In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.
Note: This is a double Torah portion. To learn more about double Torah portions, read here.
Joseph Shulam: We Are to be Holy Like He is Holy 
The reading this week is a double portion. We read the Torah portion Acharei Mot, from Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30. The reading from the prophets has a double tradition. Some read from the prophets Amos 9:7-15, and others read from Ezekiel 22:1-16, and from the New Testament the reading is from the book of Hebrews 9:11-28.
The tradition on this date of reading a double portion adds the next and especially important portion of Kedoshim (the Saints) reading from Leviticus 19:1 – 20:27, and Ezekiel 20:2-20, and 1 Peter 1:13-16.
As you can see, dear brothers, when we have a double portion for reading – there is much reading. The original purpose for the Sabbath meeting in the Synagogues was the reading of the Word of God.
We see this reflected in the book of Acts:
“…but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” – Acts: 15:20,21 [NKJV]
I do not have the words to express how important this is for all disciples of Yeshua. The disciples are recommended by the apostles, including Paul, to go to the synagogue and hear the Word of God read every Sabbath.
Of course, the reason is simple. People didn’t have a bible in their home, or on their smartphones and to hear the Word of God being read they had to go to the public place, where the Word of God was being read every Sabbath day.
This is the source of the tradition of reading from the Torah, and the Prophets, and we have added, from the New Testament. The most important source of information and of an understanding of God and Yeshua and of our faith is the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation. Therefore we at Netivyah and in the Roeh Israel Congregation put much emphasis on the reading of the Word of God, from the Torah, the Prophets, and from the New Testament.
The degree of ignorance of God’s Word in most Christian circles is dangerous. The danger is simple, preachers and pastors and even Messianic rabbis, often use the Word of God to enhance and sell their programs and projects and they use the Scriptures to teach or motivate the people according to their views or needs.
So, if the people who fill the churches know the Word of God they can at least “not fall into a trap that is being spread for them.”
If you were given a medication that you did not know much about it, what would you do before you put the pill in your mouth? You would read the leaflet that is inside the medication box to find out what you are going to put into your mouth.
I would like to concentrate on one of the most important and most elusive commandments that is found both in the Torah of Moses and in the teaching of the apostles. It sounds simple to be holy like God is holy, but when you try to put this “simple” commandment into practice you face the difficulty, of how, when, and what it takes to be holy like God is Holy.
Here are some ideas and suggestions that ought to make this elusive commandment better understood and easier to put to practice.
First, this commandment ought to not be a surprise for us. The same commandment and commission is found in Exodus:
“And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:6 [NKJV]
Normally we humans try to form God in our own image with our own weaknesses and inclinations. In Leviticus 19, the Lord wants us to transform ourselves to be more like Him.
“Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’” – Leviticus 19:2 [NKJV]
We are to be Holy like He is Holy.
The question is always “How can we do this?” “What do we have to do in order to be Holy?” Here is the genius of the Biblical texts. The Holy Spirit knew that we would have a hard time to understand the “how.”
Therefore, immediately after the command comes the instruction of how to do it, both what not to do and what to do is given to us right up front.
Please read the whole chapter 19 of Leviticus to get the full picture of what you ought to do and what you ought not do to be Holy like God is Holy.
“‘Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father and keep My Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God.’” – Leviticus 19:3 [NKJV]
If you want to be Holy you start at home. You revere, honor, respect, and serve, your father and your mother. Yes, all the way to their last day! The authority and obligation to father and mother does not run down when they get old and difficult.
Together with the respect to your father and mother – there is the respect to your own self. The keeping of the Sabbath is not a punishment from God it is a gift from God to give your life a rhythm of work and rest. Stress and relaxation.
The Sabbath is to bring some order into the human life and to know when to turn the switch of busy on and off. One of the reasons why people in the West suffer from marriage problems that often end in divorce is because they don’t know how important it is for the parents to dedicate at least one day, one evening, strictly for the family, the wife and the children.
No business doing, no work, no shopping, no cooking by the mother, prepare everything on Thursday and Friday so that you can give your husband and your children total attention.
