Developing the Theme of Family through the Torah Portions. Number Twenty-Four.

Dr Clifford Denton.

Vayikra: Leviticus 1:1-6:7.

23rd March 2024/13 Adar2.

If a person commits a trespass, and sins unintentionally in regard to the holy things of the Lord, then he shall bring to the Lord as his trespass offering a ram without blemish from the flocks (Leviticus 5:15)

The picture by Helen McNeill looks forward to the suffering of the Lord, focussing on the Garden of Gethsemane

How do we react when we come to the Book of Leviticus? The previous two books of Torah are vibrant with beginnings of the history of the people of God, but Leviticus begins with detailed accounts of animals that will day after day be slaughtered, throughout the history of the Tabernacle and later the Temple. Blood will be poured all around the brazen altar, fat and flesh will be constantly burning there. The glorious picture that we have in our minds of the beautiful structure of the Tabernacle and the Priesthood must now be modified with gruesome details of mass slaughter.

Surely this is a book for ancient Israel, not modern-day Christianity! Surely this is not for our children! That at least may be our attitude, even if we don’t quite say it!

Nevertheless, this is one of the books of Torah – the foundational teaching of God. When Yeshua was a boy, he would have been taught every part of Torah and taken it seriously. He told His followers to do the same. As He, a boy growing up, studied Vayikra (the Jewish name for Leviticus), God may have used it to indicate how He Himself would become the fulfilment of the sacrifice for sin. It remains foundational to what we all need to know!

The Hebrew Bible begins the third book of Torah with the word Vayikra – and he called. When Israel arrived at Mount Sinai, Moses went to the summit of the mountain to meet with God. Then God had brought His presence right into the centre of the camp and given Moses a gracious call to meet with Him there. This was a new beginning which eventually led to the invitation for all who are saved through the shed blood of Yeshua to come into the presence of God, knowing Him as Abba, Father (Galatians 4:6). Importantly, we learn from Leviticus (Vayikra) that the way to the Father is according to God’s choice, and His call, not our own idea.

Traditionally, Jewish children begin their Bible studies with Vayikra, their parents taking seriously the commands in the Book of Deuteronomy:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 

Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

The Bible (the Old Testament) is seen by Jewish parents as the foundational book of education. Children are encouraged to learn it by heart. The reason why Vayikra (the Book of Leviticus) is chosen as the first book for children to study with their parents, can be found by studying Jewish literature, such as:

Here we find that a question is posed and answered:

QUESTION: Why is it customary for children to begin learning Chumash with Vayikra rather than Bereshit?

ANSWER: Little children are innocent and pure (tahor) and Chumash Vayikra discusses karbanot — sacrifices — which are pure and which restore spiritual purity (taharah) to a person. Therefore, it is fitting that young little children should begin their education with the topic of purity.

If this is so for Jewish children and would have been of the same priority for Yeshua, should we not also consider how we teach children in the Christian home? We may think that taking our children to Church on a Sunday where they will have their own Sunday School classes is all that is required. Yet perhaps we have settled into our own Christian traditions and not realised that we can lack depth in our teaching. This may be because children often grow up with only the teaching from the New Testament without the foundations and context of the Old Testament.

Consider this. How many teenagers who were brought up in a Christian family have never been taught about sin and forgiveness at a level requiring personal response? Often, we shy away from the gruesome details such as we find in Leviticus and therefore don’t build on them. Jesus (Yeshua) may have been taught as being a good man, even that He died for us, but we might not really prepare a child for personal responsibility concerning sin. We may emphasise His miracles and loving character, presenting Him as a friend but not really grappling with the reason for His sacrifice. Teaching our children is important so that they are ready to understand this in a personal way.

Having said this, it is no small thing to propose a fresh consideration of the Jewish approach to education that might have been passed on to us but for the separation of Christianity from its relationship with the Jews. Such education is a journey over many years, where we take things little by little. A five-year-old child may not be immediately ready to make the jump from the sacrifices of Leviticus to the personalisation of Yeshua’s sacrifice for sin. Yet, little by little opportunities will emerge where the teaching takes root. Children, for example, quickly understand that sin is serious from the sacrifice of an animal especially if it is presented as belonging to the family (as at Passover). The Bible gives many examples of Israel’s failure to achieve the holy status offered by God, so that the teaching at first can be objective, considering all of Israel’s history leading up to Yeshua. We have to consider the purpose of the laws of God to reveal our sin to us. For young children, we do not need to be heavy handed in teaching obedience when misbehaviour or disobedience to parents begins, but we can lay a foundation which is later interpreted as sin when the time is right, and when God Himself is working in our children to give this step of discernment.

Our portion this week is a beginning for us, as it was for Israel. God made it clear that substitutionary sacrifice was a means of coming into His presence. It shows His understanding that the sinful nature of mankind since the Fall needs a remedy, and He is prepared to value mankind’s friendship at the expense of beautiful animals which are also a part of His Creation. Look at the different kinds of sacrifice, the Peace Offering, the Trespass offering, the Sin offering, Freewill offerings of thanks and realise that these things are what God wanted. Faith is the underlying principle in all these sacrifices, both for the Israelites and for us. We are no different from them, only that Yeshua HaMashiach has done for us what could not be permanently achieved in any other way.

As we go through the remaining sections of Leviticus (Vayikra) we will continue to consider how this is foundational teaching (with New Covenant fulfilment). Should this not be among the first books that we study together in our families, just as it is in Jewish homes? We have the yearly Torah cycle to enable these teachings to be developed and deepened, year by year. The family home, in this way, must be the centre for spiritual growth of our family.