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: God’s Grace and Judgement in the Same Package [2022]

This Shabbat we are starting to read from the book of Leviticus. The book of Leviticus is called “Torat Cohanim” – The Law of the Priesthood.

The reason is obvious, and the name in Greek, Latin, English and in all other languages is Leviticus – meaning the book for the Levites. In Hebrew the name is very simple – it is the first meaningful word that starts the book, “And He Called…” (“Vayikra”).

Our Torah portion this Shabbat is from Leviticus 1:1 – 6:7. From the prophets we and all the Jewish synagogues in the world will be reading from Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23, and from the New Testament from Hebrews 10:1-18.

You ought to notice when you read from the Torah and from the prophets and the New Testament that there is a logical connection in the choices that are made by tradition in all these readings. They are connected by their topics, and sometimes by the historical connections.

The book of Leviticus, as stated above, is a book that deals with the priesthood and the Levites, their job, their responsibilities, and God’s relationship to Israel through the priesthood and their tasks.

Of course, one of the main tasks of the Levites was the administration of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem. One of the main tasks of the priests and Levites was the sacrificing order, and that included the inspection of the animal that is brought to the Tabernacle for sacrifice, and the handling of these animals, and their preparation.

The other major task of the priesthood in Israel was the administration of of the purity laws, that also included the inspections and protection of those who have infectious illnesses, like leprosy, or other infectious skin sicknesses, pandemics, and the impurity of touching the dead – human or animal.

The priests in ancient Israel were also involved in the arbitration between brothers who have some dispute or serious disagreement, especially on issues of faith and religious practices.

The book of Leviticus deals with all these issues, and also with the issues of the health of the land, the earth, and the life cycle of the land. This included the issues of the Sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee, that was the celebration of seven sabbatical years.

The first reading of the book of Leviticus that falls on this Shabbat, is wholly dedicated to the sacrificial order and basic practices that relate to the handling of the animals for sacrifice, and preparing them for the particular task in the sacrifice. Leviticus speaks of seven different tasks for the sacrificial cultus in the camp of Israel.

The very first paragraph of the book of Leviticus limits the sacrificial animals to the bovine, cows, bulls, and to the sheep and goats, and by doing this it excludes human sacrifices and sacrifices of animals that are forbidden by the book of Leviticus for human consumption.

We know already from the book of Genesis that Noah, before the flood, already knows the clean animals from the unclean animals. The Lord commands Noah to have seven pairs of the clean animals that can and ought to be eaten by humans, and only two pairs from the unclean animals that ought not to be eaten by humans. This is, of course, many generations and many hundreds of years before Moses and the giving of the Torah in Mount Sinai to the children of Israel.

One of the most important and interesting elements of the book of Leviticus that is a revelation for anyone who reads carefully the book of Leviticus is the relative attitude and demands that The Lord deals in relationship to the social and economic status of the worshiper in Israel.

This principle is of such great importance for all generations, and in all forms of worship and giving throughout the Bible. I apologize that for the 60-plus years that I have been teaching the Word of God I have never heard a sermon or a teaching on this so-very-very important principle, that for me is a revelation of God’s character and consideration for the human element in worship, and in service, and in status within the community of the sanctified men and women in God’s Holy Community.

I could have used the word “church” in place of “holy community”. But, I think that the words “church”, “congregation”, and “synagogue” have lost their true and real meaning in the 20th and 21st centuries after Yeshua’s death, burial, resurrection and ascension to Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Almighty One of Israel – the Father of us all!

Here is the teaching in Leviticus on the relativity of God’s relationship with the individual worshiper and the requirements of worship:

“And it shall be, when he is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing; and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin. If he is not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring to the Lord, for his trespass which he has committed, two turtledoves or two young pigeons: one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. And he shall bring them to the priest, who shall offer that which is for the sin offering first, and wring off its head from its neck, but shall not divide it completely. Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood of the sin offering on the side of the altar, and the rest of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar. It is a sin offering. And he shall offer the second as a burnt offering according to the prescribed manner. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin which he has committed, and it shall be forgiven him. But if he is not able to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then he who sinned shall bring for his offering one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a sin offering. He shall put no oil on it, nor shall he put frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering. Then he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his handful of it as a memorial portion, and burn it on the altar according to the offerings made by fire to the Lord. It is a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement for him, for his sin that he has committed in any of these matters; and it shall be forgiven him. The rest shall be the priest’s as a grain offering.” – Leviticus 5:5-13 [NKJV]

This same relativity in the relationship between God and His human children is of such great important principle in the days of the Temple, and also today in every synagogue and in every holy community of the saints.

