Every now and again we run across a Torah portion that just doesn’t seem applicable any more. While most people who have begun the process to “come out of” a church that denies the eternal Truth of His Word – that not one word has been “done away with” so long as heaven and earth abide, and that He does not change – sometimes we still seem to struggle with the relevance of a section that clearly just applies to someone ELSE, and another time.
Parsha “Emor”, from Leviticus chapters 21 through 24 seems to be a prime example. Most of us are not Levites, or priests, and neither the tabernacle nor the temple currently exists. What difference does it make to us, then, why, or particularly how, they were to be “set-apart” (“qadosh,” or “holy”) – “because I AM set apart”?
This author contends that the more tempted we are to ignore something in Scripture, the more we should recognize that there’s a lesson in there, perhaps all the more important because we are NOT paying attention. At the very least, He wrote it down for us for a reason, and it might very well be that the reason it does NOT seem important is precisely because we aren’t learning the lesson.
Leviticus chapter 21 is all about the priests who are the “sons of Aaron.” They are to be “set apart,” and literally live according to a higher standard than people who do not come into the presence of YHVH, and perform His special tasks. They are specifically limited in their choice of wives, must not be maimed, blind, mutilated, or even physically blemished, and are not to be “defiled” in any number of ways – particularly when it comes to contact with death. Why?
I will suggest that at least PART of the answer lies in that last qualifier – although Scripture puts it first. At the end of the discussion (Lev. 22:31), YHVH again states what we SHOULD by now know: “You shall keep My Commandments (“mitzvoti”) and DO them,” followed by His “signature” – “I AM YHVH!” The very next verse reminds us that we are to honor, not profane, His Set-Apart Name. Not so much by worrying about whether or how to pronounce it properly, but recognizing His character as His Word demonstrates, and honoring Him no less than we would a father, Who is also a King.
And a bit more evidence surfaces in the repetition of His appointed times in the chapter which immediately follows: “…these are My appointed seasons!” Note that He never calls them “Jewish feasts,” and they’re certainly not claimed by modern Xtianity, but always uses the first-person specific; “These are MY appointed times,” you are to “keep My moedim”, and it’s “forever,” “throughout your generations,” and in all your dwelling places, too. Yes, by now we should understand that nowhere in Scripture does He EVER change His set-apart times, His Sabbaths, or tell us that they’re no longer applicable. But there seems to be more to it, in THIS context, this time, in this place in Scripture.
Even the repeating patterns of numbers in the dates seem to make the point!
Notice that He starts, this time as in so many other reminders, with His Sabbath, which repeats every seven days, just as He told us was the pattern of His creation. As an exercise, just COUNT how many times in Lev. 23 two specific numbers – 7 and 1 – show up. And how many multiples of seven we see as well!
So much about His set-apart times serve to teach and remind us of His work, His plan, and His instruction…from the completed action of creation and deliverance from bondage, to lessons of forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation. His act of creation “ex nihilo” — from nothing – involved separating light from darkness, and then breathing life into lifelesness. And while He then ‘rested’ on the seventh day of creation, another understanding of that rest might be to appreciate, or to interact with His completed work. It’s all about life, and having it “more abundantly” through Him.
His Sabbaths and appointed times have been described as having been set apart in TIME to meet with us, while the mishkan (tabernacle) and temple were physical SPACES inside this creation set aside to meet with us, even to dwell among us.
Doesn’t it make sense that those who were set apart to be priests for Him, and to enter into those places in both space and in time where YHVH put His Name would need to be as set apart from death as humanly possible as well? No wonder the “higher standard” that Leviticus 22 speaks of would so emphasize separation from everything having to do with death. It’s about LIFE.
What can we learn from these verses in a world which now all too often does the opposite? A world which denies His Name, “chooses that in which He does not delight,” and morbidly worships death?
Ezekiel 44 completes the story. Israel went astray from Yah (verses 10-13) because their priests “ministered unto them before their idols.” Then, as now, it is vital that we are taught, “the difference between the holy and profane, and …discern between the unclean and the clean.”
If we believe that it is possible one day to be priests and kings for Him, of the “order of Melchizedek,” isn’t it important that we understand what priests are supposed to teach?
Ultimately, the lesson remains that we are to choose between life and death, and know how to make that choice.
“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live…” (Deut. 30:19)