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

Dr Clifford Denton.

Tazria: Leviticus 12:1-13:59.

13th April 2024/5 Nisan

He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:46)

Picture by Helen McNeill

The theme of holiness continues in our portion this week. Our challenge in studying this is to live holy lives and to teach holiness to our children through Bible study and example.

Disciples of Yeshua have a great advantage over those who live by religious duties alone. It is the Holy Spirit who cleanses us and sets us apart from the world and this is because of the sacrifice of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ). The key to holiness is faith in Him.

Yet, can there be imbalance? We might consider the kosher kitchens of Jewish families and strict observance such as of dress, diet, Feasts and Shabbat as over-religious. But, when we have the privilege of closer interaction with Jewish families, especially Messianic Jewish families, we often find a sense of cleanliness of life, stemming from their observance of biblical teaching within Judaism. This can lead us to the question as to the relevance of practical deeds of holiness for the Christian as well as for the Jew.

This is a challenging question because legalism can come right to our door, tempting us to think that salvation can come through religious deeds alone. Nevertheless, despite this challenge, perhaps we should consider this in seeking overall balance and maturity.

The detailed instructions for the Priest who was to examine a person for leprosy in Leviticus 13 seems far removed from practices today and it is quite difficult to even assimilate all those instructions as we read the chapter. Yet it was in the doing that the Priest would learn his responsibility to minister to the Children of Israel so that, in the end, interpretation of the rules would be quite natural. In our day, just as health and safety legislation can seem daunting at the outset, it can become very relevant as well as necessary, as we do what is required. It is the same for us as for those in the days of ancient Israel, in doing what is clean and wholesome, we learn about holiness so that practical experience can also be understood at a spiritual level.

In fact, as we consider the priestly responsibility that is outlined in our Torah portion, we might realise that they point to the responsibility that medical doctors have today. Leprosy is a clear example of physical sickness and uncleanness, but there are many other examples, including the terrible Covid virus that has beset the entire world in recent days. Separation from disease is essential in order to avoid a plague spreading. This is one aspect of what we read in our portion this week.

If we extend our study to other commands relating to holiness for the Children of Israel, we might understand that this also applies to us – clean and unclean practices in our lives as well as theirs. To take some simple examples in our own lives, we wash our bodies to keep them clean, we wash our clothes to avoid dirt and contamination, we clean our dishes, bowls, pans and eating utensils, we eat properly prepared meals avoiding contaminated food, and many more things. If our lives consist of such practical acts of holiness, we are set apart from the uncleanness of the world. Through simple actions, we also train our minds to discern more complex issues, such as what we spend our time doing, what entertainment we watch, what books and magazines we read, and so on. Through practical discipline we learn the path of holiness in all of our life. Though this might seem different from what we read in Leviticus, the origins of holy living are founded on these very principles and extend in every way to our modern life.

Where we differ from these religious obligations is that the history of Israel shows us that we cannot achieve righteousness before God through religious practices alone. The exclusion from the camp of those declared leprous and unclean teaches us, through practical example, how important holiness is to God. It was a main responsibility of the Priests to show the people how to distinguish between holy and unholy through applications in every area of life. This is a major teaching for us too. Yet, religious duties alone are not sufficient for fellowship with our Most Holy God – they are simply a beginning of the teaching – though a beginning they are!

The challenge for us in our families, therefore, is how to order our lives so that we are clean-living in all we do and are able to transfer this teaching to the spiritual domain. Through order, practical example, Bible study together and prayer, how can we live and bring up our children in a holy environment?

Then, we are best prepared to understand the great gift that has been bestowed on us through the sacrifice of our Saviour. He ministered to those who were unclean physically and who, therefore, were excluded from the society of Israel and from the place of worship. He deliberately demonstrated this through the healing of the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:43-48) and by cleansing lepers (Luke 17:11-19). He demonstrated through physical examples what would now be possible in the spiritual realm because of His atoning sacrifice. Those distanced from God through uncleanness (sin) could now be redeemed through faith in Him.

Can we propose, therefore, a balanced approach to the teaching of holiness beginning with the way we live our lives, no longer thinking that only the act of taking our children to Church is sufficient for them to live an acceptable holy life before God. Rather, beginning with the study of Torah, we find relevance in the rules that God gave to Israel to be generalised into all aspects of our lives, deepening our understanding through our life together in our homes. Holy people are characterised by the way they live their lives. We can build on this day by day, year by year to understand more fully what Yeshua has done for us, so that we can enter into the Holy place by His Spirit, to abide in the presence of the Father.