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Vayikra/Leviticus 8:24 And he brought near the sons of Aharon and Moshe put from the blood on the tip of their right ear
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Here we are, in the middle of the anointing and installation of Aharon and his four sons - Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Itamar - to serve as priests beforeHaShem. Aharon and his sons have laid their hands on the second ram, the ram of ordination, and it has been slaughtered. The preceding verse tells us that "Moshe took some of its blood and put it on the ridge of Aharon's right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot" (Vayikra 8:23, NJPS). The rest of this verse tells us that the same thing is about to happen to Aharon's sons: "... and put some of the blood on the ridges of their right ears, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet; and the rest of the blood Moses dashed against every side of the altar" (v. 24, NJPS), before the rest of the ram's blood is thrown around the altar.
It is interesting to note that the opening word of our text - , the Hif'il 3ms prefix form of the root , to approach or come near, with a vav-conversive for past tense, narrative step - has been used for Aharon (v. 23), the ram of ordination (v. 22), the ram of burnt offering (v. 18) and Aharon's sons (v. 13). The Hif'il or causative stem has the effect of causing or making the verbal action happen, so here "and he approached" is instead "and he caused to approach" or "and he brought near". In one sense, this is a purely positional move: Moshe calls the person or persons forward towards him from the group of those participating or helping in the ordination process. In another sense, this is a question of focus; Moshe moves the focus from one person, animal or group to another as the ritual proceeds. But in perhaps a more significant way, with each step, Moshe is drawing the actors towards or further into the presence and calling of G-d.
However, what drew my attention to this text while I was considering what HaShem might like us to talk about, was the translation offered for this phrase by the CJB: "Next Aharon's sons were brought, and Moshe put some of the blood on the tips of their right ears". Now, we might argue whether the comma should have been placed after the word 'next' rather than before the word 'and', but that entirely misses the point. Look carefully again at the first word of the Hebrew text, ; from where did David Stern get the word 'next'? The only lexical token that isn't directly part of the verb is the vav at the front. And every Hebrew student knows that vav is usually - well, actually, most frequently when it is present in the English text - translated 'and'. There is, of course, the disjunctive vav, which is rendered as 'but'; 'when' and 'then' are also used (here by ESV, NJB, NKJV and NJPS) together with a less frequent scattering of conjunction-like words. Here, NASB and NIV use 'also'; TLV joins the majority with 'then'.
But the vav is performing another important function here: it is the indicator for the vav-conversive construction. This tells us that the verb is in prefix form and that the prefix pronoun - in this case a yod immediately follows the vav. It also means that the verb is most likely to be translated in the past tense. But this is all syntax; more importantly, vav-conversive has a semantic meaning: it introduces the next step in a series of narrative events. That is why David Stern can translate it is 'next' here; this is the fifth in a series of consecutive - they follow one after the other, not overlapping or in parallel - actions in the flow of the narrative. That got me thinking about the format of many congregational meetings: open in prayer, sing a number of worship songs, have a Bible reading, give the talk or sermon, invite people to respond, offer prayer ministry and, finally, dismiss the congregation. Even the singing of the worship songs is itself a sub-sequence of individual songs chosen by the worship leader and sung one after the other. Did I forget anything? Oh yes, sharing the notices and taking up the collection.
Please understand, I'm not criticising. This is a familiar sequence of events because everybody does it. Liturgical churches have their own variations with blocks of preset words in their proper places. We do this because human beings are sequential people; we find it difficult to do more than one thing at once - even if some of us do pretend to multi-task! In the main, life happens as a series of steps: one thing after another. In fact, most people are so used to the sequence that they get disturbed or upset when the order is altered: having the sermon before the worship, for example. Congregations and ministers sometimes try changing the order, just to keep the people awake, or to emphasise a theme by singing connected songs after the talk to help people respond. All this is very normal; that - or a similar pattern - guide churches, congregations, house-groups, tent-meetings, whatever, up and down the land. The synagogue is no exception. Try doing P'sukei d'Zimra at the end of the service after the Aleinu and see what happens!
What got me thinking, however, about the word 'next', is that there always is a 'next'. There is always something else to do. Usually it is whatever always happens after what you are doing now. Some people always have a cup of tea after they have finished doing the washing up from lunch. Managers schedule their own team-meetings immediately after the Monday morning managers' meeting - not forgetting a quick pause for getting a fresh cup of coffee. It seems as if we are in relentless series of events that happen to us or take up our lives, often without much variation, for days at a time, weeks on end. Come to that, where does it end? We are slaves to the tyranny of 'next', always moving on to the next task as soon as we have finished this one, either because it is what we always do or because something else is clamouring for our attention.
