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Vayikra/Leviticus 8:14 And he brought forward the bull of the sin offering
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The verb that starts this clause, , is a Hifil prefix 3ms form of the verb in a vav-conversive construct. The root means "to draw or come near, to approach" (Davidson) and would normally have a preposition - such as to, in, on, over - to indicate the target of the movement. In Hifil, however, the causative meaning is "to bring near, to offer or present" and allows the grammar to omit the indirect object, as here. No doubt the animal in question was distinctly uneasy, so that a measure of coercion would be required to bring it forward to the front of the crowd for Aharon and his sons to lay their hands upon it and Moshe to slaughter it. Levine points out that "large cattle were used in sin offerings associated with purification when the entire community and the High Priest, in particular, were affected." This can also be seen at the start of the Yom Kippur ritual where Aharon offers a bull for his own sins and those of his household (cf. Vayikra 16).
Also visible in this verse and the little block that follows is the degree of obedience to the instructions given for this procedure in Shemot 29:10-14, that prescribe how the installation of the High Priest is to be performed. One can see, too, the similarity to the ritual described in Vayikra 4:3-12 to be employed if a priest needs to bring a sin offering. Today Moshe officiates, from tomorrow onwards Aharon and his sons will officiate as the installed and anointed priests. Everything is done according to the instructions, following the pattern set down and ordained by G-d. Nothing is added or omitted; no one deviates from the divine order so that the process may be approved and accepted by G-d. When two of Aharon's sons depart from the plan by their own innovation, as chapter 10 tragically tells us, G-d acts to protect His holiness and preserve the divine initiative and procedure in the sequence of worship and approach to His presence.
These verse, then, are a detailed and intricate record of explicit obedience to G-d's commandments. The Torah takes the time and space to preserve the record because it is important that future generations should understand exactly how things were done. It is all the more surprising to find G-d speaking hundreds of years later through the prophets, in this week's Haftorah portion, concerning this process. "Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Jeremiah 7:21-22, RSV). He didn't? What have we been reading so far in the book of Vayikra if it isn't detailed and explicit commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices? How are we to understand these startling words from Jeremiah - can he really be speaking from G-d? Isn't the precise execution of ritual the focus of G-d's heart? Jeremiah goes on: "But this command I gave them, 'Obey My voice, and I will be your G-d, and you will be my people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may go well with you'" (v. 23, RSV).
We seem to have a contradiction here: either G-d did or did not command the people to obey Him. Perhaps the words of Isaiah, spoken a few years earlier, will help to explain what is going on here. "Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me ... I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me" (Isaiah 1:13-14, NASB). These are strong words from the G-d who established and set up the feasts and new moon rituals in the first place - what is Isaiah saying? The following verse explains: "your hands are covered with blood" (v15, NASB). Not the blood of the sacrifices, but the blood of the sin of the oppressed; "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (v. 16-17, NASB). The remedy to the situation lay entirely in the hands of the people; by changing their behaviour, by observing G-d's commandments, they could bring about restoration. Why? Because the real focus of G-d's commandments was about the behaviour of the people: being compassionate and caring for the disadvantaged, being honest in business and honouring G-d in their conduct and relationships; the sacrificial system only provided a way of covering over sin and atoning for ones mistakes, a mechanism for approaching G-d and confessing shortcomings in a way that expressed their cost or value both to the individual and the community as well as visibly demonstrating G-d's acceptance of the people and the restoration of peace and relationship.
Yeshua goes right of the heart of the matter in one of His late discourses with the Scribes and Pharisees. "Woe to you hypocritical Torah-teachers and P'rushim! You pay your tithes of mint, dill and cumin; but you have neglected the weightier matters of the Torah - justice, mercy, trust. These are things you should have attended to - without neglecting the others! Blind guides! - straining out a gnat, meanwhile swallowing a camel!" (Matthew 23:23-24, CJB). Like all people, the pharisees had become bogged down in the minutiae - the small stuff - so that they had taken their eyes off the larger picture and lost the context in which tithing was to take place. The tithing - and recognising G-d's concern about the small corners of our lives - is not in itself disapproved of by Yeshua; on the contrary, He affirms the Pharisees' details while trying to pull their noses more than half an inch from the brickwork to try and have them see the whole wall and the building to which it belongs.
Further Study: Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; John 13:17
Application: Is your nose too close to the wall to see the larger picture of what G-d wants to do in your life and in the Body of Messiah around you? It is all too easy to become absorbed in our immediate patch of detail and so miss the cries of help, the shouts of blessings, the tears of mourning and shrieks of laughter all around us that HaShem wants us to be a part of. Pull back your nose today, come up for air and ask G-d to show you the larger picture around your life.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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