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Vayikra/Leviticus 17:8 Any man from the house of Israel or from the sojourner who will sojourn in their midst
This phrase starts one of a series of prohibitions that apply equally to the Israelites and to the sojourners - aliens, strangers - that are dwelling in their midst. The phrase repeats several times in the rest of the chapter and makes a number of interesting points.
The first thing to note is the status of the sojourner. The noun , from the root verb is not used for someone who is simply passing through, of strictly short-term or temporary residence. Israel today has many foreign workers, but most are only there for a season; they have a temporary visa for a few months or years and then they return home to their country of origin; they are not , sojourners. The is one who has settled in the Land - more properly, among the people of Israel - on at least a semi-permanent basis; he has cast his lot in with the community of Israel, to live and work with them. Many of the Jewish translations of the Tanach - the Artscroll edition, for example - use the word 'convert' or 'proselyte' in this text, perhaps because they are uncomfortable with the idea of Gentiles participating in sacrifice and worship of the G-d of Israel as Gentiles, or perhaps because they see the commitment to reside long-term in Israel as being something that only a convert would do.
That leads to the second point: the sense of the verb used. is in prefix form denoting incomplete action, often translated in the future tense in English. Even though G-d is here giving instructions to Moshe for Aharon and the priests to do and to teach the Israelites, He is including sojourners in the target audience. From G-d's perspective, it is already a certainty that those from the nations will join themselves to Israel and seek to worship Him; when Isaiah spoke of this (cf. Isaiah 56:3-8), he was simply repeating what G-d had already outlined in the Torah. The participation of Gentiles in worshiping the One True G-d - from choice, and not from any obligation - was not an afterthought, it was both expected and anticipated.
The third point is that the first regulation in the set, starting at verse 3, does not include the sojourners, thus making an important distinction: although the sojourners were subject to many of the rules and regulations that governed the community that they had joined, they were not universally obligated - the distinction between Jew and Gentile was maintained in spite of their close proximity. There was not one law universally applied in all matters to Israelite and sojourner alike. This is brought out by Rav Sha'ul: "For there is neither Jew not Gentile, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua" (Galatians 3:28). By deliberately choosing categories in which it was impossible to blur functional roles (i.e. men having babies), Rav Sha'ul emphasises our unity in Messiah, but our differences in calling and function within the body.
Further Study: Ephesians 4:11-16; John 3:16
Application: Are you unhappy with your position or status as a believer? Are you a Jew who wants to be a Gentile, or Gentile who long to be Jewish? Relax and know that you are equally loved and wanted by G-d, a G-d who has deliberately made us different to worship and serve Him in variety and diversity, rather than bland homogeneity.
© Jonathan Allen, 2006
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