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Parasha Vayikra (And He Called): A Very Special New Beginning

Vayikra (And He Called)
Leviticus 1:1–5:26; Isaiah 43:21–44:23; Mark 7:1–30;
Shabbat HaChodesh Ezekiel 45:16–46:18;
Maftir Exodus 12:1–20

“The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting.”  (Leviticus 1:1)

Last week, we finished the book of Exodus.

This Shabbat, we begin studying the Book of Leviticus.  In Hebrew, Leviticus is called Vayikra after its opening word וַיִּקְרָא, which means and He called.

This Shabbat is the last of the Four Parashiot that have special Torah readings in preparation for Pesach (Passover), which is only two short weeks away!

It is called Shabbat HaChodesh (החודש שבת Sabbath [of the] month), and a special reading is added from Exodus 12:1–20, which details the laws of Pesach (Passover).

Family Seder

The story of the Exodus is recounted in Jewish homes every year at the Passover Seder (a ritual meal to commemorate God’s redemption of His people from Egypt).

This Sabbath also marks the first of the month (Rosh Chodesh) head of the month of Nissan, which God ordained as the first month of the Biblical calendar.

Nissan was made the first month of the year because it is the month in which the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt, the house of bondage.

In actuality, then, it is a new year.  So in addition to wishing one another a Happy New Year in the seventh month of Tishrei for Jewish people (or January 1st for those who follow the Gregorian calendar), we can wish people Happy New Year again today!

“God said to Moshe and Aharon in the Land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.'”  (Exodus 12:1–2)

Full moon in Israel's Negev Desert

Full moon in Israel’s Negev Desert

The Lunar Calendar

In adopting a lunar-based calendar, Israel made a clean break from Egypt’s solar calendar, which honored the pagan worship of the “sun god.”

One of the first issues that God had the people of Israel deal with just before leaving Egypt regarded the marking of time.

Why did God choose that moment to set the Biblical New Year?

The reason is that only a free person has need of a calendar by which to order his life.  A slave rises, works, sleeps and orders his entire existence according to his or her master’s whims.  Thus, God was saying to His people, “Now you are a free nation and have your own calendar!”

In traditional Judaism, it is believed that just as the month of Nissan ushered in our redemption from bondage in Egypt, so too will the Messiah return this month to bring our eternal redemption.

“In Nisan they were redeemed, and in Nisan they are destined to be redeemed in the future.”  (Rosh ha-Shanah 11a; Mechilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochay 12:42; Tanchuma, Bo 9)

How true that is.  Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) suffered for us in the month of Nissan.  So, too, may we reckon all time beginning at the point of our redemption from sin and death.  Nissan is truly a new beginning for Jew and Gentile.

People have a bite to eat on a restaurant patio in Jaffa, Israel.

People have a bite to eat on a restaurant patio in Jaffa, Israel.

And earlier today (Friday, March 20) this new beginning of the Jewish year has been marked in a big way with a supermoon (a moon that is aligned with the sun and at its closest approach to the earth) that totally eclipsed the sun at 7:41 a.m. UTC (Coordinated Universal Time or 9:41 a.m. in Jerusalem).

That eclipse took place in the North Pole, which has to be the ultimate symbol of the wilderness.  Of course, the wilderness is significant in Judaism because the Torah was given in the wilderness and not in the Land of Israel.

Judaism teaches that the wilderness represents the world, with all its struggles.  Although the Torah was entrusted to the Jewish People, it is not only for the Jewish People.  God sent the Torah in the wilderness to bring light to all who are in darkness and strength to all who reach out to the God of Israel, the Creator of the Universe.

Of course, this solar eclipse, which is so exceedingly rare that it has never before happened in human history, comes in the midst of a Blood Moon Tetrad that has already marked significant events in Israel, and persecution of Christians living in the Muslim world.

The next Blood Moon occurs on Passover, which is just weeks away.  Many followers of Yeshua connect these celestial events to His soon return.

“The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”  (Joel 2:31)

A supermoon appears bigger and brighter when it is a full moon. However, when the supermoon is a new moon, as today, it is not brighter because on the new moon, the moon appears as though it is not in the sky.

A supermoon appears bigger and brighter when it is a full moon.  However, when the supermoon is a new moon, as today, it is not brighter because on the new moon, the moon appears as though it is not in the sky.

The Relevance of Offerings

“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock.  If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD.”  (Leviticus 1:2–3)

The Torah portion, Vayikra, deals with the laws of korbanot (קָרְבָּנוֹת offerings), including the korban olah (קָרְבַּן עוֹלָה) or burnt offerings.