Here is the same principle as it is presented by Yeshua himself to His disciples in the First Century, and good for us today also:

“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.’” – Mark 12:41-44 [NKJV]

We even have a clear warning in the New Testament against treating the rich differently than we treat the less financially-fortunate. I have not seen a church or synagogue that I have ever visited around the world practicing what James commands us all in his letter. (“Jacob” in the original Greek texts, and in every other language except English.)

“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” – James 2:1-4 [NKJV]

I am not condemning anyone, or any church or synagogue that I have visited in the last 60 years of ministry around the world. It is our human condition to be partial to the rich and powerful, and beautiful and capable in our communities, and we are all guilty of this partiality that Jacob the brother of Yeshua is speaking of in his letter.

But, the fact that we are all guilty of this sin doesn’t mean that we ought to ignore this practice and forget about it. On the contrary, dear brothers and sisters, we ought to remember that we are talking about the very nature and character of God, who pays attention to His children according to their abilities and gifts, and does not look at us, His human creatures, and measure us all with one measure.

He made some blond and some red-haired, others He made without much hair, and others yet, He made tall, and some He made short. Some were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, and others were born in poverty.

All these people and their different status that was handed to them, not by their choice or their sins, but by the Almighty Creator of us all, ought to be evaluated and appreciated in the same way that the Father of us all deals with us, His children.

In practice, Jacob (James) the brother of Yeshua gives us a good and very-practical instruction of what not to do. And from what Jacob teaches us what not to do we much learn what to do.

In simple terms, we ought to have more social awareness and sensitivity as disciples of Yeshua and live it out, and also make sure that we stop and control our own behavior and bring it up to the level that Jacob in his letter to the 12 tribes in the diaspora is demanding.

God looks at us and gives us a discount according to our abilities. God grades us on the bell curve, and we must be able to also grade each other on the bell curve, and consider our fortunes or misfortunes.

We need to take into account to be like the four elements of Sukkot. We take in Sukkot the palm branch, the willow branch, the myrtle branch, and the citron (Italian wild lemon) branch, bound together, fulfilling each other’s weaknesses, and enjoying each other’s benefits and blessings. Looking into our fortunes as God’s grace, and looking at the misfortune of our brothers as a test and a challenge from God for us!

Let us pass the test and learn to look at each other as brothers that are there to give us an opportunity to be like God, and take into account to make us God’s children, that today we might be on top of the horse and tomorrow those that are walking beside the horse might be on top, and we would be walking on the ground.

The grace and the judgement of God come in the same package, and that is why the principle of God’s relative evaluation and opportunity in our service is such an important principle for us Yeshua’s disciples to put into practice.

The Lord bless us as we learn more from Leviticus how to serve God by serving our fellow brothers and sisters with the same principles that God is serving and evaluating us!

Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Vayikra [2022]

Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.

Shalom. My name is Joseph Shulam and together with Brad TV, we are doing every week the portion of the Torah that is read in all the synagogues around the world. This Shabbat, all the synagogues will be reading from Leviticus chapter one. We are starting a new book, we’re starting Leviticus and the portion starts in Leviticus 1:1 and ends in Leviticus 6:7.

Now the book of Leviticus is a very very important and interesting book but it is not very useful to most Christians. Very few sermons are taught from the book of Leviticus and scholars in Christian universities and colleges spend maybe an hour on the whole book of Leviticus, in a survey of the Old Testament usually. But the book of Leviticus is probably one of the most important books in the Law of Moses, of the five books of Moses, because it’s called Leviticus. It means the law of the priesthood mainly instructions for the priests for the worship at the tabernacle.

