From Netivjah Jerusalem Israel

By Joseph Shulam

4th May 2024

The book of Leviticus is one of the books that is studied least in the Christian Churches.  Yes, the book of Leviticus at first sight indeed gives the impression that it deals mainly with issues concerning the worship in the Temple (Tent of Meeting in the Wilderness).  But it doesn’t!  The book of Leviticus uses the priesthood and the sacrificial system as a platform to teach some of the most important principles that are foundational for any disciples of Yeshua in daily life and holy practices.  If the book of Leviticus did not exist or if it is ignored and not studied with sincere interest and commitment, glean the pearls and gold nuggets from the pages and words of God to Moses and the Levites our faith would be useless, and sanctity and holiness would be far far far away from us and our communities. 

 In the book of Leviticus, we learn the most popular text used by Yeshua himself and the Apostles, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself!”  

Our reading this Shabbat is from a portion called in Hebrew Acharei Mot = After the Death.  

The Torah reading is from Leviticus 16:1-18:30.  

The Prophets (The Haftarah), we will read from Ezekiel 22:1-19.

The Gospels, the reading will be from Matthew 15:10 – 20 and Mark 12:28-34.

I want to discuss the very beginning of our Torah Portion.   This text brings us to one of the most basic and essential principles in the whole Bible.  This text has many brothers and sister texts through the Bible and deep into the teaching of Yeshua and the Apostles in the New Testament.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God. According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 18:1-5 NKJV)

 Principle #1: Because I am your Lord and your God, you will not follow, practice, and live like the earthly empires. 

Principle #2—If you do what I instruct and live according to my laws, which I designed for you to practice, you will have life now and forever!

These two verses of wisdom and instructions are simple to state but very complicated to observe and practice.  The power statement that appears multiple times in the book of Leviticus is “I am the LORD your God.”  

You might not think that this declaration from the Almighty is powerful enough to convince you to straighten up and fly right, but it doesn’t take us long to find out the consequences of disobedience to God’s instructions.  This simple phrase is the WHY and the strongest motive possible.  If God had instead said in the Torah, “Do this, and you will receive 10$”, you would have a mile-long line of people standing to cash in their 10$.  But God laced His command with the words, “I am the LORD your, God.”  If we keep the commandments and do good with any other motives than doing the will of our Father, who is the master and creator of this world, our obedience would not be sincere and would not be based on faith and relationship!  

Obedience for ulterior motives is an abomination.  Even if you give a diamond ring to your wife for the wrong reason, she will throw the ring right back in your face.  Here are the words of Isaiah, the prophet to the nation of Israel:

Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls lambs, or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand to trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies, I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.” (Isaiah 1:11 – 13)

 Isaiah 1 is a significant text, as it sets obedience to God’s commandments on the right level. Also, the relationship between the world’s creator and his children is set in a different paradigm.  Idolatry teaches that the idol they worship and burn sacrifice for must be washed and polished, the statue of an idol who needs this service from men because the idol is not able to do anything for itself. 

 In our text in Leviticus 16, it is clear that God’s command is valid for our obedience only if it comes deep from our hearts with pure motives, never for personal gain or to receive “prosperity!” Our motives are more important than the value of our sacrifices. 

 The next thing we learn from our Torah reading is the procedure for the events (worship) of the Day of Atonement, or in Hebrew, Yom HaKippurim.  This Day, on the 10th Day of the 7th month of Tishri, is considered the holiest Day on the Hebrew calendar. It is a day of fasting for 25 hours and praying for much of those hours. 

 The Day of Atonement does not deal with our private sins, for each of us has to repent and make restitution in every possible place.  The Day of Atonement concerns our collective sins, the sins of our nation, government, and leadership.  Two goats of the same size and outward appearance are brought to the High Priest. He casts lots. One of these goats is offered on the altar in the Tabernacle, and the other goat is the scapegoat that is not offered for sacrifice. The scapegoat is released into the wilderness after it is fed and decorated, and the High Priest lays hands on its head and confesses the collective sins of all of Israel. 

 The big thing about Yom HaKippurim, the Day of Atonement, is the command, “It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever.” (Leviticus 16:31 NKJV)   

The Day of Atonement is also a “Holy Sabbath, and the command to “afflict your souls” is interpreted to fast from drinking and eating for 25 hours.    On this Day, most people in Israel go to the synagogues and pray. Most of the Day, some of the most inspirational prayers are in human language.  On this Day, four times, a list of confessions is read aloud.   The list of confessions is long, with around 150 different sins.  It is too long for me to insert into this prayer list.  I don’t know a human being that doesn’t have to at least mentally mark a “V” to 20 – 30 of the sins listed—things like gossip and taking something by mistake that doesn’t belong to you.  Even making and not keeping promises is one of the sins on that list.  In our congregation in Jerusalem, when we celebrate Yom HaKippurim, I always read this long list and enjoy it because it reminds me of how much I need God’s Atonement. It also reminds me that the Jewish nation has no temple and no sanctified priesthood and that the only real Atonement that we have in the world today is Yeshua, our Messiah, and Savior.  Interestingly, in the regular orthodox Jewish prayer book for Yom HaKippurim toward the end, there is a prayer with the following words: A free translation of this poem from Hebrew says:

 “Then, before the beginning – He has set the abode and Yinon. From the beginning, before planning any nation or language – He has planned the established Temple on high. He has counseled to emanate his holy Presence there to lead the erring ones on straight paths. When wickedness became as red as scarlet – he has preceded it with “wash yourselves and cleanse yourselves”. Even if He became indignant with His awesome One – The Holy One will not pour His entire wrath. We have been enslaved to our greed until now, but Our Rock did not raise Himself over us. Messiah of our Righteousness has turned away from us, we were perplexed and there is no one to justify us. He bears our iniquities and the yoke of our crimes upon himself. And was profaned (or: pierced) because of our iniquities. He carries our sins on His shoulder, to find forgiveness for our misdeeds. We were healed by His bruises – It’s time to create the Eternal One anew as a new creation. Lift Him up from the circle (of the earth), draw Him up from Se’ir (=Edom), and make us hear of Him again on top of Mount Lebanon by the hand of Yinon.”  

 The author of this prayer, which is in the standard Ashkenazi orthodox special prayer book for the Day of Atonement, is exceptional and messianic, with at least three quotations from Isaiah 53.  The name Yinon is fascinating. It is a unique name that appears only once in the Bible in Psalm 72:17. Because the Hebrew of this Psalm is so complicated to translate, each translation has a different way of rendering the name Yinon.  However, the whole prayer translated into English clearly relates to Yeshua as the Messiah and savior.

 The Day of Atonement is a day that 70% of all the Jews in Israel will fast and pray and remember their sins and make resolutions and promises to themselves to do better next year. 

The command and order of the Day of Atonement are from the reading of the following Shabbat in every synagogue. 

There is no other nation or religious group on this Earth that has that kind of Day that every year reminds us of our sins and of our need for the Messiah who fulfills all the prophetic expectations and promises from all the scriptures but especially all the predictions of Isaiah 53 – that are so uniquely fulfilled by that lone man from Galilee who walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee and calmed the waters of the storm.

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