Every family must have a time to give 100 percent attention to their wife and children. To have a significant dinner with the whole family and talk with the family about God’s Word and God’s place in the family life.
“‘Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods: I am the Lord your God.’” – Leviticus 19:4 [NKJV]
The Lord is a jealous God and He will not stay in your life if you worship idols. You might say to yourself “I don’t worship idols, I go to church every week.” You ought to know that anything that is more important to you than the Lord is your idol.
Remember that the Lord said to His apostles that if they love father and mother and family more than they love Him they are not worthy of Him.
“‘And if you offer a sacrifice of a peace offering to the Lord, you shall offer it of your own free will.’” – Leviticus 19:5 [NKJV]
This command is one of the most abused commands both in synagogues and churches today. When we do the right thing it has to be with only one motivation, “To do the will of God from our heart and without any ulterior motives, like to become prosperous, or gain favor with the church, or to be praised by men.”
Please read the rest of the chapter and notice that the command that is repeated several times in the New Testament comes from this portion of the Torah:
“‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.’” – Leviticus 19:18 [NKJV]
To be Holy is not out of our reach it is like all of God’s commandments doable and reachable. It just takes a few not so complicated things that we need to do and a few not so hard things to stop doing. Don’t despair, try to do each one of the commands one by one.
If it is too late to do some of these commandments because your father and your mother are no longer with you, there is always the opportunity to repent and ask forgiveness and teach your children the importance to honor you and respect you and serve you when you get old.
Joseph Shulam: The Issue of Atonement 
The reading for this next Shabbat is from Leviticus chapter 16:1 – 18:30, and from the prophets from 1 Samuel 20:18-42. From the New Testament we read from Matthew 15:10-20.
The reading of Leviticus chapter 16 is the rules for the celebration of the day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. This day had the most unusual ceremony in the Torah. It has the story of the scapegoat.
The scapegoat is the only sacrifice that is not offered on the altar in the Temple of the Lord. It is released into the wilderness. The Day of Atonement is a day in which we are commanded to afflict our souls, and it is interpreted as fasting from food, drink, and any other pleasure of the flesh.
This atonement is not for our private sins as individuals. The atonement on the Day of Atonement is for the national, collective sins of Israel.
The scapegoat is loaded by the high priest of Israel with the sins of Israel, by the laying on of hands on the head of the goat, and confessing the sins of the nation. Then the scapegoat is released in the wilderness and there this scapegoat dies, and the sins of Israel are taken with this goat in the wilderness.
A part of this ceremony in the time of the Temple in Jerusalem was to cut a crimson ribbon into two parts. Half of the ribbon was tied on the gate of the Temple in Jerusalem. The second half of the crimson ribbon was tied on the horns of the goat.
When the goat died in the wilderness, the crimson ribbon that was tied to the gate of the Temple would turn white. As the text in Isaiah chapter 1:18 says:
“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’”
In the year 30 AD, there was a change in the proceedings of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is what the Talmud said concerning these events in Jerusalem. (The Talmud is a rabbinical collection of discussions concerning the Torah. These discussions are records of what was happening from the 3rd century BC until the 4th century AD.)
In two Talmudic tractates we have the discussion of what happened in the Temple in the year 30 AD – 40 years before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Here is a quotation from Babylonian Talmud Tractate Rosh Hashana 31b:
“After the destruction of the Temple, Rabban Yohanan b. Zakkai made the rule ‘…during the forty-year period in which he “taught,” by that time, the crimson thread already had ceased changing color.’”
The second reference is from Babylonian Talmud Tractate Yoma 39a.
In other words, we have a witness in the rabbinical literature – a witness that is contemporary with the Apostolic era, that says that in the year 30, 40 years before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, some of the main functions that have to do with the Day of Atonement have ceased to function, and the crimson ribbon (thread) stopped turning white as it was doing years before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.
Something happened in the year 30 AD that changed the fundamental way that the Temple functioned before 30 AD. The signal that noted when the atonement had actually happened by turning from crimson to white – stopped functioning.
This is significant, dear brothers and sisters. It is a witness that major changes have taken place in the relationship of Israel to the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, one generation – 40 years – before the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The people of Israel are still alive and they are still the chosen people of God, but the issue of atonement by animal sacrifices is mute!