But one of the interesting verses is the very first verse. In Greek in English and all the language it is called Leviticus because it deals with the Levitical priesthood. In Hebrew, the name of the book is the first word of the book like in Exodus it’s Shemot – “Names” in English, and in Genesis it is Genesis or Bereshit in Hebrew, “In the beginning” in English. And the first words of the book usually also gives it the name because there were no names in the ancient scrolls. So in Hebrew it’s called Vayikra which is translated into English as “and He called,” and the Lord summoned, called, Moses.

Now that in itself is a very interesting thing. Why, because it is a direct continuation of the end of the book of Exodus. The books were divided essentially by the fact that the scrolls were made out of skin, out of leather, usually goat skin and they were heavy. And if you have a whole scroll of the whole Torah even today in our synagogue in Jerusalem, it would weigh about 15 kilos. 15 kilos in pounds would be, what, 45 pounds. So it’s not easy to carry it.

And of course they didn’t have printing presses and they didn’t print miniature bibles or, like today, where we have a whole library on our phones and on our iPads, and on our computers. My phone for example has more than one library of biblical material and teachings of the church fathers and of church history and geography and maps and atlases. Wasn’t like that in the ancient days. They had to consider the size of the scroll to make it practical to use it. So Leviticus is a direct continuation of what happened at the end of the book of Exodus. I’m going to read from chapter 40 verse 38 of the book of Exodus, the last chapter of the book of Exodus verse 38. And it says: “For the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, And the cloud lifted up and Moses was called by God into the tent of meeting and God starts talking to him.”

What does it mean Moses was called by God, summoned by God? This is what it means. Moses could not enter the tabernacle, even though he was a Levite, but he was not a priest. And Aaron was a priest, the chief priest and the sons of Aaron were priest. They could enter into the tabernacle at will, but Moses could not and that’s why the book of Leviticus starts, God summoned Moses, called Moses, come in talk to me. And he gives him instructions, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the livestock—of the herd and of the flock, you will make your sacrifices.’”

Now, this to us is a curious text. Why? Because God is initiating the service in the tabernacle and they just finished building the tabernacle. The last portion of the book of Exodus is an accounting, a report of all the work and all the workers and all the furniture and all the instruments and the structure of the tabernacle. Kind of a bookkeeper’s report. It is the end of the book of Exodus, and now the Tabernacle is finished.

The cloud is above it by day and the pillar of fire by night and they’re beginning to continue their journey after the time they spent around Mount Sinai approximately around two years from the time that they arrived at Mount Sinai and then they got purified and then they received the law and then they had the golden calf. And then they had the golden calf before receiving the law and then they received the law and then they were commanded to build a tabernacle and that took them time. So now they’re ready to move on but God is giving them instructions of how to worship, what kind of animals to use for the sacrifices.

Now, sacrificing to God is a human phenomenon. There is no ancient religion in Asia, in the Middle East, in North America, Central America, South America, Africa, the Aboriginal in Australia, the Maoris in new New Zealand, all the ancient peoples understood internally, innately that a relationship with God or even with gods requires sacrifice. Some of them like our neighbors on the other side of the Jordan that worshiped Moloch, sacrificed their own children to Moloch. The Indians in what is today’s Mexico sacrificed their young maidens to their gods. People sacrificed animals, people sacrificed gold, silver, precious materials. Sacrifices are a natural response to divinity. Even if you believe in idols like the river god in Egypt, the god of the Nile, they sacrificed to him. Why? Because the desire of the human being that is dealing with something that is out of his control, the gods were out of their control, is to appease those gods, to please them, to give them gifts that way the idea was that those gods are not going to show their anger on the people.

You sacrifice to the Nile god hoping that the Nile will act normally and at the right time you will have the rising of the Nile. And at the right time, it will not flood the fields and destroy the crop and cause havoc to human beings and to their economy. If you lived in Northern Israel or in Israel altogether, one of the chief gods was the god Baal that we hear Amos, Hosea, and all the prophets speaking against, against Baal and the worship of Baal.