The Hebrew noun olah means goes up because the priest would burn the offerings on the wood on the altar, the aroma would go up to be accepted by the Lord.

The Hebrew word korbanot comes from the root word k-r-v (קרב), which means to be close (karov).  The offerings, once accepted by God, restore closeness and intimacy between Him and His people.

It is our iniquities and sins that separate us from God and prevent us from establishing or maintaining a close relationship with Him.

“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”  (Isaiah 59:2) 

Ewe with a newborn lamb

A korban olah could be a ram, male goat, bull, pigeon or turtle dove.

Although some New Covenant Believers consider the laws in Leviticus to be irrelevant and obsolete, we need to study them in order to grasp this concept of blood sacrifice to atone for sin.  That core concept in God’s plan for redemption helps us rightly understand the sacrificial death of Yeshua the Messiah.

Attempting to understand Yeshua’s death on the Roman execution stake without comprehending these blood sacrifices is like trying to build a house without a foundation.  The home may last for a time but will not withstand the fierce storms without that solid base.

Likewise, we must have a solid foundation in the Word of God to rightly understand the Word of God, as well as successfully navigate through the storms of life.

A Jewish girl holds the Torah scroll, which is covered by a Torah mantle and silver breastplate.

A Jewish girl holds the Torah scroll, which is covered by a Torah mantle and silver breastplate.

For some people, a guilty conscience over past sins causes them to be alienated from God, despite having received forgiveness.  The blood of Yeshua, however, was shed to restore us to right relationship with God and to completely cleanse us of any trace of a guilty conscience:

“How much more will the blood of Messiah who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”  (Hebrews 9:14)

Despite this, some followers of Yeshua still struggle with guilt and condemnation, even though the Word of God promises that those who are in the Messiah are free:

“There is therefore no condemnation to those in Yeshua the Messiah who do not walk in the flesh.”  (Romans 8:1)

This doesn’t mean that we do not have to make restitution to those we wronged.  Yeshua clearly taught that we are to seek out those we have wronged and get right with them before coming to the altar with any offering.  (Matthew 5:23–26; Leviticus 5:16).

Once restitution has been made, then we can apply the blood of Yeshua to the doorposts of our hearts (just as the Israelites applied the blood of the lamb to the doorposts of their homes in Egypt) to be set free from the wages of sin, which is death.

“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”  (Hebrews 10:22)

The pure waters refer to the mikvah, the ritual water immersion, which is symbolic of our new spiritual birth.

An Israeli mikvah (immersion site for ritual cleansing) for men.

An Israeli mikvah (immersion site for ritual cleansing) for men.

Only when our hearts have been cleaned (sprinkled with the blood of Yeshua) and our bodies immersed in the mikvah can we have this assurance of our faith that allows us to draw near to God.

A guilty conscience over our past will separate us from intimacy with God, as well as other Believers in the Body of Messiah.

The above Scripture (Hebrews 10:22) is followed by an exhortation to make sure we continue to meet together with other Believers as the Body of Messiah (Hebrews 10:24–25).  We cannot expect to walk free of sin if we isolate ourselves from those who follow Yeshua.  We need to stay accountable to one another and to exhort one another to live a life of holiness.

Since each of us has been given the ministry of reconciliation, we should be agents of healing and restoration.

Reading the Torah in Israel

Reading the Torah

The Blood of Sprinkling

“He shall slay the young bull before the LORD; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer up the blood and sprinkle the blood around on the altar that is at the doorway of the tent of meeting.”  (Leviticus 1:5)

The cohen not only sprinkled the blood of the sin offering around the altar, he dipped his finger in it and sprinkled it seven times before the Lord, in front of the veil.  (Leviticus 4:17)

Some suggest that, likewise, the blood of Yeshua, who was the High Priest (Cohen HaGadol) of the New Covenant, was also sprinkled before the Lord seven times:

  1. Yeshua sweated drops of blood when He prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane:  “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”   (Luke 22:44)
  2. He was struck in the face until it was “marred beyond recognition.”  (Isaiah 52:14)
  3. His back was scourged with a whip.  (Isaiah 50:6; Matthew 27:26)
  4. The soldiers put a crown of thorns on His head.  (John 19:2)
  5. They plucked out His beard.  (Isaiah 50:6)
  6. They pierced His hands and feet.  (Psalm 22:16; Luke 24:39; John 20:27)
  7. They pierced His side with a spear and blood and water came out.   (Psalm 22:14; Isaiah 53:5; John 19:34)
Yeshua Tempted in the Wilderness, by James Tissot

Yeshua Tempted in the Wilderness, by James Tissot

Satanic Counterfeit

Animal rights activists are likely appalled to read of all the sacrifices that the Torah requires.  Some people, even Christians, are uncomfortable with the whole idea of blood sacrifices.  One of the reasons is our natural human aversion to blood.  Another reason is because of the association with evil satanic rituals.

