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.

Joseph Shulam: It Is More Important to Be Biblically Correct Than Politically Correct [2021]

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day! One of my first memories in life is the memorial siren that sounded loud and clear. Surprised and scared, I ran to my mother and wanted to nurse. She took me on her lap and allowed me to nurse. I was probably two or three years old.

Now, I am 75 years old and every year on this day of remembrance I know that I am a second generation Holocaust survivor. All my childhood from every member of my family I heard the narrative that was a pivotal point of every crisis that was the Second World War, the exile that my mother and sister and grandmother had to experience in the labor camps of Bulgaria.

The stories of my mother and sister making sandwiches and carrying water and walking to the Sofia, Bulgaria train station to give the Greek Jews that were loaded on cattle cars some food and water. The trains that were taking the Greek Jews to the extermination camps in Germany and Poland passed through Sofia and stopped there for a few minutes for refueling.

When you grow up with these narratives there are two reactions that could accompany you for the rest of your life. The first is a negative and unhealthy fear of the enemy, in this case the German Nazis. The second reaction is 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

I felt from those childhood days that I wanted to dedicate my life to making people better. My mother, who was one of the founders of the Communist Party of Bulgaria believed that humanity can become better by the principles of equality and social and economic progress, and the rights of the workers. My father who was on the opposite side of the political spectrum from my mother, believed that humanity will never become better and that the only way to live is be always ready to defend yourself and to win against your enemies by any and all means.

My father was a good man, but also amoral. He believed that morality was a luxury that was only for those who were at the top of the food chain who discuss it in order to camouflage their abuse of the weak and poor. Growing up in this kind of dual polarized political and social environment made me always interested in changing and influencing humans.

In our germ-infected environment I was interested in vaccinating ourselves as humans, from doing the evil things that my family and millions of people, not only Jews, experienced in World War II. When I found Yeshua, not Christianity, the Yeshua of the New Testament, the Jewish Messiah, the one who is teaching the world that it can be a better place than Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, at the age of 16, while reading the Gospels and the book of Acts, I understood that the only true chance for a better brand of humanity is not to fight evil with more evil, but to fight evil with good.

Nevertheless, now at the age of 75, after 59 years of worldwide ministry, I understand that even the Gospel is not an instant solution. I now understand that even with Yeshua the son of God, as my Rabbi, Teacher, Savior, and Messiah, the solution is not instant.

I understand that in order to raise an army of men and women who are dedicated to following this messiah, Yeshua, and to practicing His teachings and His example for both Jew and Gentile, it will take a different type of mechanism.

The mechanism of Christianity which we have seen operating, during the last 1500 years, has not produced a loving and peaceful community, in any place in the world. To generalize in this case is legitimate because the general history and examples that I have seen do not fit or reflect the person or the teaching or the requirements of Yeshua and His disciples as presented in the scriptures.

For this reason I urge and encourage brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world to forget the divisions and enmity that is the daily bread and butter of the Christian denominations. I urge the disciples of Yeshua to learn and to study the New Testament and to try to understand who Yeshua and His disciples are today, and to return to making Yeshua not only our savior and not only the son of God and not an object of only platitudes of worship, but our life teacher, our coach, who will ultimately become our judge.

He will be a tough judge that will judge all flesh with a sword in His hand and God’s grace will not help those who have divided and politicized and used the kingdom of God to teach enmity and hate and racism in order to achieve personal gain! The days of God’s grace are now!

We must make use of God’s grace now to correct and fix our lives and to direct others to not only go to the nice air-conditioned church buildings, but to spread the Good News, and the message of salvation, and God’s love to our neighbors in the here and now, with those who are around us!

The Torah reading of this week is from Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47, the name of this portion is Shemini. From the prophets the reading is from 2 Samuel 6:1 – 7:17. From the New Testament we read Matthew 3:11-17. This week I would like to take the words of John the Baptizer that describe John’s view of who the Messiah is and what His mission will likely be during His life here on Earth.

“‘I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.” – Matthew 3:11–13 [NKJV]

The first phrase that needs clarification here is a hebraism, it is an Hebrew idiom: “Baptized by fire!” The basic meaning of this idiom is: The first encounter and dealing with the enemy. John the Baptist is saying here about the Messiah is that He will give us the initial first introduction to the Holy Spirit and the first introduction to the battle, the confrontation with the enemy.