Leviticus 16:1-18:30 is what every synagogue in the world will be reading this Shabbat. Why don’t you join with the Jewish nation and with us and read the same texts?
This will help you identify with Israel and learn more every year from the word of God, from the Torah, the prophets, and the New Covenant that was given by the Creator of the world to Israel, and all the people from the nations (Gentiles) that have joined with Israel through the sacrifice of the Messiah (see Ephesians 2:11-14).
Joseph Shulam: The Two Rules 
This Shabbat the reading of the Torah is from Leviticus chapter 19:1-20:27, and the reading from the Prophets is: Ashkenazi – Amos 9:7-15, Sephardic – Ezekiel 20, Yemenites read Ezekiel 20:1-15. We read from the New Testament Mark 12:28-34.
This portion of the Torah reading for me is one of the most important from the whole Torah. The reason is very simple. Parashat Kedoshim is the only place in the whole Bible that actually tells us what in practical terms means for us to be holy . We are commanded to be holy in Leviticus 19:1-2. This command is repeated in the following places in God’s Word:
Leviticus 11:44,45; 20:7, 26; 21:8; Exodus 19:6; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 1:15,16; Numbers 15:40; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; Hebrews 12:10. The repetition of the command to be holy, like God is holy, is an indication of the importance of this command.
The only problem is that most of us are not being taught practically of what it means to be holy, and how in practice one can be holy and practice holiness. So, this command, to be holy like the Lord is holy, is for most Christians a very frustrating command.
We are commanded to be like God, holy! In most cases, we are not given practical ideas and commands that take this big command and break it down to practical things that we can do and practice to make this command something that we can do.
Here comes the simple Jewish understanding of the biblical texts: The principle is that you state a rule and then give the detailed practical principles in order to live up to the rule. In law practice this is a well-known principle: you state the rule and immediately give the breaking down of the rule into smaller practical steps that will help you fulfill and keep the rule.
This is exactly what we have here in chapter 19 of Leviticus. So, what do we have in chapter 19 of Leviticus? We have the principle: be holy because I the Lord am holy . God is saying, “Be like Me!” This is what God expects from His children. Yeshua commands His disciples to follow Him, “Take up your cross and follow me!”
Immediately after the statement of the principle (be holy!) comes a list of practical principles that can be easily or not so easily practiced not on the heavenly level, but on the down-to-earth level. Here is the practical outcome of how to be holy like God is holy:
“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:11,12
“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:13,14
“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:15,16
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:17,18
“You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.” – Leviticus 19:19
In the New Testament we have a very similar tactical approach. The Apostle Paul states the principle from 2 Corinthians 6:14-15:
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” – 2 Corinthians 6:14-15
This is the main principle. From here on we have the practical details of how not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers.”
- Do not become partners with lawlessness people.
- There is no room to make partnership of light with darkness. Just like the Messiah has nothing in common with Satan.
- You cannot mix the temple of God with idols.
The proof of the rightness of these principles is in the verse:
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – 2 Corinthians 6:16b (taken from Ezekiel 36:28)
The most important statement and verse in the whole Torah is:
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:18
Most often only half of the verse is quoted. The context of this verse if of great importance. If you want to be holy like God is holy “you shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
Yeshua quoted this verse together with the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4,5) in Matthew 22:37-40:
“And he said to him [the young lawyer who asked him the question], ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” – Matthew 22:37-40
The Apostle Paul repeats the same two principles like Yeshua. Paul says in Romans 13:9,10,
“For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” – Romans 13:9,10
Yeshua and Paul followed one of the great rabbis and president of the Sanhedrin that preceded Yeshua’s Ministry, Hillel the Elder, who put these two verses from the Torah and said that these two verses are a summary of the whole Torah (Law) and the Prophets. Both Paul and Yeshua hold the ruling of this top Rabbi of the Pharisees as an important principle that is the summary of the Torah.
We all need to measure ourselves on this matrix between our attitude toward the Lord – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (might),” “and love your neighbor as yourself.” This simplification of the Torah into two rules is not making the Torah easier, it is making the Torah much harder to keep.