Something very interesting that is very very new and recent. They built a train, a fast train to go from Jerusalem to the airport near biblical Lydda and from Lydda on to Tel Aviv and from Tel Aviv north all the way to Nahariyya and on to the Lebanese border. In order to span a valley, a very interesting valley just in front of my house actually, they built a bridge, a huge bridge for that train to go on. Well, when they were building the bridge, and this happens very very often in the land of Israel, they had to dig, when they dug, they found archeology. Archeology dating to the days of the kings of Judea, Hezekiah, Ahaz, actually from the days of Ahaz, even before Hezekiah.

They found a temple, an Israelite temple, not a Canaanite temple, an Israelite temple that had all the trappings of an Israelite temple. We are talking a temple that was outside of Jerusalem let’s say eight miles from Jerusalem, and eight miles from the temple that Solomon built. So there was an alternative temple. And in that temple, they had eclectic gods worshiped. In that temple, besides the God of Israel, beside Jehovah the God of Israel, they found statues of Baal, statues of Asherah, of all the Canaanite gods that were worshiped by our neighbors, and that were forbidden by God in the Torah, but they also found alters and they found the holy of holies and they found a structure very similar to the one that Solomon built on the hill of the threshing fields of Aruna that David bought from them, from the Hittite, Aruna. Syncretism still exists.

It exists in Judaism, it exists in Christianity. It exists in most religious groups because the environment and the surrounding and the culture of your neighbors and your co-neighbors that live within your camp, influences you. And so it’s very interesting that they’ve found the temple, Israelite temple with pagan idols in it. By the way, when they dug in the old city in the Jewish quarter and they dug the house, that is called the house of the high priest or the house of one of the princess of the Hashmanite kingdom of Jordan, they found in the house of the high priest, household gods, idols.

So yes, the book of Leviticus came to arrange and control and instruct on how to worship God in the tabernacle, or later in the temple. But it has a lot of very important principles. And the first thing that we learned from it, is you’re not gonna sacrifice human beings. You can sacrifice from the beef, from the sheep, from the goats, from the birds, doves, you know that when Mary and Joseph came to dedicate baby Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem in Luke chapter two, they didn’t bring a sheep or a goat or a bull or a cow. They brought two turtle doves.

What does that tell us about God’s relationship to worship and to sacrifice. Are we going to see it in chapter five in our section? God looks at us differentially. He looks at us in our worship, not in absolute terms but in relative terms. And in our portion in chapter five of Leviticus still within the reading of Shabbat, next Shabbat, we find out that if you’re rich and you sin, you have to bring a bull, heavy, expensive, a lot of meat. If you are not so rich, you can bring a goat or a sheep. For the same sin, you can bring a goat or a sheep. If you are not middle class, lower social economic class you can bring two turtle doves. But if you’re a poor of the poor, all you have to bring is a handful of meal, wheat flour, anointed with oil and that will atone for you as much as the bull will atone for the rich person.

I love this folks, because religion, and that’s true for modern Judaism, and it’s true for modern Christianity, wants to look at everything in absolute terms, but God doesn’t. God doesn’t look in absolute terms. He looks at us relatively and we have the story in the gospel of Luke of two people that go to the temple and want to contribute. A Pharisee comes and contributes a thousand denarii which is a lot of money. It’s a thousand days wages. Three years wages he contributes in the temple, he’s rich. No problem. An old widow comes and contributes two pennies. Two. Two widows, we call them those today. We buy them from the stores that sell archeological things, real things, you can buy them today, each is about $80. A real thing, the real coin that the widow gave.

Each one today is $80, in good shape, museum quality shape coin, authentic with a certificate but this widow gave two, two pennies, and Yeshua asks who gave more. The answer is the widow gave more because that’s all she had. That’s all she had, she gave everything she had. The rich Pharisee gave from a surplus, relative appreciation of each individual by the Lord, God, creator of the universe, is something that is important for us to know. Religion tends to see everything in black and white but not the New Testament, not Yeshua.

