week we begin reading a new book in the Torah, the book of Leviticus. I
know when everyone thinks about the book of Leviticus what probably
immediately comes to mind are the verses, “…You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) as well as the verse, “…Proclaim liberty throughout the Land.” (Lev. 25:10) Am
I right? Okay, maybe those aren’t the first thoughts we think about.
But I believe they should be. The book of Leviticus is found in the
center of the Torah because it describes the heart of the Torah; namely,
how to draw close and remain close to God. The previous two books in
the Torah are given to set the stage for this book. In many Jewish
religious schools, the book of Leviticus is the starting point from
where all young children begin to study Torah. What is the great
significance found in Leviticus that would cause even young children to
start their education with this book?
The answer is found in Vayikra Rabbah (The Great Leviticus) 7:3. It is written, “Children are pure; therefore let them study laws of purity” Leviticus is the book which instructs one in the way of holiness. In fact, the word “Holy” which is “Kadosh” in Hebrew is used extensively throughout the book, being translated as “holy, sanctified, separate, consecrated, etc…” In Deuteronomy 6 it says, “…These words which I command you today shall be in your heart.” What are those words? The Words of Torah, where it is commanded, 3 different times in Leviticus, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” The laws of Torah are given specifically for this reason, for a people-collectively and people-individually, to become holy and separate unto/for God.
Before I get deeper into the ideas found in Leviticus and more specifically the lessons found in this portion, I wanted to talk about the name Leviticus. When I began searching for the exact definition of Leviticus, all the websites that came up were baby name sites. Now, I’m not sure who would name their baby “Leviticus,” but the word itself is of Greek origin, from the word “Leuitikon biblion,” which literally means“the book pertaining to the Levites.” The problem with this title however, is that, the Levites are mentioned in only one section of the entire book. (Leviticus 25:32-34) How can this be a book for the Levites when the whole book says almost nothing concerning the Levites?
In Jewish and Rabbinic sources, this book is referred to as “Torat Kohanim—Commands/ Laws concerning the Priests.” This is a better title, because we do read of numerous instructions in this book concerning the priesthood of Israel.
Yet, at the same
time, we find many directions given, which don’t pertain to the priests
alone. The book of Leviticus has in fact slightly over 40 percent of
all the laws found in the Torah. What then would be a good name to call
this book of the Bible? In Hebrew, this book is called “Vayikra.” It comes from the first word of this book. “Vayikra el-Moshe—And (He) called to Moses.” If
we read in the previous portion, which was the end of Exodus, Moses has
just set up the Tabernacle and cannot enter the Tent of Meeting because
“…the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” One
of the explanations given for why Leviticus-Vayikra starts the way it
does, is that, God is calling Moses into the Tabernacle to show him the
procedures for the sacrifices.
However, when we read the Hebrew that starts off this book, “Vayikra el-Moshe—And (He) called to Moses.” The “He” is added into the verse for clarity; meaning, in the Hebrew, it would really say, “And called to Moses.” What called to Moses? I read an interesting idea concerning this verse. The call to Moses was the “call of his calling.” Moses’ calling cried out to him, and then “Daber Hashem Eilav—The Lord spoke to him.” What do we understand from this concept? That there is an order that must take place to find one’s calling and hear from God.
Here is the order. Moses first built a Tabernacle where God could dwell, then he found his calling and only then did the voice of God instruct him concerning his task. This is the order we must apply in our lives as well. First, we must become a tabernacle where God can dwell. Secondly, as we pursue this transformation we will find our calling. Thirdly, when we find our calling, God will instruct us on how to put into action our specific mission and task assigned to us by Him.
What were Moses’ first instructions from God? “Adam Ki-Yakriv Mikem Karban L’Hashem—When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord…” How does this verse connect to Moses’ calling and what can we draw from this for our lives?
There are many ideas and spiritual/physical consequences regarding the necessity and purpose of the sacrifices that were done, but let me explain two quick reasons in order to move forward. The 1st reason…when a sacrifice was done, the person making the offering was to imagine that everything done to the sacrificial animal should have been done to himself/herself. The sacrifice was to shock the senses and make one realize the cost of sin. Not just monetary cost but also the life cost of an animal.
The 2nd reason…was that an animal represents each individuals animal/natural instincts which must be put to death. The sacrifice stirs a person to “crucify the flesh” (This should remind us of some New Testament verses). The physical sacrifice was to be a representation of a heart being transformed.
The reason we read throughout the Prophets, God despising His nation’s sacrifices, is because the heart transformation was lost and it had become a ritual instead. In Amos 5, God says, “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings…But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.” What is God concerned about? Righteousness and Justice. Psalm 89 says that these two attributes are “the foundation of [His] throne.” Notice how many times God says “Your” in the above verse. God had given His people “His festivals and offerings” but the people had turned them into their own.