These two rules are really the matrix of all that our Lord and our Messiah is expecting from us. However, to keep these two rules – we have to keep much of the details of both the light and heavy demands that the Lord makes of us, when we love Him and love our neighbors as ourselves. Let us strive hard to keep at least these two key commands of the Torah, our Lord and Messiah, and the apostles.
Joseph Shulam: Salvation From Outside the Camp 
The reading of the Torah tomorrow is a double portion. All the synagogues in the world will be reading from the book of Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30 and Leviticus 19:1 – 20:30. These chapters are some of the most important chapters in the Torah (Law of Moses) for the understanding of Yeshua and the whole concept of atonement.
We need to understand the “scapegoat” of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) and the function that the “scapegoat” as the sacrifice that carries the sins of all of Israel. This article is too short to be able to enter into the detail of these issues. However, the writer of the book of Hebrews sees Yeshua as the Yom Kippur “scapegoat”:
“Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” – Hebrews 13:12-16
The Hebrew writer is actually calling upon the brothers in the first century to take example from two important sacrifices that were offered not on the altar in the Temple but outside the gates of the city, the Red Heifer, and the scapegoat.
The conclusion is that we too have to go outside the city, because only outside the camp (outside the consensus today) is where we can bear the reproach of the Messiah and bring salvation to the people inside. He also reminds the reader not to forget to do good and to share (I think he means physical means) which is the kind of sacrifices that please God.
I am now watching Israeli Television and a program about the Torah portion and that has in it from Leviticus chapter 19, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” and an Orthodox Jewish professor is speaking about Yeshua and His teaching on the two principles, “Love the Lord your God…” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This Orthodox Jewish professor is saying that Yeshua actually showed what it really means to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There are things happening in Israel and among the Jewish community. Every Jew does not see Yeshua as the enemy or as a false prophet or a false Messiah.
The image of Yeshua is going through a transition in the Jewish community, and His teaching is reevaluated in light of the time and history of the first century in the land of Israel. You need to pray for Israel and for the Jewish Community and salvation. You ought to know that the nation of Israel will never receive Christianity from Christians. Israel will receive Yeshua from inside, from within the very soul and spirit of Israel.
Joseph Shulam: Yeshua is the Scapegoat 
This coming Sabbath all the synagogues in the world, and some churches, will be reading a double portion of the Torah. The reading is from Leviticus chapter 16:1 – 20:27. Some of the most significant statements that have changed humanity come from this text of Leviticus.
Among the more famous statements there is “You Should Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.” However, I would like to share with you another text that is from this portion. In chapter 16 we read about this very special sacrifice of the scapegoat. The normal sacrifices are offered on the altar, after they are killed and skinned and prepared for the offering.
The scapegoat is brought to the desert, a desolate place, and there it finds it’s death. The high priest lays hands on the head of the scapegoat and confesses the sins of Israel, and after that it is taken to the desert and released, taking the collective sins of the people, and atones for these sins.
The medieval commentator of the Bible, Abraham Eben Ezrah, gives us a very interesting clue to the secret meaning of the scapegoat and its significance. Eben Ezrah comments on Leviticus 16:6-10 and says:
“You will know the secret of the Azazel [the scapegoat] when you are 33 years old.”
This is a very curious statement by Abraham Eben Ezrah who, generally speaking, is a very rational commentator and tries to stick to the plain meaning of the text.
Nachmanides, or the way he is pronounced in Hebrew, Ramban, writes in his commentary on the same passage that Rabbi Abraham Eben Ezrah was trying to hide the secret and he, the Ramban (not Rambam – who is Maimonides) will reveal Eben Ezrah’s secret.
So, Ramban, or Nachmanides in English, tells us that the secret is in the one who lived 33 years, and that is Esau. However, when Jewish rabbis in the so-called Christian Europe during the Medieval Period wanted to talk about Jesus and the Church in Rome, they had to use code words.
The code for Jesus was Esau and the code for the Roman Church was Edom. Why did they choose the word Esau as a code for Jesus? The reason is simple: Esua in Hebrew has the same letters as Yeshua without the “Y” and since Jesus (Yeshua) is counted to be the father of the church then the church is Edom, the nation of Esau.