The rest of John’s statement is also of great importance for our understanding:

“His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3:12 [NKJV]

What does it mean “His winnowing fan is in his hand?” What is winnowing? Winnowing is the process of throwing the grain that was winnowed up in the air with a wooden fan with four wide prongs made from wood that is used to cast the winnowed grain up in the air against the wind to separate the grain from the chaff. The winnowing process is placing the harvested grain on the floor of the threshing floor, a flat big rock space on top of an exposed high hill or mountain.

When the farmer uses the winnowing fork (fan) he lifts the grain that was crushed on the threshing floor and throws it against the wind. The good grain falls to the ground because it is heavier and the chaff flies in the wind. The threshing and the winnowing is a difficult work, but the wheat is the part that suffers the most, it is a painful separation process between the chaff and the grain.

This is the description that John the Baptizer gives of the mission of the Messiah! Yeshua of course seconds John’s initiating introduction.

“So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just…” – Matthew 13:49 [NKJV]

John the Baptizer sees the Messiah, sees Yeshua, as also being the Lamb of God that came to take away the sins of the world. The image of the Lamb of God is taken from the Passover story:

“Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight.’” – Exodus 12:3-6 [NKJV]

You will notice that there is a grammatical and logical dissonance in this text. Each family had to have their own sheep or goat and slaughter it on the evening of the 14th day of Nissan on their doorstep. However in verse 6 the text seems to imply that the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill “it” at twilight.

Rashi, who lived in Germany in the 12th Century, who is considered as being one of the finest commentators of the Hebrew Bible, commented about this and noticed the grammatical problem and alluded to the fact that it is impossible for the whole community of Israel to kill one lamb and there must be more to this text then meets the eye.

He from there takes his readers to Isaiah 53:7:

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.” – Isaiah 53:7 [NKJV]

Rashi noted that the motif of the Lamb that saves is also found in Isaiah 53 and he connects the two places not saying it directly, but by implication that this lamb that is collectively slaughtered on the eve of Passover is related to that Lamb that is a messianic Lamb from Isaiah 53:7.

I believe that this is the meaning of John the Baptizer’s statement upon seeing Yeshua coming down to the Jordan to be baptized by him:

“Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” – John 1:29 [NKJV]

The emphasis of John’s statement is one of division and separation between the “sheep and the goats,” between those whose righteousness is purchased by the Messiah’s suffering (Isaiah 53) and those who believe that they are righteous from their own deeds and charities.

Our challenge for these days is to return to basics, to be less attentive to our own gain and even to our own private salvation and more to the mission of all of Israel that was accomplished by Yeshua our Savior – to be a light to the world (see Isaiah 42:6 and God’s promises to our father Abraham). It is wonderful to remember and celebrate the grace of God that comes from Yeshua and His sacrifice for our salvation and forgiveness of sins.

We ought to celebrate and rejoice in Yeshua our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7,8) but we must not forget that He, the man Yeshua, will judge all flesh and will condemn some and save others.

“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” – Acts 17:30,31 [NKJV]

I personally believe that the judgement of all flesh by Yeshua (The Jew who will judge the world in righteousness) is not far from us, and that this pandemic called “corona” is just a reminder that the whole world is in God’s hand. At His will He can save and at His will He can damn.

This is what I want you to remember on this Holocaust Memorial Day! Fearing God is as important as or even more important than many of the teachings and concepts that are very important in the Scriptures. “Fearing God” means to have the faith and trust and respect for God and be motivated to do right and to keep our relationship with Him between these two poles: loving, and fearing, God. (Respecting Him enough that your desire is to obey and please Him!)

The disciples of Christ (the Messiah) must not be passive or despondent with regard to what is happening around them. They must not be silent in the face of the challenges and evils in their community. They must not be oblivious to all of the suffering, injustice and abuse that is happening around them.

The disciples of the Messiah must be a light shining in the darkness of our world, on the immorality, and the abominable things that are happening all around us. Both the church and the synagogue have stopped up their mouths with water and are keeping silent in fear of the culture of political correctness, choosing to fear men rather than to fear God.

