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(Lev 21:1 - 24:23)

Vayikra/Leviticus 21:6   Holy they shall be to their G-d and they shall not profane the name of their G-d


The twenty-first chapter of Vayikra introduces a set of regulations for the priests, the sons of Aharon, that set them apart from not only their fellow Israelites, but even from their own tribe, the Levites. While some of the regulations might be expected, such as not shaving their heads or gashing their flesh - practices of the pagan religions in the surrounding nations - others such as not attending family funerals except for the very closest immediate family or marriage restrictions, seem rather arbitrary and restrictive. What is this all about and why must the priests observe these rules? What possible bearing could they have for us today?

Let's examine the whole verse and see what else the Torah says: "They shall be holy to their G-d and not profane the name of their G-d; for they offer the L-RD's offerings by fire, the food of their G-d, and so must be holy" (Vayikra 21:6, NJPS). We should take notice of that little word 'for' in the middle of the verse, translating the Hebrew particle , literally "for, because, that, when" (Davidson). This is the pivot word in the verse and provides the reason for the separation: the cohanim must be holy because they carry out the ritual of bringing the offerings by fire to The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem; they are the intermediary functioning between man and HaShem, bringing the offerings to HaShem and returning with atonement or peace to the people. As Baruch Levine explains, "The priests must observe strict codes of purity because they are the ones charged with performance of the rites of the sacred cult." This is because, as Who Is ...

Ramban: Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman of Gerona or Nachmanides (1194-1270 CE), Spanish rabbi, author and physician; defended Judaism in the Christian debates in Barcelona before making aliyah
Nachmanides notes, "Holiness signifies separateness. Scripture is that stating that even in those things which are permissible to Israelites, the priests should exercise self-control."

Life, for the priest, is to be different, distinctively different. Notice how the text juxtaposes the two verb phrases , they shall be holy, and , they shall not profane. Bringing the two opposites together sharply emphasises both meanings and the binary choice between them. There is no middle ground; a priest either does one or the other; he cannot do both at the same time. In fact, as Rabbi Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch expresses vividly, "Not only inside the Temple, but outside it too are they to be holy to the G-d whom they have to teach to the people, and not desecrate His name which they bear, and which they represent. It is only by the life lived outside the Temple that their symbolic procedures inside the Temple have any meaning." Without holy public lives, the role of ritual is nothing! G-d is not to be seen in the various things the Torah forbids, such as death and mourning, irregular relationships or pagan ritual practices. "The presence of the priest among the people," Hirsch concludes, "everywhere in their ordinary lives, is to bring them to the truth and teachings that the Sanctuary aims to build. That is why the opposite of this truth must be avoided in the whole of the life of the priest." To be a priest, to function as a priest, requires that a priest live like a priest!

Then there is the question of reputation. Whose reputation is at risk in the priest's conduct? Observing that all the rules surrounding the way a priest lives his life are to promote his honour (as and in the position of priest), the Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno explains that, however much he would otherwise like to, the priest may not lay down his own honour because by doing so, he is laying down G-d's honour. He cannot forgo G-d's honour because "the intent of the Torah in honouring the Kohanim is for the purpose of enhancing the honour of G-d, the Blessed One; hence by forgoing their own honour they thereby profane His Name." So much so, indeed, that commenting on the first two words of the text - they shall be holy - Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi points out that "the court shall sanctify them in this matter, even against their will." The text could have said "they are holy", but chose "they shall be holy"; this implies, the commentators argue, "that it is the responsibility of the community - represented by the court - to make sure that they are holy." Without a holy priesthood, all the service of the cult on behalf of the people is void and the people cannot obtain atonement. Of course the community would want to keep the priests holy!

So we can see that the reputation of the priest necessarily reflects upon HaShem, the G-d he serves. Likewise, the holiness of the priest affects the validity of the sacred acts that he carries out; particularly mediating between HaShem and the people by bringing offerings, and making atonement. We can easily see that Yeshua fitted into those qualities as a priest. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Yeshua was "a high priest ... who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15, ESV). Comparing Himself with a shepherd, Yeshua said, "just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:15, ESV), and Rav Sha'ul wrote that "there is but one Mediator between G-d and humanity, Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Timothy 2:5, CJB). Yeshua not only was our peace offering, but made peace between us: "He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one" (Ephesians 2:14, ESV).

Are we supposed to extend these principles to ourselves as believers in Yeshua? I believe we can and should. I have lost count of the number of times I have been told about people saying, "I have no problem with Jesus; it's the church I can't stand." The way we present ourselves has a hugely significant impact upon the way the message we have to share is received. The way the church, both individual churches and congregations and the body of Messiah as a whole, behaves - its standards, its consistency, its opinions and, most importantly, its people - can, and usually does, act as a filter or lens through which the message of Yeshua and the kingdom of G-d are perceived. Believers whose conversations show disrespect for others, laughing and joking about them, sullies not only our personal reputation but also that of Yeshua Himself; if His followers behave in that way, might He too be like that? When believers are judgemental and snippy about other people's behaviour or standards, onlookers can get the impression that Yeshua also judges people. When congregations insist on collecting money - particularly by passing a plate or bag around where everyone can see - at every service, non-believers easily pick up the idea that G-d is only interested in our money.

The priests in ancient Israel had to be holy because they mediated the sacrifices, and the atonement and peace/thank-offering processes. We need to be holy because we are acting as introducers and representatives of G-d as we listen to people, pray for them and share the gospel with them. If we are not holy (or genuinely striving to be holy), then even if others are unaware, our message may be tainted and ineffective because of our sin - we have become imperfect channels. The community - that is, our church or congregation - must hold us accountable and oblige us to be better at being holy for the sake of the community, as Yeshua told the disciples: "A little leaven leavens the whole lump" (Galatians 5:9, ESV). Nothing leavened may be presented on the altar; so we and our service - be that works of charity, mercy ministries or more - will not be acceptable to G-d unless we renounce our sin and move towards holiness.

Peter wrote to the Jewish communities of believers around the Mediterranean, addressing them as followers of "the living stone, rejected by people but chosen by God and precious to him" (that's Yeshua Himself), telling them that now, as living stones (like Him), they "are being built into a spiritual house to be cohanim set apart for G-d to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to him through Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Peter 2:4-5, CJB). If we are to be that household of priests, then we had better start behaving like priests, living holy lives and being aware that we carry Yeshua's reputation on our own shoulders. Otherwise we're letting more than ourselves down and failing to carry out the Great Commission!

Further Study: Isaiah 53:9; Malachi 1:6; John 8:46; Hebrews 2:17-18

Application: So how are you on the everyday nuts and bolts of holiness? Do you work at being as holy and as much like Yeshua as you can - without, of course, being holier-than-thou - or are you rather more take it or leave it about what people see in your speech and lifestyle?

02:44 29Apr18 Anon: This was very good.

12:57 29Apr16 Lynn: Holy unto God and before others!

13:01 29Apr18 KP: Very good - enlightning and needed.

15:55 29Apr18 Stella Brookes: It shines a light on my behaviour, and makes me want to be more holy. I understand better how I can do that ... not to earn God's favour but in order to better reflect His truth before others, and because I love Him

20:17 29Apr18 Jeremy: Thank you for this clear and reinforcing instruction. I make it a daily habit to ask the Holy Spirit to make me a little bit like Jesus and empower me for the day ahead. I cannot be the person that G-d wants me to be without the Spirit.

11:34 30Apr18 MaDonna Eason: This makes me examine my soul and my words. I want to always give glory to God with my words and actions towards others. Being about our Father's business is all about truly loving Him and our neighbor.

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