Rabbi Abraham Eben Ezrah does not want to write these thing in a clear way so he says that it is a secret, a mystery. Ramban comes after him and says,
“I will tell you what Rabbi Abraham Eben Ezrah really meant to say by mentioning ‘33 years old’ – it is Esau (Yeshua).”
A few verses further Ramban says:
“I better stop speaking about this so that I will not give weapons against us to our enemies.”
The concept that is presented by Ramban here, in the name of Rabbi Abraham Eben Ezrah, is based on an ancient homily (midrash) that says that the scapegoat was actually offered to Azazel (who is Samael – i.e. the devil) in order to appease him, so that he will not torment Israel. This idea is totally rejected by Rashi, another and later great Bible commentator.
Here are some interesting points that we need to look into when we study the whole ceremony and practice of Yom HaKippurim (The Day of Atonement):
We see a sacrifice that is not offered on the altar, and it takes away and atones for the sins of Israel. There is no blood shed on the altar, and yet there is atonement of sins accomplished by the scapegoat sent to the wilderness.
The Talmud deals with this issue when it tells the story of what happened in the year 30 A.D., in the Jerusalem Temple. It is recorded that from the year 30 A.D., until the year 70 A.D., when the Temple was destroyed by Rome, that the symbol of atonement was a red ribbon that was supposed to turn white when God accepted the atonement of the scapegoat.
From the year 30 A.D., the red ribbon never turned white, up until the Temple was destroyed. The same Talmudic passage gives three more indications that the service in the Temple stopped functioning normally for 40 years before the destruction. The reference in the Babylonian Talmud is Page 39 a and b.
It is clear from Rabbi Abraham Eben Ezrah’s comments that there was a different attitude among the Jewish Community in Spain between Yeshua and the Roman Church, which was the only form of Christianity that these people knew or could know. I think that the biggest challenge for the Christian denominations and Church establishments is to separate the human and pagan traditions that are a part of Christianity, and the anti-Jewish and sectarian dogmas that are anti-Biblical, from the person and the teaching of Yeshua.
Yeshua (Jesus) is the greatest scapegoat of all of human history. He is the ultimate and the extreme Jew of history. Yeshua is the scapegoat – we cast Him out into the wilderness of the Gentiles and He carried our sins, but He is coming back to us.
It would be good for you to read together with all of Israel the Torah portion every week, but specially this week’s portion from Leviticus chapter 16:1- 20:27. You will find very important texts in these chapters.
These texts are the basis of the moral keystones of our culture. Things like the concepts of atonement, holiness, purity, and loving of our fellow man are all found in these chapters. I believe that reading the Torah will change the negative attitude toward the whole word of God, and clean up what was planted so deeply by the tradition. Pray for Israel this week when the reading of this text about the scapegoat will be read in every synagogue around the world.
Yehuda Bachana: Being a Good Person is Only Half of the Job 
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
This Shabbat we study the weekly Torah portion Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. In it we learn about Yom Kippur, the holiest and most important day in Judaism.
During this holiday, the entire nation, and in fact, most Jews scattered around the world, join together in fasting and prayer. This is a day of national repentance and forgiveness, in which every person searches out his own life and thinks of who he might have hurt. We ask for forgiveness, and in return, we forgive others who have wronged us.
On Yom Kippur, the priest would enter into the innermost room, the Holy of Holies. Throughout the rest of the year, entrance was forbidden, and only on this particular occasion would the priest enter as part of his service to of God.
A Very Rich Torah Portion
In this portion we also learn about the concept of holiness. The following famous saying appears in our parasha:
“…Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” – Leviticus 19:2b [NIV]
As a result of this holy requirement, we have a rather immense collection of commandments that God requires of us.
A key verse upon which the entire Torah hinges also appears in our parasha:
“…love your neighbor as yourself…” – Leviticus 19:18b [NIV]
Both Yeshua and Paul quoted this verse as a summary of the entire Torah. By the way, this commandment is one of 50 commandments that are part of God’s requirement for us to be holy.