Political correctness has never been in tune with God’s Word or God’s will! It is always running on the the wide path that is downhill taking those who walk on that path down to destruction, to Hell! It is more important to please the Lord and be biblically correct than to be politically correct. I will end with the words of Jeremiah the prophet:

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited.’ ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.’” – Jeremiah 17:5-8 [NKJV]

Just remember this, if there had been more Christians in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, there would have been no Nazi Holocaust There would have been no invasion of Poland, no Nazi extermination camps, no millions of men, women and children, Jews, Gypsies, and other nationalities sent to gas chambers and burned in crematoriums.

It was Christians who carried out this horror called The Holocaust. It was not Muslims, Buddhists, or Jews who degraded and murdered people by the hundreds of thousands just because they were Jews or Gypsies. It was protestant christians, it was catholic christians who went to church and sang, “a mighty fortress is our God…”

On this day of remembrance I am happy to have the chance to remind myself and remind you too that our faith in Yeshua (in Christ) is not only for getting dressed up in our nice clothes, and going to a nice church building and singing praises. Our faith places moral, ethical and business constraints on our total life, family, work, society and our civic obligations.

If you don’t like what I wrote above, don’t be shy, write me and challenge me. I will answer you kindly.

Joseph Shulam: Better to be Too Serious Than Too Casual [2020]

On Shabbat Jews around the world will be reading the parasha (Torah portion) called Shemini from Leviticus 9:1-11:47. The Haftarah, reading from the prophets is 2 Samuel 6:1-7:17. The New Testament reading (for Messianic synagogues) is from the book of Acts 10:9-22.

The reading from the Torah describes one of the most interesting tragedies in the Bible. Moses has just completed seven days of training and instructions for the Priests (the cohanim). Now it is the time for these sanctified servants of God and the people to get to work and practice what they have learned.

In Leviticus 9, Moses provides specific instructions with regard to what sacrifices are to be brought to the Tabernacle for the sacrificial ceremony. The entire leadership of Israel has been gathered together to witness the inauguration of the altar of the Lord. Everyone is dressed for the event.

Aaron is wearing his special priestly garment. He has on the golden breastplate (the ephod) with the names of all of the 12 tribes, the twelve precious stones shimmering in the light of the desert sun. Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s two eldest sons are next to their father ready to perform their duty as priests and to present the offering in front of all of Israel.

This is the first time that the Tabernacle is going to be fully functional. Everyone is under great pressure and the ceremony starts and the two young priests who have been trained and rehearsed for a whole week, are now expected to do their priestly duty and bring the fire to set on fire the burnt offering which is on the altar.

Here is the tragedy, Nadab and Abihu took a shortcut and brought fire from the wrong place, strange fire, not from the holy fire that was prepared for this occasion. This is how the text in Leviticus 10:1-3, describes what happened:

“Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. And Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke, saying: “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.”’ So Aaron held his peace.” – Leviticus 10:1-3 [NKJV]

Some criticize the harsh punishment that The Lord used against the sons of Aaron. A tragedy without doubt. A tragedy is not an act of no choice. A tragedy is always something that could and should have been avoided and prevented. If some very bad thing happens that is out of our human control, it is “force majeure”, an act of Heaven.

No human being can be punished for a volcano that erupted, or a tsunami that struck a coast line and destroyed a city. The event that brought the Lord to such anger that he took the lives of these two sons of Aaron was something that could have and should have been avoided. These men spent a week with Moses teaching and training and rehearsing their duties as priests serving the Lord Most High!  So what caused these young priests to make such a bad mistake?

The text of Leviticus 10 does not say explicitly why Nadab and Abihu did this stupid deed, but it does hint and give us a reasonable explanation of why these well trained young priests did this terrible thing that angered the Almighty God.

“Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying: ‘Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.’” Leviticus 10:8-10 [NKJV]

Because this command of the Lord through Moses comes immediately after the tragic event of the death of the children of Aaron the connection is made and an explanation is given by the ancient Jewish rabbinical authorities that Nadab and Abihu were drunk during the ceremony of the inauguration of the Tabernacle. Therefore the Lord commands Moses and Aaron and his two surviving sons not to drink strong drink (alcohol) when they are preforming their duty and service to the Lord.