And we, as the disciples today in the 21st century also ought to look at our brothers and our sisters in the same differential way, relatively, because we can’t require the same thing from the poor in our congregations. As we, the holy spirit should require from the rich, we don’t require anything in our congregation. We leave it up to the people themselves as individuals, to decide. We very seldom talk about money. We only once a year, we talk about money when we read the portion of contribution in the book of Exodus when they’re taking the contribution for the tabernacle. That’s the only time that we talk about collection. We never mention it. We don’t pass a plate. We don’t have a box. Why don’t we do it? We don’t do it because of the teaching of Yeshua. Yeshua said, when you give money in the temple or in the synagogue, give it in secret. Don’t blow the trumpet and say, I’m coming now to give a contribution.

I gave so much to the Lord, I gave so much to the church, I gave so much to the synagogue, no. We need to take the words of Yeshua seriously to believe in Yeshua is good and important but it’s more important to believe Yeshua, what he instructed us to do, how he instructed us to live. It is more important to believe in him. Yeah, to believe in Him and then to ignore what He teaches, to ignore his commandments is not good. We read the first letter of John. We have the gospel of John, we have three letters from John. The first letter of John he says, if you don’t keep his commandments, no good.

Yes, and Yeshua said go into all the world to make disciple, teaching them to observe all things which I have commanded you. So evangelists and missionaries that go around and teach people about Yeshua. Very seldom, if ever have I heard the foreign missionary in Israel teach people that they have to keep the commandments of Yeshua, of Jesus, the commandments of the apostles. We have plenty of commandments. And the truth is that we must believe in Yeshua, in Jesus, and we must believe Jesus. Whatever he told us, whatever he taught us, whatever he commanded has to do.

So all over the world, human beings that have gods have deities, sacrifice. Sometimes sacrifice human beings, sometimes sacrifice their own sons and daughters. Maimonides is one of the eight rabbis that lived in the 12th century in Spain. Most of his life in Spain. Moses Maimonides asked this question in a book called “The Guide to the Perplexed.” Why did God command us to do these sacrifices? With intricate instructions in the book of Leviticus, we’re going to still see it, of how to do the birds, to pluck their feathers, to clean them, to open them. What to do with the liver, what to do with the kidneys what to do with, oh, these laborious commands of how to do the sacrifices in the tabernacle.

But Maimonides asked why, why did God need that? Because we have text both in the New Testament and in the Old Testament that says, God doesn’t need these sacrifices. We’re not doing it for God. God doesn’t eat roasted meat on the grill, on the altar. So why, Isaiah chapter one says these things, the most crucial one is Jeremiah chapter 7:21-23 that God says, I didn’t command your forefathers when I took them out of Egypt to sacrifice. I don’t need those sacrifices. I don’t want those sacrifices. What I really want is for you to listen to me, to have a relationship, to hear what I say, to take me seriously, that’s what I really want. God says in Jeremiah chapter seven, same thing in Hosea 6:6 says, “I require mercy more than sacrifice.” Yep. God is not an idol so why did God command the whole 13 chapters of the book of Leviticus?

Almost half the book of Leviticus is dealing with sacrifices. The Levitical code is here. That’s why it’s called Leviticus in Greek. So why did he command us to sacrifice? Maimonides says because he knew our nature and we were gonna see what our neighbors were doing and we would wanna do the same as they do because the environment is a very powerful thing and it decides the consciousness. And that’s why bad friends corrupt our children and good friends encourage our children. That’s why the environment that we are living in, can sometimes not a hundred percent true, but I would say most of the time can influence our families.

So for this, Maimonides says God gave them a pure, controlled, dictated by divine will form of worship, similar to their neighbors, even our temple that Solomon designed with Lebanese workers, 50,000 workers in Jerusalem, Lebanese workers. A lot of people that came from Lebanon and built the temple of Solomon and all of its furnishings and everything, the architecture was very similar to the architecture in Tyre in Lebanon. The architecture of the temple of Jerusalem is not unique to the Hebrew nation and it’s not unique to the Hebrew God. God gave us something similar.

Not exactly, but very similar so that we don’t go around and do what those people that built under the train tracks, under the bridge of the train in the valley of the oaks. No, the valley of the Cedar, that’s the name of the valley in front of my house where that archeological dig is still going on with that Israelite temple with pagan idols in it as well. Yes, so that we don’t copy what the pagans do, God gave us an orderly, systematic, godly code of the tabernacle of the temple and the priesthood and what they have to do and what they shouldn’t do.

