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Shemot/Exodus 26:33 ... and the curtain shall separate for you between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.
Moshe is part-way through his first forty day stint on Mt. Sinai withHaShem, seeing the heavenly blueprint for the Mishkan, the Tabernacle and receiving the plans for the building, the furniture and all the paraphernalia needed for the operation of the cult. This text comes from the fifth aliyah of the parasha, where Moshe is being given the detailed instructions for the making and hanging of the parochet, the huge woven and embroidered curtain that formed the fourth wall of the Holy of Holies, and the placement of the Ark and the ritual furniture in the Holy Place.
There are three things to notice about the Hebrew text itself. Firstly, the verb starting the text - , the Hif'il Affix 3fs form of the root , to separate, with a vav-reversive construction to indicate a future tense - is accented on the last rather then the penultimate syllable of the word.Ibn Ezra says that this is "quite unusual in this form of the verb"; we would expect the dot-vowel between the second and third root letters to carry the emphasis. This verb is only used in either the Hif'il, "to separate, to make a division, to distinguish between", or the Nifal, "to be separated, to be chosen out", stem (Davidson). It is the verb used in the Creation account where HaShem separated or distinguished between the light and the darkness (B'resheet 1:4), the waters above and under the firmament (1:7). Later in the Torah, the people of Israel are urged to keep themselves separate or distinct from what is unclean, because that is what HaShem has created them to be (Vayikra 20:25).
The second point concerns the word , "to or for you". Rabbi Samson RaphaelHirsch: points out that, "significantly, the Hebrew uses , which indicates that the division is not so much an absolute one but, rather, one that is there for us to note, and to be kept as far as we are concerned." Don Isaac Abravanel adds that the 'you' in this word "is plural, since it kept the priests and the people out of the Holy of Holies, but not Moshe." This is meant to be a semi-permeable membrane: it is no barrier to HaShem, to Moshe himself who may enter at any time to speak with HaShem, or to the High Priest who may enter once a year to perform the sprinkling of blood and burning of incense that are part of the Yom Kippur ritual; it is a barrier that must be observed by all others: all the people of Israel, be they men, women or children, Levites or priests. The whole of Israel is to be responsible for policing this barrier: those not permitted to pass that point need to be aware of the barrier and make sure that they respect it.
The third matter is the use of the root , "to separate, to consecrate, to be holy"; three of the five words in the second phrase of the text - "between the Holy [place] and the Holy [place] of Holy [places]" - are from this root. The noun means 'holiness' or "that which is holy or consecrated to G-d" (Davidson); with a definite article, it becomes a place that is holy. The construction of the Tabernacle assembly resembles an onion. Richard Elliot Friedman says that "the Ark is surrounded by a series of layers: first the curtain, then the Tabernacle (the linen tent), then the tent (the goats' hair tent), then the covering (the tent of rams' skins dyed red), then the covering of leather skins, then a courtyard surroundedby linen hangings. The Israelites are thus given to understand that there is a sequence of holiness, ever increasing, as one comes closer to the sacred object in the centre. Anyone who pursues holiness must be aware that he or she must pass through a progression of levels, with increasing awe and increasing danger as one comes close to the sacred." Attempting to proceed further than one's clearance results in removal; ultimately, as Nabad and Abihu found to their cost, removal from this world (Vayikra 10:1-3).
It is important in these days when almost everything sacred has been pulled down to be secular or profane (or both), that we recognise again that the concept of holiness that stands at the centre of G-d's relationship with His people; we are called to be holy because He is holy (Vayikra 11:44 and 1 Peter 1:15). While emphasising the approachability of G-d, that Yeshua calls us His friends (John 15:15), that we are G-d's children (John 1:12, Romans 8:16), we have often lost sight of G-d's holiness and what it means. The world says either that nothing is holy, or that everything is holy; nothing because there is no god, everything because we are all right and worship the gods of our own making and choosing or none as we please (thus, essentially, worshiping ourselves). Both trivialise G-d, and the concept of holiness. If I have my holiness and you have yours, arrived at by different criteria and often changing over time, then there is no absolute, no holiness beyond what we each choose to observe and, finally, no god other than our own idols. Even entering into relationship with G-d in Messiah has become an ordinary act of the everyday. The ease of "saying the sinner's prayer" and "asking Jesus into your heart" has no awe or majesty to it; it is not undertaken in fear and trembling, awestruck before a holy G-d who has extended His grace to mankind. Make no mistake, we must not put obstacles in the path of those coming to faith or insist upon a particular pattern, but a sense of proportion might help people to appreciate the significance of becoming a believer.
All three synoptic gospels are very clear that the parochet or curtain was torn apart at the moment that Yeshua died on the cross: And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom" (Matthew 27:51, ESV), "And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom" (Mark 15:38, ESV), "And the curtain of the temple was torn in two" (Luke 23:45, ESV), although they differ slightly as to whether this was before or after His last saying and breath. Seeing Yeshua as the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:20), the writer to the Hebrews speaks about "the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh" (Hebrews 10:20, ESV). By His death, by means of His sacrifice, Yeshua opened the curtain - the barrier that we could not cross, into the presence of G-d - and the physical curtain hanging between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies in the Temple of the day was physically torn asunder as a physical sign of what has happened in the spiritual realm.
Yet we dare not go into G-d's presence empty handed. Whenever the serving high priest entered the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle or the Temple, he took incense and the blood of the goat of the sin-offering to sprinkle before the Ark (Vayikra 16:15). When Yeshua entered the heavenly sanctuary, "He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood" (Hebrew 9:12, ESV). What then shall we do? The answer for us is the same: "we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Yeshua" (10:19, ESV); we can "with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (4:16, ESV). The confidence gives us great hope and faith - faith being the "the conviction of things not seen" (11:1, NASB) - that holds us fast whatever the world may throw at us, because "this hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil" (6:19, NASB). The singular "It is finished" (John 19:30) that Yeshua said on the cross has become the plural "we have confidence" because in Yeshua the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies has been opened for all those who come to G-d in Him.
In the last days there will again be a time of separation. Matthew in particular records Yeshua telling a number of parables where this is shown, for example: the sheep and the goats (25:31-46), the wheat and the tares (13:24-30), the dragnet (13:47-50) and the men in the field and women at the mill (24:40-41), between those who are in relationship with G-d and those who are not. The holy will be separated from the profane, when G-d's holy people will be drawn into the full holiness of His presence. We who have been set apart from the world by accepting G-d's offer of reconciliation and the invitation to be a part of His kingdom need to live as members of the kingdom now, so that we are ready for that separation. Yeshua spoke of this to the disciples, that they were "in the world" (John 17:11), but not "of the world" (v.14) in the same way that He is not of the world. This 'in' but not 'of' status comes when we enter the kingdom: we are transferred from the kingdom of the world into the kingdom of G-d; our legal status changes, we get a new passport and ID card, while remaining physically located 'in' this life. That change of state needs to be worked out in our lives each day as we adjust to our new-found status in relationship with the King of the Universe and lose the habits and attitudes of our previous life in the world. This is a challenge for each of us.
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 3:12-18
Application: Are you separated from the world, or are you consumed with the cloy of this world's pleasures, pursuits and pressures? Do you know the peace of being set apart for G-d and so released from the uncertainties and striving of the world's daily grind? Think on these things and seek peace.
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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