I imagine what went on in the minds of these two young priests, sons of Aaron: They probably said to themselves, “This event is so important and so holy that we can’t make mistakes. All of Israel’s leadership will be there watching us. Maybe it would be wise for us to drink a little and be more relaxed and not so tense and nervous when we serve the Lord and the people.” So, they took one glass of whiskey and soda, just to be a little more relaxed, not so tense.

This is a very important message for all those who serve the Lord and the people of God: It is not good to be so tense and full of fear when you serve the Lord. However, it is much more serious to take your service in God’s Kingdom lightly or take lightly the Lord and His serious attitude toward the instructions and commands that He gives us, His servants, in all that pertains to His instructions.

Just take as an example the instructions that the Apostle Paul gives us concerning the communion, and let these instructions put a little more of the fear of the Lord in every servant of God when it comes to our public service to the Lord and His people.

Share with your pastors, rabbis, and preachers!

Joseph Shulam: God is Not to be Treated Casually [2019]

The Torah portion this next Shabbat is called “Shemini” (the eighth day). The reading starts in Leviticus 9:1 and ends in Leviticus 11:47. The Haftarah (the reading from the prophets) comes from 2 Samuel 6:1-7:17. We read from the New Testament from Mark 14:1-72, and Acts 10:9-22, 34-35.

So, this Shabbat we will be reading no small amount of text. The Jewish principle in worship and in the Synagogue is that “the product is more important than the salesman.” Interpreting this to plain language: the Bible is the word of God, and that is our product. The rabbi (pastor) is the salesman.

This principle ought to be adopted also by evangelical churches. Typically speaking, in most churches that I have visited around the world the situation is reversed. The “leader” (rabbi, pastor), is the product, the producer, and I don’t know who the salesman is. Maybe the salesman is the person who speaks a few words before the contribution is taken.

However, for Jews and for us, the most important part of the service is the reading the word of God. I can say the same thing in different words: hearing from God is the most important thing – hearing from God is the reading of His Word! The rabbi only dishes it out with the mashed potatoes and the green beans as side dishes.

The Torah portion (Lev. 9:1) starts with the words:

“It came to pass on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel.”

When the Word of God gives us a “date,” “on the eighth day”, and all the places that there is an indication of a “date” – the Holy Spirit thought that it is important enough to give us this information. If we read the text and just ignore that date – we are missing something that the Holy Spirit considered important enough to include in the Word of God.

Let me give you an example from the Gospel of John. John 2:1-2,

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.”

We see here that the wedding was held on the third day. What does this mean? What day is the third day in the Hebrew calendar? It is Tuesday.

The Hebrew calendar does not have names for the days. The English calendar has Sunday, Monday… these names are names of pagan gods. On the day of the sun, they worshiped the sun. On the day of the moon, they worshiped the moon.

In Hebrew, it is the first day, the second day, the third day of the week, and so on. So, why are the Jewish weddings always held on Tuesday? Because weddings need a double blessing. Tuesday is the only day in the story of creation when God says twice, “Behold it is good!”

Back to our reading from Leviticus 9, “on the eighth day” – what day is it? It is after the week of initiation of the priests and the beginning of the functioning of the Tabernacle in full force.

In other words, it is after the graduation of the priests, and they are now starting to function as full-fledged priests in the Tabernacle of the Lord. If they were under initiation for seven days, that is one week, the eighth day is Sunday. The first day of the week!

The second story of great importance in this portion is in Leviticus chapter 10, the two sons of Aaron the High Priest bring strange fire to the altar, and fire from Heaven devours them, and they are burned alive.

This event is a traumatic event for all of Israel, and the interesting part is that Moses forbids Aaron his brother from going through the customary practices of grief for a close relative who has died.

This is what God says to Moses in verse 3,

“And Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke, saying: “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.”’ So Aaron held his peace.”

Here is the biggest lesson that I learn from this text, a lesson that is of vital importance for our time: God is not to be treated casually. He demands His sanctity and He must be “honored” – glorified in front of the people.

This event seems very harsh to our modern Hellenistic/humanistic values. But, when you think of God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and all that is around our galaxy, and maybe more… you begin to understand the case of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron.