Of course, this phenomenon isn't new; neither is it always bad. The way that the Bible is written - generally as a series of sequential steps, just look at the ordination of the Aharon and his sons that we find in this week's parasha, from one end of Vayikra chapter eight to the other - tells us that life was sequenced over three thousand years ago. HaShem had told Moshe what to do and he did it: "Moshe did as the L-RD commanded him" (Vayikra 8:4, NJPS) ... "Aharon and his sons did all the things that the L-RD had commanded through Moshe" (v. 36, NJPS). Because they followed HaShem's instructions, there was time to do everything, in its place, and it all worked out correctly.
The gospels show us that Yeshua too was always doing next. Matthew and Luke describe one such shabbat. Yeshua starts by arriving at K'far Nachum and hardly has He got there when a Roman army officer comes up and begs healing for his servant (Matthew 8:5-13). Next, He goes to the synagogue and after teaching there casts out an unclean spirit (Luke 4:33-37). Next He goes to Simon Peter's house and heals Simon's mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15, Luke 4:38-39). Next, the minute shabbat is over, there are people from all over to heal (Matthew 8:16-17, Luke 4:40-41). Matthew then has Him crossing over the Sea of Galilee only to be nearly swamped by a storm, "so that waves were sweeping over the boat" (Matthew 8:24), while Luke records Him leaving "when day had come" (Luke 4:42) and then being pursued by the people. Although Yeshua had to get away at times to be quiet and to pray with the Father, He too was following exactly in the Father's footsteps and so - amazingly - He had enough stamina and time to do everything that was needed.
Where do we stand? Today we live in an increasingly busy world, where there is not always a 'next' waiting for us, but several of them queuing up to demand our attention and action. Sometimes we make unwise choices and commit to either more than we can do, or more than is prudent to do for our family or ourselves. The enemy loves to overload us and throw pseudo-important 'next' in our way, to trip us up or wrong-foot us into hasty words or actions. The choice of things to do next are frequently overwhelming and it is easy to get decision fatigue and simply do something at random, almost blindly, just to get past the point where a decision is required. Next, next, next; there is always a next! How do we deal with the constant demands of next?
The first thing to do is to remember what Yeshua said about His disciples: "They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17:16, ESV). How does this work? We were born into this world, surely; we are the flesh and blood of this world - it flows in our veins. No, Yeshua said, "you are not of the world, because I chose you out of the world" (15:19, ESV). Yeshua changed us when we chose to follow Him. Not only did He change our nature - from carnal to spiritual, bringing life where there was death - but He also changed our allegiance and our status. Whereas once we were "slaves of sin" (Romans 6:17, ESV), now we are "slaves of righteousness" (v. 18, ESV). We are no longer subject to the whims and demands of the world, but to the gracious and loving call of heaven. We can see through the tissue of lies, the false sense of priorities, the constant unending stream of 'next' piled up to distract us and keep us permanently busy and exhausted. We can choose to respond to the voice of the Spirit and refuse the demands of the world. Because of this, Yeshua warns His followers, "the world hates you" (John 15:19, ESV).
Secondly, we must live in the good of Yeshua's peace. The first time He saw the disciples after the crucifixion and the resurrection, "Yeshua Himself stood among them, and said to them, 'Peace to you!'" (Luke 24:36, ESV). He gave them His peace; He gives us His peace. Is the world ranting and raging, stamping its feet and demanding your time and your flesh? Yeshua gives you peace if you will but ask Him. He tells those who follow Him that "My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:30, ESV).
Lastly, we have been given the gift of the Ruach, the breath and Spirit of G-d. After Yeshua had talked of peace, "He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:22, ESV). He dwells within us, in our very core being and we must learn to hear His voice whispering deep inside as He tells us the truths of the kingdom of G-d: this one, not that one; slow down, time to rest; don't touch that. The Spirit guides us "into all the truth" (John 16:13), so that "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32, ESV).
Combining all three, if we are to come near to the presence of G-d and walk in the calling He has for our lives, we must accept all three of these truths. Like Moshe and the sons of Aharon, we must position ourselves where Yeshua has put us - beyond the siren calls of the world - and not try to march to the beat of its drum, instead committing to following Yeshua faithfully. We must focus our attention on Yeshua so that we can receive His peace in order to resist the false urgency and lies of the world. We must learn to hear and yield to the voice of the Spirit, drawing us into ever closer communion with our Father and guiding us into His everlasting arms.
Further Study: John 17:13-19; Romans 6:20-22
Application: Do you yearn for a closer relationship with G-d and the ability to resist the constant pressure and onslaught of the world? Know that it is possible and that Yeshua has not only invited you to walk with Him and share His yoke, but promised to walk alongside you and guide your steps in the way. He is faithful and will do it!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2023
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