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Vayikra/Leviticus 14:18 what remains of the oil that [is] on the hand of the priest, he shall put on the head of the one purifying himself
This text comes close to the end of the purification ritual for a person who has had the leprosy-like scale disease or skin condition known in the Torah as tsara'at. The recovered person bring a sin offering and a guilt offering by which the priest makes atonement for them before HaShem and re-admits the now restored person to full membership and participation in the community. Three verbs frame the text, from : the Nif'al participle of the root , to remain, be left over or left behind, with a definite article prefix 'the', so here "what remains", the residue; , the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , to give, here "he shall put"; (actually a shortened form of ), the Hitpa'el participle of the root , to be or become clear or pure (Davidson), with a definite article prefix 'the', so here "the one purifying himself". Although usually translated passive (as if Nif'al), the Hitpa'el stem reflects that the person has come forward and offered themselves for cleansing. David Clines suggests that it has a sense of need, either by the person themselves or by society: one who undergoes or is required to undergo purification.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the ritual is not immediately obvious from the text itself, but can only be seen by recognising the similarity between this ritual (Vayikra 14:10-20) with that for the anointing ritual for the priests when they are admitted to service (Shemot 29:7,19-21, enacted in Vayikra 8:23-24). In the same way as the Nazirite is elevated to the same level of holiness as the High Priest for the duration of his vow, so something significant is happening to the person being restored from tzara'at. Gunther Plaut tells us that "the priest puts blood, and later oil, on the ear, thumb and toe of the person being purified. The same procedure was followed for the consecration of a priest. This fact rules out moralising explanations for this rite." Walter Kaiser explains that "the significance is the same for the cleansed person as it is for the priest: G-d sets apart ears to hear G-d's voice, hands to perform the works of righteousness, and feet to walk in the way of the L-rd. Just as the priest is anointed with holy oil, so also the cleansed person is anointed with oil; however, it is ordinary oil ... what is left of the oil in the palm of his hand the priest applies to the head of the one who is to be cleansed 'to make atonement' for the person.1
RabbiHirsch draws a personal lesson for the person being purified: "The sevenfold sprinkling (Vayikra 14:16), the touching (of ear, thumb and toe), and the anointing teach the one who has been healed that his physical health is dependent on his spiritual and moral health. Only if he dedicates beforehand every particle of the health and strength he is now hoping to be granted, with ever fresh, ever renewed energy, to making a reality of the Torah ... can he hope that this health and strength will be the lot ... which he can enjoy henceforth, like the priest, [in the service of the Torah], to a serious but happy life." If he has learned the lesson of his time with tzara'at, and dedicates himself now to the full service of G-d with everything he has, then - like the priest - he can aspire to a full, healthy and happy life.
Other commentators see larger parallels in the two processes. Beneath the surface of the ritual, there is a change of status taking place. Richard Elliott Friedman says that "in both cases, there is a transition. Here it is from impure to pure. In the priestly case it is from secular to holy." Samuel Balentine gives a little more detail: "This process enacts a rite of passage for both a priest and the healed person. In both instances, persons move from outside to inside the tent, from a greater to a lesser distance from G-d, and from an existence associated with death to one that promises life. In both cases the ritual effects a person's changed status in relation to G-d and community."2 Gordon Wenham sees the anointing with oil in our text as a process of bringing people closer to G-d in unity: "if the blood served to unite him with the altar, the oil spoke of union between G-d, the priest and the worshipper."3
The anointing with oil seems to be a particularly important step. Kings and prophets were anointed with oil in ancient Israel. G-d ordered Samuel, "Fill your horn with oil and set out; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have decided on one of his sons to be king" (1 Samuel 16:1, NJPS), to go and anoint David king; Elijah was told to, "anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah to succeed you as prophet" (1 Kings 19:16, NJPS). David himself recognised the importance of having been anointed, when he refuses to attack King Saul even through he is trying to kill him: "The L-RD forbid that I should do such a thing to my lord -- the L-RD's anointed -- that I should raise my hand against him; for he is the L-RD's anointed" (1 Samuel 24:7, NJPS). Anointing is an outward sign of a change in status. Is that, perhaps, why James recommends it when praying for the sick: "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord" (James 5:14, ESV)?4 Here the transition is from sickness to health.