Here is the score. These young priests, sons of Aaron the High Priest, just graduated from their training, and this is the first day of their full-fledged service before the Lord. They immediately started breaking the instructions of the Lord and doing what they themselves thought to be better.

It was not a mistake. It was these two young priests thinking that they know better what is possible. They probably had in mind something like, “Why should we go so far to bring the fire from the altar? There is a fire much closer, much easier, we will make things easier for ourselves.”

This was the serious sin that they have committed, it was dishonoring God publicly. The Lord of all could not allow this to happen at the very inauguration of the Tabernacle. If Aaron’s boys start by dishonoring the Lord in public what would the other young servants of the Lord do?

The Lord is a loving God, but He does demand those who are serving Him in a holy precinct, like the Tabernacle, or in church or synagogue before the people of God, to show minimal respect, dignity, and honor to the Creator of the world.

Let each one of who is leading and standing before God’s people take account of this story and remember that God is not a casual buddy of ours. Yes, we sing the song, “What a friend we have in Jesus . . .” He is our friend, but He is also the Son of God and our Lord and Savior, and the judge of all flesh for eternity. Pastors and rabbis, let us consider that we serve the very same God that Nadab and Abihu, and Aaron their father, served.

Joseph Shulam: God’s Grace Wins Over His Judgment [2017]

This Sabbath the reading of the Torah is called “Shemini”, that is the eighth day, because the beginning of the reading:

“It came to pass on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel.” – Leviticus 9:1 [NKJV]

However the most famous part of this week’s parasha is the first half of chapter 10. It is the story of Aaron’s two elder sons, Nadab and Abihu, who brought “strange fire” to the altar, and fire came down from Heaven and devoured them instantly.

The questions that everyone is dealing with are: What is the strange fire? Why did Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu bring the strange fire? Why did Moses not intercede for his nephews?

Some traditional Christian commentators use this story to show the harshness of God’s judgment in the so-called “Old Testament”. If however the readers would continue reading the rest of the chapter, maybe they would gain some insight or answers to the above questions.

There is a second story in chapter 10 of Leviticus. Yes, Nadab and Abihu sinned with the strange fire, but their other two brothers, Eleazar and Ithamar, who were also priests and sons of Aaron, sinned in a much more serious way, and yet nothing happened to them.

Aaron pleaded for himself and his sons, and Moses heard his brother’s plea and approved it. These two children of Aaron, Priests, Eleazar and Ithamar were given instruction by Moses and Aaron:

“Take the grain offering that remains of the offerings made by fire to the Lord, and eat it without leaven beside the altar; for it is most holy. You shall eat it in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons’ due, of the sacrifices made by fire to the Lord; for so I have been commanded. The breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering you shall eat in a clean place, you, your sons, and your daughters with you; for they are your due and your sons’ due, which are given from the sacrifices of peace offerings of the children of Israel. The thigh of the heave offering and the breast of the wave offering they shall bring with the offerings of fat made by fire, to offer as a wave offering before the Lord. And it shall be yours and your sons with you, by a statute forever, as the Lord has commanded.” – Leviticus 10:12-15 [NKJV]

The first command for these two sons of Aaron was: eat the grain offering beside the altar without leaven in a holy place. The second command: the breast of the wave offering shall be eaten in a clean place. The third command: The thigh of the heave offering and the breast of the wave offering with the fat made by fire were to be offered as a wave offering before the Lord.

These three commands were not kept by the two lasts sons of Aaron:

“Why have you not eaten the sin offering in a holy place, since it is most holy, and God has given it to you to bear the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord? See! Its blood was not brought inside the holy place; indeed, you should have eaten it in a holy place, as I commanded.” – Leviticus 10:17,18 [NKJV]

These sins of Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron, were much more serious than the strange fire that Nadab and Abihu brought to the altar. But they did not die, nor did they get punished.

Aaron and Moses interceded for these sons, and in the end Moses heard Aaron’s pleading, and it is said: Moses heard and was content. In other words, the Lord did not punish these two sons of Aaron and Aaron himself, because Moses understood, and Aaron’s explanation was satisfactory for Moses.

We have read two stories in the same chapter. In the first story, there is a very quick and harsh judgement, and both sons of Aaron die by divine fire from heaven. Even Aaron is not allowed to mourn for his two sons. God had no mercy for these two sons of Aaron.