Satanism observes its own system of blood sacrifices to the powers of darkness.

As well, Satan often attempts to twist and pervert the Word of God, using it for his own evil purposes.  Luke 4 gives us an example of how he did this with Yeshua when He was tested in the wilderness.

Satan misleads by substituting wicked counterfeits for the holy things of God, such as blood sacrifices.

The ritual killing of animals has been practiced by people of various pagan religions to appease their false gods.  Many cultures used animal sacrifice in purification ceremonies.  Some of these include (in addition to the Hebrews): Greeks, Romans, Ancient Egyptians, Aztecs and Yoruba.

Is animal sacrifice still practiced today?  Not currently in Judaism, as the korbanot cannot be offered without the Temple.

However, outside of Judaism, it is practiced.  Followers of Santeria (a religion of Caribbean origin) to this day do offer up some sacrificial animals to cure the sick or give thanks to their god (Orisa) as part of their ritual activities.

There are also some Christians in certain Greek villages who, in a practice called kourbània, sacrifice animals to Orthodox saints.

Carrying the Torah at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Carrying the Torah at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Human Sacrifice

Another Satanic counterfeit to God’s sacrificial system is found in some cultures and religions in which human beings were sacrificed as a way of giving their very best to their god.

In times of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, or volcanic eruptions, which have historically been understood as evidence of their deity’s anger or displeasure, other cultures have offered up human sacrifice in the hopes of appeasing the wrath of their gods.

Even in the West, there is much rumor on the net and the Hollywood scene that a human blood sacrifice will serve to move one into the extremely wealthy club ($20 million+).

Whether or not it is actually practiced as it once was, Satan worshipers and those who worship evil have been performing human blood sacrifice since ancient times, so it is likely that this continues to this very day among his followers within secret communities just outside of mainstream culture.

Judaism, on the other hand, abhors the concept of human sacrifice, because it is abhorrent to Elohim, as it is written: “Never give your children as sacrifices to the god Molech [by burning them alive].  If you do, you are dishonoring the name of your God.  I am the LORD.”  (Leviticus 18:21)

It is for this reason that most Jewish people find it so difficult to believe in Yeshua—human sacrifice has always been associated with paganism and is strictly forbidden.

Men gather to worship God at the Western (Wailing) Wall. On close inspection, at least 20 Torah scrolls are either being carried or are placed on tables in the above photo.

Men gather to worship God at the Western (Wailing) Wall.  On close inspection, at least 20 Torah scrolls are either being carried or are placed on tables in the above photo.

The One True God completely forbade His people from pagan worship customs and especially the practice of human sacrifice:

“You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates.  They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”  (Deuteronomy 12:31)

Knowing that God detests human sacrifice, especially of a son or daughter at the hand of a parent, the Jewish people naturally assume that our God would never allow someone to die a substitutionary death the way animals do.

This is a significant stumbling block to receiving salvation through Yeshua the Messiah for the Jewish People.  However, the ancient prophet Isaiah revealed that long ago Elohim planned to lay all of our sins and iniquities upon the Messiah:

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.  All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”  (Isaiah 53:5–6)

Women pray in the Women's Section of the Western Wall.

Women pray in the Women’s Section of the Western Wall.

God did not intend for His korbanot to be performed by a people who were determined to live lawless lives.

They were never a substitution for living in fellowship with Him and being right-hearted.

Likewise, Yeshua’s sacrifice was meant to restore fellowship with our Father upon a person seeking to draw near to Him, sincerely repenting of their sins, and accepting the sacrifice as a free gift on their behalf.

The blood of the Lamb of God (Yeshua) takes away the sins of those who believe in who He is, what He did, turn from their sin, and follow Him.

God does not delight in the sacrifice but in the right heart of the person who offers it.

All of the Hebrew prophets warned the people that offering sacrifices without accompanying inner morality and goodness would be in vain.

Ultimately, what God requires of each one of us is to practice justice, mercy and humility toward God and man.

“It has been told to you, O man, what is good, and what the LORD does require of you: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”  (Micah 6:8)

And Yeshua, who has set us free from the evil master of sin through His death and resurrection, has given us the power to be just, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

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