This is very very important for us to understand dear brothers and sisters. And I’m not going to get into the details of how to sacrifice, how to slaughter the cow, the beef, how to slaughter the turtle doves, how to put the wood on the altar, all these details I’m not going to get into ‘cause they’re not relevant for us but what is relevant for us and this I summarize is that, yes, we by nature ought to want to sacrifice for God. We ought to want to share our moments of joy and our moments of sorrow, our moments of riches and our moments of lack. We want to share them with God because it pleases God.

The joy of the Lord is your strength. We read in the letter of Esther. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Yes, it’s true. When we sorrow, when we are sad about our own actions and about our own sins and about the sins of our countries and the sins of our communities, it makes God happy because it makes him see how much we care about what is good, what is true and what is right and what is pure and what is beneficial to ourselves and to the next generations in his name. In the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So yes, read the book of Leviticus. Read from chapter one to chapter six and follow these ideas that I shared with you. God bless all of you and strengthen you in Yeshua’s name, amen.

Joseph Shulam: A Paradigm of Restoration [2021]

The Torah reading this week is from the first chapters of the book of Leviticus. In Hebrew the book of Leviticus is called, “And He Called.” The Hebrew names of the books of the Bible are generally given by the first words of the book. The first words of the first chapter of the book of Leviticus are: “Now the Lord called to Moses.”

We read from Leviticus chapter 1:1 – 6:7. This was the portion of my Bar Mitzvah that I had to read in the synagogue on Yehuda Street when I had my 13th birthday. Of course, this means that this next week, the Lord willing, I shall be according to Western count fully 75 years old. According to Asian and Sephardic and Bulgarian count I shall be 76 years old. Don’t ask me how this works – it does work for those who count that way.

The portion of the prophets that will be read in the synagogues around the world this Shabbat is going to be from Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23. From the New Testament our reading will be Hebrews 10:1-18, 13:10-15.

An interesting note is on the names of the books of the Bible in the Christian Bibles. The names of the books are logical, they are given according to the content of the book. The rabbinical name of the book of Leviticus is “Tarah’s Cohanim,” “the law of the priests”. The same is with the other books of the Torah the names are given according to the content of the book.

The first 13 chapters of the book of Leviticus are dedicated mainly to the sacrificial system of the Torah. Every type of sacrifice is described in great detail, what animal will be acceptable for each sacrifice and what is the social and economic status of the person that is going to sacrifice and if it is a sin offering what is the sin that was committed by the person who is bringing the sacrifice.

The interesting thing to me is that the Lord grades the sacrifices according to the social status and the financial capabilities of each person. The rich have to bring a bull for sin offering for their sin whereas the sacrifice of the poor can be satisfied by bringing two pigeons.

This is a demonstration of the wisdom of God and the consideration of God for our social status, and the grace of God that does not require of men to do more than they are capable to do. I think that this is a wonderful depiction of the Lord’s love and character and I hope that our leaders both in our countries and also in the tax code and also the church and synagogue leaders will learn from the Lord to be considerate of the people’s capabilities and encourage them to give what they can without pushing.

I would like to share a few words from the Haftarah, the reading from the prophets. This week the reading comes from Isaiah 43 and 44. Some Christians have a hard time accepting Paul’s declaration in Romans 11:25-26, “All Israel shall be saved.” Paul didn’t get this idea while dreaming. The promise that God will save Israel appears at least six times in the prophets. Here in Isaiah 43 is one of those times:

“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honored, And I have loved you; Therefore, I will give men for you, And people for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, “Give them up!” And to the south, “Do not keep them back!” Bring My sons from afar, And My daughters from the ends of the earth— Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.’ Bring out the blind people who have eyes, And the deaf who have ears. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled. Who among them can declare this, and show us former things?” – Isaiah 43:1 – 9 [NKJV]

These words of Isaiah inspired by the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that inspired Paul’s writings, are so clear, and I would like to add another text from Isaiah that just accentuates this central truth.