In the second story, there are the two last sons of Aaron – Ithamar and Eleazar. They sin in three things, and God accepts Moses and Aaron’s understanding of the very difficult circumstances, and if the last two sons of Aaron and Aaron himself die – there would be no priests in Israel. The house of Aaron would be decimated.

For this reason, God’s relativity in judgment and provision of grace and lovingkindness wins over His judgment. Don’t say that the Torah has no mercy and grace, or no grace and truth. Read the entire chapter 10 of Leviticus.

Yehuda Bachana: What it Really Means to be Kosher [2018]

Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.

I hope that everyone had a meaningful Passover. We had a great holiday, in fact, it was very hard for me to get back to work. This Shabbat we read and study Parashat Shemini. Our parasha speaks of kosher laws, especially regarding animals that we are forbidden to eat. The swine, a notoriously unclean animal, is mentioned in our parasha.

In addition, the famous teaching that appears in different formulations in the Bible, “Be holy, because I am holy,” (Leviticus 11:44 [NIV]) also appears at the end of this portion.

Further, two major historical events occur: the dedication of the Tabernacle and the unexpected death of Aaron’s sons.

“Be holy, because I am holy.”

The kosher laws have been derived and preserved in the collective consciousness of the Jewish people and have never been removed. In fact, the swine, or rather the avoidance of it, has become a central symbol of Judaism.

In each generation we try to find an explanation of why God commanded us to keep from unkosher foods.

Some have determined that the kosher laws and restrictions help maintain the distinction between the Jew and the rest of the world. While others decided that the kosher laws were given for health reasons, that the Jewish diet was a recipe for better health.

It’s possible that God may have given the kosher laws for both reasons. As humans, we can find a thousand reasons why God forbade us to eat pork, but the truth is, they are irrelevant to the discussion – God commanded us, and so we obey.

After the long list of unkosher animals comes the commandment of God, “Be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44 [NIV]). This commandment is stated in the context of eating kosher.

It is used to indicate the importance of observing God’s commandments. Likewise, to make it clear to the people of Israel and to us, that we have the need to preserve purity, including what enters our mouths and what comes out of them.

What it Really Means to be Kosher

Eventually, we come to one of the old arguments about kosher laws in the Judeo-Christian and Messianic world, when Yeshua talks about what goes into someone’s mouth:

“What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” – Matthew 15:11 [NIV]

This saying of Yeshua seemingly contradicts the kosher laws of the Torah, and there are people who interpret this passage as giving them permission to eat anything. It should be clear to us that this is not Yeshua’s intent, he is speaking in the manner that the prophet Isaiah did.

For example, when Isaiah said that God does not want sacrifices or offerings, but rather that there be kindness amongst men, this notwithstanding that the Torah explicitly commands the offering of sacrifices.

In a similar manner, Yeshua said that what enters the mouth defiles a man for a limited time. In fact, the next day that person will be clean from the impurity of the food.

The words that come out of the mouth, however, have the power to defile or harm others for much longer than a day. When Miriam spoke against Moses, she immediately became leprous, which makes a person unclean for much longer than eating all unclean things together.

According to Yeshua’s perception, there is no comparison between the severity of the act of slander and eating. Just as there is no comparison between the severity of the act of lying, theft, or murder, and yet we are commanded to avoid all of these.

The Punishment of Aaron’s Sons

parashat-shemini
Torah commentators offer various explanations for the sin of Nadab and Abihu.

This Shabbat we finally read about the dedication of the Tabernacle. In the second part of the Book of Exodus, we read a detailed review of the Tabernacle and its vessels.

Following that was the instruction regarding the sacrificial practices in the Tabernacle that were described to us at the beginning of the Book of Leviticus. Now, this parasha begins with the dedication of the Tabernacle.

In the middle of this important and happy event, the priestly family and the people of Israel were tragically traumatized: the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu the priests, were killed in the Tabernacle, right in the middle of the celebrations.

“Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” – Leviticus 10:1,2 [NIV]

The reason for the severe punishment of the sons of Aaron is explicitly written in the Bible: the offering of “unauthorized fire.” Torah commentators have attempted to interpret this sin. They spectated that perhaps they came in drunk from wine or they came in without washing their hands and feet.