In addition, this week, together with all of Israel, we celebrated Israel’s 70th year of Independence. When I look at the State of Israel, I am moved by the enormity and intensity of the miracle that God has performed in our time, right before our eyes. God has gathered us from the four corners of the earth and re-established the State of Israel as a fulfillment of all the prophecies.
What are Laws and Decrees, and How Do We Live by Them?
As you can see, our parasha is extremely rich and can be studied again and again, each time providing new insights. However, the verses that caught my attention in particular from this week are the following:
“You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 18:4,5 [NIV]
In the Bible there are other similar verses with the same meaning, for example:
“I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, by which the person who obeys them will live.” – Ezekiel 20:11 [NIV]
Today, I want to discuss two questions: What are the decrees and laws that we are to keep and obey? Second, what does it truly meant to live and abide by them?
Two Types of Commandments
Let us begin by discussing what exactly these laws and decrees are. The Jewish Sages interpret them quite interestingly. The terms, “decrees” and “laws” denote two types of commandments in the Bible.
The difference between them is that laws are notions that are described in the Torah. Meaning that their benefits are known and their usefulness is evident. They can be called common sense commandments, and they include civil law and moral precepts, such as the prohibition against murder, bearing false witness, and so forth.
“Decrees,” are the commandments whose rationale is unknown. They include the ritual commandments and the obligations between man and God. This includes commandments that have no point in civil law, such as observing the Sabbath.
These two terms, “decrees and laws,” appear together in the Bible about 20 times. It would be logical to say that these two sets of commandments complement one another, and together deal with the relationship between man and his fellow man, and between man and God.
The laws, which are like civil laws, are intended to introduce moral quality into life, so that we can live correct and proper lives in our society, between man and his fellow man. The laws are intended to grant a person holiness and closeness to God.
Can’t I Just be a Good Person?
One of the questions that always arises in every religious discussion is the following: If there’s a person who does good, who seeks to help people, isn’t that enough? The answer is simple – he only fulfills half of the work.
He keeps the laws, but what about the decrees that sanctify people and bring them closer to God? You cannot separate the two, the decrees and laws go together.
What grants a person sanctification? Our parasha sets forth the requirements for us humans to obey: It is forbidden to steal, to lie, we are required to save a person in danger, one must judge with justice, we are obligated to observe the Sabbath day, as well as 50 additional commandments. Most importantly, we must love our neighbor as ourselves.
How Then Should We Live?
Now, I would like to move on to what it means to live by these decrees and commandments. I found that there are three ways to understand this concept.
Let’s remember the verses:
“You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 18:4,5 [NIV]
The prophet Ezekiel also refers to these verses in Ezekiel 20:11.
The first step in understanding this complex concept, is that a person’s life will be according to the word of God. The decrees and the laws, commandments, restrictions, and the requirements of God should be at the top of his priorities.
His life should be based on scripture, and his life conducted around the decrees and laws. More or less, these are the boundaries created by God, and man must live within this framework.
The idea is that nothing can break through these boundaries, this is a legalistic approach.
The second way is to understand that life is the goal behind them. God presents us with the formula for a good, healthy, efficient, and correct life. If a person lives according to the way God presents, he will be considered a good person.
If there are commandments or situations that clash with morality, courtesy, life, or the value of life. Preserving life is above all the commandments, and it is possible and necessary to desecrate all of them in order to save lives.
From this, if there is a clash between “pikuach nefesh” (the preservation of human life) and the commandments, then the sanctity of life is more important, because God’s emphasis is that commandments are given to man so that he can live.
The third way to look at this concept is in accordance with its context. God is speaking about the people who lived in the land before the nation of Israel, and they did not maintain a correct and proper lifestyle, on the contrary, they corrupted and defiled the land.
God warns the people, if you want to live in the land, the people, throughout its generations, have to follow these decrees and laws. It is about the continuity of the people and the family, to pass on to future generations, so that they can live on and on in the Land of Israel.
Today, we are in the middle of the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel, but we must not forget who brought us back here, who blessed us, and thanks to Him this country was established. Further, if we want to live here for generations, we must return and keep the decrees and laws of God.
May we all have a peaceful Shabbat, and a happy birthday to the State of Israel.