Our parasha this Shabbat is entitled Tzav, meaning “Give the Command!” and covers Leviticus 6-8.
It opens by describing the steps for restitution when someone has defrauded another over property. This includes finding lost property and lying about it or having something entrusted to you and lying to the owner saying that it was lost or stolen in order to keep it for yourself. The offender must make full restitution and add one fifth of the item’s value. The guilt offering to Adonai cannot be offered until after complete restitution has been made to the rightful owner. The lesson: we must repair our relationships with one another before we presume to come before the Lord. Yeshua confirmed this idea when he said, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering”.
Next is the command that fire be kept burning continually on the altar; it was never to go out. Josephus wrote (and the rabbis confirmed) that during the time of the Second Temple, a special day was appointed for everyone to bring wood to the Temple, so that the supply would never be depleted, in order to keep the fire of the altar going. The lampstand (menorah) that stood in front of the Temple, together with this commandment that fire be kept burning continually on the altar, form the basis for the traditional ner tamid – the perpetual light found above the ark in most synagogues. It reminds us of the days when the Temple still stood, and represents a yearning that it be built once again.
Chapter six and the first part of seven concern burnt offerings, grain offerings, sin offerings and guilt offerings. But in chapter seven we are instructed about the shlamim – peace (or fellowship) offerings. These were especially significant, as they were altogether voluntary. For example, a person might be at peace with God and simply want thank Him for His mercy and kindness. That is where the peace offering came in – given purely from a heart filled with gratitude. Serving the Living God was meant to be so much more than religious obligation.
But it was also a very serious matter – anyone who ate the meat of a peace offering in a state of uncleanness was to be put to death! The most significant of the peace offerings was the thanksgiving offering. If you had been delivered from the attack of an enemy, or were healed of a sickness or had taken a vow during a time of distress and were now safe and sound, you could bring a thanksgiving offering. The rabbis regarded the thanksgiving offering to be of the highest order, declaring that during the Messianic Age, whereas all other sacrifices will have served their purposes, these will continue on.
Peace offerings illustrate how much more is possible than mere minimalist religion. There have always been those who play church – doing the least possible in order to get by, and those who have a vibrant, living relationship with God. In that way, the peace offerings were a good barometer of one’s devotion to the Lord.
Chapter eight describes the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests to Adonai. Their ordination was an elaborate ceremony. There were washings and anointings and ceremonial clothing and the sacrifice of a bull and two rams. Some of the blood of the second ram was put on Aaron’s right ear lobe, his right thumb and the big toe of his right foot. The same was done for his sons. It paints a picture of the need for those who would serve God to have attentive ears, obedient hands and cautious feet. The mind, the will and the ways of a man of God must all be in submission. It puts the lie to the notion that our lives can be compartmentalized. A man’s private life and the public discharge of his duties are not separate, unrelated matters. The whole person must be consecrated to God. This ought to be true for all of us who are “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.
Let me close with this thought: because so often I myself have failed to give God my very best, and so often fallen for the lie of compartmentalization, I find great comfort in this idea that all along God provided sin offerings and guilt offerings, peace offerings and thanksgiving offerings; so that a man might have atonement for sin, and reconciliation with the Lord; and, beyond that, the invitation to draw near to Him with gratitude.
But the Scriptures are abundantly clear that the sacrifices of bulls, rams and goats could never pay for the sins of Glenn. And so, I am profoundly comforted and grateful for the once-for-all-time sacrifice of the Messiah, the Son of God, Yeshua, who is the true Ner Tamid (eternal light), as John described Him, “whose coming into the world gave light to all mankind”. His righteous death made possible the complete forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with the Father, and secured our place in The World-To-Come.
One day a group of religious Jewish people sought out Yeshua, and asked Him what it was that God wanted them to do. They wanted Him to sum it all up in one, overarching commandment. And He answered them, saying that what God wanted them to do was to believe in the One He sent.
Tzav – “give the command”. Yeshua’s beloved disciple, John, who would later go on to be the great Apostle, wrote: This is (God’s) command, to believe in the name of His Son, Messiah Yeshua, and to love one another (1 John 3:23). The command is given. Will you comply?