Why Did God Strike Nadab and Abihu?

There are those who say that they wanted to take authority from Moses and Aaron and start a rebellion, or perhaps it was even a spiritual ecstasy. There are many possibilities to discuss.

In my opinion, there are three possibilities that exceed the others in their logic:

The first is spiritual ecstasy, they became uncontrollably excited and broke God’s instructions in public, this interpretation speaks of innocence, not evil, and not malice.

The second interpretation talks about rebellion, in effect an attempt by the sons of Aaron to take over the institution of the priesthood as well as the nation.

The third interpretation targets wine as the culprit. That is to say that when the sons of Aaron entered into the service of God, they were drunk from wine, which is unacceptable.

In the past I spoke about the first two topics, so today I want to talk about the possibility that they, the sons of Aaron, drank wine before they went to serve God.

It seems reasonable that their sin is connected to wine, because immediately after the punishment, God spoke to Aaron and told him to keep from wine, so that he would not die when he comes into the Tent of Meeting.

“Then the Lord said to Aaron, ‘You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean…’” – Leviticus 10:8-10a [NIV]

The severity of the calling to be a teacher

In this section we learn some points that are very important for us today: It is critical to respect the house of God. We cannot defile His holy place nor can we bring impurity when we go to worship before the Almighty.

As God told Aaron, He distinguishes between the holy and the unclean. Therefore, we are obligated to make the same distinction when we enter into our congregation – we must honor the place as the House of God.

The second point I gleaned from this part is that the leader of the community has a great deal of responsibility. Be it a priest, a chief rabbi, or a congregational leader.

When we display inappropriate behavior, we despise the name of God, whom we represent. This is the same idea that appears in James:

“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” – James 3:1 [NIV]

What was James’ intent in this rather harsh verse?

First of all, James didn’t say that there should be no teachers, but rather he noted that with the role comes the power to build and to destroy. He emphasized that it is worthwhile to act cautiously.

The teacher bears double-responsibility, because he directs and influences not only himself, but rather he does the same for an entire group of people. In the instance that he, the teacher fails and/or makes a mistake, he misleads a whole group of people.

Yeshua also warned the teachers and the leaders about responsibility and criticism. He claimed that they not only close the gate to Heaven for themselves but also for others, and therefore their punishment is greater:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” – Matthew 23:13 [NIV]

This connects us to an interesting talmudic quote:

“Torah should be taught only to a proper student – one whose deeds are attractive – or to a person whose behavior is unknown. However, [a potential student] who follows bad ways should be influenced to correct his behavior and trained to follow a straight path. [After he repents, his deeds] are examined and he is allowed to enter the house of study to be instructed.” – Talmud Torah 4:1

“A potential student who follows bad ways,” speaks of a person who does not behave properly, and therefore should not be accepted into an institution for Torah studies.

Here’s the catch: should not such a person receive an extra dose of Torah in order to teach him about virtues?

The answer is that a Torah student who does not behave properly causes blasphemy. How can this be?

Torah students represent religion for all to see. The general public appreciates the virtue of religion according to the moral value of its representatives: Torah students of good character encourage people to respect the Torah.

Torah students who are not good people, however, evoke a negative attitude not only towards themselves, but also towards the Torah which they supposedly represent, and this is the essence of blasphemy.

The leader carries even greater responsibility, just like in the case of Aaron’s sons. I also want to point out, not necessarily in a bad or critical manner, that we must be aware that we also carry this responsibility.

We are the billboard for faith in God and in Yeshua the Messiah. We are literally a walking advertisement, and when you see us and our lives in a positive light, we give God good publicity.

In Conclusion

We spoke today about the kosher laws. Indeed, Yeshua emphasized that what is important is what comes out of the mouth. However, it does not have to be at the expense of what goes into the mouth.

The divine command is, “Be holy, because I am holy.” This requirement comes at the end of the list of foods that are, according to God, unfit for eating.

We also spoke about the tragic end of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. In addition, we talked about the importance of behaving properly and preserving the sanctity of the house of God.

Finally, we are called not just to be a good example, but also to be billboards for faith in Yeshua.