What transitions occur in our lives today and how might we mark that in some kind of ritual before G-d? The major life-cycle events - birth, marriage and death - are all well established with their associated rituals: circumcision or thanksgiving/naming, wedding and funeral. Faith transitions too are covered: bar/bat-mitzvah, baptism and confirmation. Ministry events such as being ordained as rabbi/minister or being appointed an elder of a congregation have their ceremonies and liturgies. Less well addressed are moments of ebb and flow, perhaps when someone steps aside from a ministry appointment for a season in order to pay more attention to their family members at a time of need or crisis, or when someone returns to faith after some years of doubt or lapse. Perhaps this most closely allies to the ritual for the tzara'at sufferer, excluded from the community for sometime time but now welcomed back as a fully participating member.
The most marked transition in our lives today, however, has to be that of coming to faith: our putting our faith and trust in Yeshua, in believing that He is the Messiah of Israel, the Holy One of G-d. Yeshua describes the transition very clearly: "whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24, ESV). Notice the two steps: hearing Yeshua's words, and believing G-d's testimony about Him. Hearing, like the many instances of the Hebrew verb - to hear, listen and by extension, to obey - is not simply an audible experience. It will usually have an acoustic component, but that may be replaced or accompanied by reading or conversation, sometimes even supernatural revelation as G-d's Spirit speaks directly to us. We are called then to believe, and this not an exercise of academic assent, but a deeper commitment of entrusting ourselves to G-d in a life-changing way. It is not an intellectual choice between two options based on their statistical probability of accuracy, or a difference in emotional response about two plausible stories - which one we like better or feel more comfortable about. We believe and place our trust in G-d, the Father, who has sent Yeshua; we submit our wills to Him and commit to following Him. As Rav Sha'ul says, "if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord and believe in your heart that G-d raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9, ESV). This is the same experience that Peter had at Caesarea Philippi when he confessed, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living G-d" (Matthew 16:16, ESV). This is a transition indeed, so that Sha'ul can write, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua" (Romans 8:1, ESV).
Those that have made this life-changing transition have received the anointing of the Spirit, not just the remaining oil as the recovered person from tzara'at. As Yeshua said, they have received the Spirit without measure and are fully members of the kingdom of G-d!
1. - Walter C. Kaiser, "Leviticus" in The New Interpreter's Bible CommentaryVol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 592.
2. - Samuel E. Balentine, Leviticus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), page 111.
3. - Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), page 211.
4. - The text of James is interestingly ambiguous at this point. Is the sick person to be anointed in the name of YHVH or the name of Yeshua? While verse 8 speaks of "the coming of the Lord being at hand", which would suggest that it is Yeshua who is in view, verse 10 describes the prophets who spoke, "in the name of the L-rd", which is more likely to refer to the prophets of Israel, suggesting that it is YHVH's name. Verse 11 connects "the L-rd" with the qualities "compassionate and merciful", a direct allusion to YHVH's self-revelation to Moshe at Sinai as "The L-RD! the L-RD! a G-d compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness (Shemot 34:6, NJPS).
Further Study: John 12:44-50; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22; 1 John 2:27
Application: What transitions have you made in your life? Are they permanent or temporary? Have you heard and spoken the words to enter the kingdom and receive the anointing of the Spirit? Don't delay another moment, but call out to G-d and make sure that you have passed from death to life right now!
01:56 07Apr19 Diana Brown: Good drash today, sir. With the elections in Israel, two days away and such angst over Brexit and the southern border in the US, we see many people who need Yeshua/Jesus. Bringing him to them brings peace/shalom/salem to their souls. All the woes of the world will be fixed when he comes again. We are left here on earth, after coming to faith in him, to be his witnesses. No matter where we are, when we look into the face of another person, we see someone Yeshua/Jesus died for. We have to pray, hear and do and go to all souls that do not know him. As a priest, cleansed and restored, he equips us with the word and holy spirit to be his hands and feet.
15:05 09Apr19 Eitan Shishkoff: Enjoyed this commentary, Jonathan. As I read the passage the 3-fold anointing of the healed leper also struck me in its parallel with the anointing of the priest. Todah!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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