We must remember that during the time of Isaiah Israel was in no way righteous or just. Israel was embroiled in sin, national sin, personal sin, idolatry, and Isaiah the prophet had enough condemnation of Israel starting from chapter 1 the prophet condemns Israel with harsh words and expresses the anger of the Lord against Israel.

We must remember that the Lord is the father of all mankind. Here are the words of the apostle Paul:

“Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” – Romans 3:29-31 [NKJV]

We must remember that God, the Creator of the Universe does not make mistakes. When He chose Abraham, and His Seed for ever, the Lord knew well what He is doing. He knew what Israel is capable of and He could see the end before the beginning.

It is God’s love for His creation and for humanity that allowed us, humans, the freedom to sin and have free will because without this freedom there can’t be a relationship based on love and honor.

Here is another text from Isaiah that resonates God’s promises to Israel:

“Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people and will have mercy on His afflicted. But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely, they may forget, Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” – Isaiah 45:13-15 [NKJV]

What a great picture these words of Isaiah, the prophet, give us of God’s relationship to Israel, what a great picture of God inscribing Israel on the palm of his hands. Good Christians have been kidnaped by the Roman Catholic Church in the early centuries after Yeshua and dragged away from the source of their faith, Israel.

They have been desensitized by pagans who claimed to have the authority, an authority that God has never given them. They changed the meaning of the texts by overlaying a film of deception over the text, canceled the Shabbat, they disconnected the relationship of the church from its root, Israel.

Finally in the 19th century there were Christian leaders who realized that the Protestant Reformation is going nowhere and that the only answer is restoration, going back to the drawing board and looking at the blueprint and starting over.

The desire was noble, and the conditions were good, but culture is a strong element, and if the devil could no longer twist the word of God, he used culture to divert the good and innocent Christians.

It is time my dear brothers and sisters to restore the paradigm of restoration and radically search for three things that are weak in the “Protestant/Evangelical” churches, unity of the body of the Messiah, and a hunger for biblical truth.

Biblical truth that is based first on the text in context, the historical context, going back to the time and place when the events happened, and when the apostles wrote it down. Today it is much easier to do this than it was in the 19th century. Today we have Rabbi Google.com. There is free access for everyone to information, at no cost. All that we need is a commitment to the word of God and to its truth.

All that this requires is that we understand that our commitment is not our denominations, not to the party-spirit that divides and alienates us from each other. Leaders don’t look for others to teach you! Read the Word of God, pray and read in search of truth and above all put your minds in gear, push the clutch down and shift to high gear.

One of my favorite preachers of the 19th century Restoration movement is Barton W. Stone. Barton W. Stone was the pastor of the Cain Ridge Presbyterian Church. When Barton read the word not as a Presbyterian pastor, but like a plain disciple of Jesus he understood that what he was doing is wrong and like Martin Luther nailed a note on the door of his church building. In this note Barton W. Stone stated that he could no longer be the pastor of the Presbyterian Church.

God’s word from Genesis to Revelation is the only standard and the only authority that we have and when I look at the words of Isaiah the prophet and connect these words with those of the apostle Paul in Romans – my heart is filled with hope and with assurance and security to keep on keeping on!

Looking up from my porch toward the East – over to Mt. Scopus and the Mt. of Olives waiting to see the Lord descend and hear the trumpet sound. It could happen at any moment like a lightning and thunder on a clear day.

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

By the way, you don’t have to live in Jerusalem, Israel, to wait and see the Messiah’s coming! I think that this is why God allowed humans to invent television and internet and modern communication so that truly every eye and every ear can hear and see the return of the Lord to Zion. From across the world people will be able to witness the Messiah’s return with the new spread of high-quality electronic devices and Wi-Fi.

Pray for Yeshua’s return! This ought to be on everyone’s prayer list daily. Our world is sick not only with the coronavirus, but with other issues that might be even more important and dangerous for the future of humanity. Issues that the only vaccine for them is the word of God.

Joseph Shulam: A Change in Paradigm Regarding Sacrifices [2020]

We are beginning the readings this Shabbat from the book of Leviticus. The book of Leviticus is the name given by the church. As you know, in the Hebrew Bible the books don’t have names. They are identified by the first significant word in the book.