Proverbs 21 tells us, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination…” This explains that, without repentance, a sacrifice has no purpose. “Teshuvah—Repentance” is not “turning away from sin,” true “Teshuvah—Repentance” means that one “turns to God.”
There is so much we could explore on this topic, but one of the interesting things I want to note on this subject, is one we find if we go back to God’s first instructions to Moses concerning the sacrifices. Leviticus 1:2 says, “Adam Ki-Yakriv Mikem Karban L’Hashem—When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord…” Normally, anytime God speaks of someone bringing an offering to God it uses the terms, “Eesh—Man” or “Nefesh—Soul.” In this verse however it uses the word “Adam—Man.” The word “Adam” can be used to refer to humanity as a whole (This is why the Jewish people say non-Jews can make offerings to God; because of this verse).
But the term “Adam” is also the name of a particular character in the Bible. “Adam HaRishon—The First Man.” Why does it start of the book of Leviticus referring to the sacrifices while also making a hidden hint to Adam, the first man? Because Adam is the reason sacrifices are needed in the first place. The sacrifices are reminders of the relationship broken between God and man in “Gan Eden—the Garden of Eden.” If Adam had not broken relationship with God, the sacrifices would not have been needed. But sacrifices are needed because of mankind’s sin.
How do we reconcile the sacrifices found in Leviticus with the ultimate sacrifice of Yeshua our Messiah? Didn’t Yeshua come and put an end to the sacrifices? Wouldn’t doing sacrifices belittle the sacrifice of Yeshua?
These are all good questions, and they are only scratching the surface. I still wrestle with some of these answers and am always attempting to grow in my understanding of the sacrificial offerings found in the Torah. What we do know however, is stated well by Daniel Lancaster from FFOZ, in his book, “What about the sacrifices?” He writes, “…the Torah explicitly says that the laws regarding the priesthood, the Temple, and the sacrifices are ‘eternal statutes.’” (Highly recommend this book!)
All these laws are eternal statutes. If this is the case, then Yeshua could not abolish “eternal statutes.” But this is not my main point. Too often I hear people use the phrase “Yeshua abolished the sacrifices” as an excuse to not study the sacrificial institution. You cannot say Yeshua abolished something if you don’t understand what He abolished, if He even did? If the sacrifices all point to Yeshua, then don’t you think it would be important to understand the sacrifices? Whether you believe Yeshua abolished them or not?
The sacrifices help us understand what Yeshua accomplished through His suffering and death. Yeshua came to rectify man back to God even as the sacrifices brought man closer to God. Rabbi Daniel Krentzman wrote it best when he said, “The need for the mission of Mashiach ben Yosef (Messiah son of Joseph) came about as result of the sin of Adam. In theory, had Adam not sinned and brought about tremendous spiritual damage to himself and the world, there would not have been a need for the tikun olam (restoration of the world) efforts of Mashiach ben Yosef, in every subsequent generation. Mashiach ben Yosef thus comes to rectify that damage and return mankind to the state of Adam before the sin.” This is what Yeshua came to do and does through us even today.
“Adam HaRishon—The first Man” sinned and brought separation between mankind and God. Romans 5 tells us, “…Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin… through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation …by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.”
Because of this, the second Adam, Yeshua, came to rectify all things back to God. Again Romans 5 tells us, “…By
one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous… even so grace [will]
reign through righteousness to eternal life through Yeshua Messiah our
1 Corinthians comes along and clarifies things even better concerning the work that was accomplished through Yeshua our Messiah, that He might rectify the sin of Adam and his descendants, “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Messiah all shall be made alive…‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. [And] as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.”
What a beautiful promise! We will one day be conformed into the image of the heavenly man, who is, Yeshua our bridegroom! Adam was called to be a covering for his bride Chava, the wife God had given Him. Yeshua did what Adam could not do! Yeshua is the covering for His bride; those who believe and trust in the power of His saving, redemptive sacrifice! Even as Yeshua was a sacrifice, we are also called, in Romans 12, to present ourselves as “…living sacrifice[s], holy, acceptable to God, which is [our] reasonable service.”
There is one last thing I want to share, as this email comes to a close.
In Hebrew, the word “Korban” means “Sacrifice.” If I change the vowels to “Karban,” it can mean “Victim” or it can mean “Gift.” This is the question I believe we all need to ask ourselves. Yes, this is a big topic with many discussions to be had. But the most important thing is this. Do I view my life as a “victim of God” or a “gift to God?” The root word found in Korban/Karban is the word “Karov,” which means “Close or Near.” Are my actions in life, bringing me nearer to God or further away. Because if I am a true sacrifice to the Lord then I should daily be drawing closer to Him.
—Grace and Peace to all,