This principle was the basis of much of Near Eastern justice, and would be immediately recognized by Yahshua’s hearers. It was put into place to restrain unlimited blood vengeance. It limited what monetary damages one could expect to what was considered proportional, equal and fair. But what this dictum often led to was a tit-for-tat kind of thinking that permeated all relationships. This attitude is certainly still pervasive in our world today. We often work to keep things as even and equal according to our individual standards. Getting even or paying back a perceived or real evil for evil can become an obsession. We see people today, consumed with a desire for revenge that is so deep, that this passion comes to define their whole purpose in life. Evil begets evil, and it becomes a perpetual course.
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” can help limit the evil of retaliation, but there is no life in it. It can only hope to compensate and mitigate a situation. It cannot bring joy, grace, or life into the relationship. To live by this mind-set is to be bound within a cycle of reaction and action. It does not lead to freedom. Yahshua is telling His readers that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is not the righteousness that exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees. It does not reflect the true righteousness that has its source in G-d’s own heart and character. So now Yahshua tells His readers that true righteousness goes far beyond a tit-for-tat mind-set. We are not to pay evil back with evil, even if it is an “equal and fair” amount. Yahshua is not saying that we are not to resist evil, but that we are not to resist it with evil means. This makes the most sense in the context. Further insight may be found in the Greek in a book entitled Kingdom Ethics (IVP, 2003). The Greek for “evil” can mean either “by evil means” or “the evil person”, and which definition applies must be decided from the context. This follows Yahshua quoting “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” which has to do with a particular means for dealing with evil or pain. Secondly, the authors go on to note that the Greek word translated “resist” is “used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures … and in the Greek sources of the time, Josephus and Philo, ‘for armed resistance in military encounters’ in the majority of cases.” Their conclusion is that a more accurate translation to this verse would be “‘do not retaliate or resist violently or revengefully, by evil means.’”(p. 138). Vengeance belongs to the L-rd and He will have his day. New International Version (© 2011) “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord”
Yahshua provides three examples of what true righteousness looks like in situations where you might be tempted to give back “tit-for-tat.” It is important to see that in each of these situations, the righteous person acts out of freedom toward the other rather than just reacting to what occurs. Note that in all the examples, this freedom is rooted in the understanding that true righteousness begins in being poor in spirit; self- nullification. The truly righteous one knows that her/his identity and life do not come from themselves but are found in G-d, so no one can take it from them. This allows them to act independently of the others’ actions towards them in any given situation.
In the first example someone strikes you on the right cheek. According to The Bible Background Commentary (IVP) a “blow on the right cheek was the most grievous insult possible in the ancient world …” and “both Jewish and Roman law permitted prosecution for this offense” (p. 60). To act by the standards of justice and fairness, one would seek retribution for this act. But Yahshua suggests that true righteousness means turning and offering the other cheek as well. In other words, what the righteous man is saying by this action is “You think you have insulted me by this action, but in order to show you that you have no power to insult me because I know to Whom I belong, I will offer to let you slap my other cheek as well.”
In the second example someone is out to sue you and take your coat. As in the previous example, someone is trying to “lord it over” you, to control and abuse you. They believe they are in the seat of power over you. But Yahshua suggests you dispel this notion here by giving them your cloak as well. They are out to take it by force from you, but you turn around and demonstrate that if they intend to wrongfully take it from you, you are going to choose to give to them freely if they need it so badly.
The third example comes from the law at that time. A Roman soldier could legally make you carry something (usually all his military baggage) for him for one mile. If the soldier makes this demand of you, you may well feel as if you are being forced to do this, that you have no choice. The soldier can lord it over you because of his position in the occupying army. You would be tempted to find some way to retaliate, to get back at this soldier for this humiliation of being forced to carry his things for him. But Yahshua tells His hearers that true righteousness would lead you to walk a second mile for the man as well. It is as if you are saying, “You think that you are forcing me to do this, as if I have no choice. To show you that I am free from your tyranny and that I freely choose to do this, because I serve an even higher Authority, I will go with you even farther than you expect me to.” By the way, these actions are to be demonstrated in humility and not arrogant defiance.
Lastly, Yahshua encourages His listeners to be generous givers. He tells them not to refuse either the person who begs from them or the person who wants to borrow from them. They are not to react in these situations by trying to protect themselves and make sure that everything remains even and fair. Their response is not to come from the immediate situation, but out of a freedom that indicates that they know that money is not the source of their lives and security. However, Matthew 10:16 reminds us that persecutions are coming; “16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” We are to learn to discern. And not indiscriminately give anything and everything to anybody. Discernment comes only through diligent study, prayer, and internalization of G-d’s Torah.
Yahshua is the One who fulfils this righteousness. He does not move towards us in reaction to how we deal with Him. He comes to us with a lavish love and grace which is in no way merited by our situation. He is not reacting to our loveliness, goodness, and impressive good deeds. In Ephesians 2:4-5, Paul says that G-d poured out His great love for us while we were still dead in our sins. Yahshua is not motivated by trying to carve out His fair share, or by seeing that we get what we deserve. He is not dependent on our actions to know how to feel and act towards us. He acts out of a tremendous freedom, a freedom that comes from knowing that His life and identity come from the Father and so He has nothing He needs to protect or guard from us. May we learn to emulate our Messiah that will ultimately glorify G-d. This is our reasonable service (Rom. 12:1-2) “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
R. Tamah Davis- Hart