Therefore, Genesis is in Hebrew “Bereshit”, which in English ought to be translated “in the beginning.” The word Genesis is from the Latin tradition of the Catholic Church, just as are the names of all the books of the Bible.

Numbers in Hebrew is “Bamidbar” (“in the wilderness”), Deuteronomy in Hebrew is “Devarim” (“words”)… The first chapters of the book of Leviticus are called in Jewish tradition “Torat Hakohanim” (“The Law of the Priests”). It is all the procedures related to the sacrificial covenant.

Sacrifices are an essential part of every ancient religion in all the seven continents of our globe. From the most primitive tribes to the most advanced cultures, since the dawn of pre-history and history, sacrificing is a major part of worship and devotion to the gods.

Maimonides does not deny that animal sacrifices are part of the halakha; having devoted an entire section to them in his Mishneh Torah – to say nothing of the fact that they are spelled out in the Written Law – how could he? He explains God’s rationale as a concession to the psychological needs of a primitive people just emerging from idolatry.

He cites the written law, as well as the prophets, to make the point that even in biblical days, animal sacrifice was at best a second-rate sort of mitzvah.

“In addition to the teaching of truths, the Law aims at the removal of injustice from mankind. We have thus proved that the first laws do not refer to burnt-offerings and sacrifices, which are of secondary importance.” – Maimonides, “The Guide for the Perplexed”

In the New Testament we have a kind of ambivalence related to the animal sacrifices. Social justice and righteousness are more important than the sacrificial cult in the Temple.

Yeshua gave us the following lesson on this issue in The Sermon on the Mount.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24 [NIV]

This shows Yeshua’s clear emphasis on man-to-man sins as being of number one importance, not atoned for by the sacrificial system. And it is up to the individual him or herself to resolve his or her debt to his or her brother and only than can sacrifice and worship of God be put in its proper place.

The second instance in the New Testament that seems to indicate that there are greater sacrifices than the Temple sacrifices, is the sacrifice of “self” for the sake of others, even strangers. There is a third example in the New Testament of what takes the highest place in the order of the sacrificial system. That is the sacrifice of one’s self for a higher cause.

Here are some examples of self-sacrifice from the Tanakh:

“Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses said to the people, ‘You have committed a great sin. So now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.’ Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.’” – Exodus 32:30-32 [NKJV]

Moses and Paul (Romans 9:1-4) were both willing to give up their salvation for the sake of the nation of Israel. They were willing to damn themselves (Anathemas) for the salvation of the people of Israel. The Apostle Paul commands us all to offer ourselves, our bodies, as a living sacrifice in the service of our Lord (Romans 12:1-3).

Today nowhere in the world do the Jewish people have a temple that has real “Kohanim” (priests) offering animal sacrifices. There are synagogues called temples in the West – but they are only reform American cultural temples of liberal Jews. So, whatever we know about the Kohanim and the sacrifice of bulls, goats, sheep, and even birds, we have learned from the Book of Leviticus.

Therefore, the command of the Apostle Paul to offer our bodies, our beings, as a living sacrifice must be fleshed out into smaller increments and practical bites.

The first thing we need to know about all sacrifices – is that they are essentially painful, and costly, and require labor and sometimes hard work.

Let us start with the most difficult aspect of sacrifice in the Bible. A sacrifice that is sick or damaged cannot be offered to God. The Lord demands a perfect, healthy, specimen that is figuratively mortgage-free, not somebody else’s property. It must be your personal possession.

If it is an animal the sacrifice must be healthy, but if it is not an animal – if it is me, or mine, it must be offered freely and with joy. Sacrificing our own bodies means first and foremost our physical bodies, that involves our head, hands, and if necessary, our legs, as well as our time and money. It is nobody’s business what I do or how I might go about performing my sacrifice to the Lord. There is no set measure to our sacrifices, and it is all relative to who we are and what we know and what we have and how much we love the Lord and His Kingdom and His children.

This principle is of great importance because following the command of the Apostle Paul without working it out so as to make it relevant in the real world and in practice will not result in any personal gain.

So, please, let me take some of the priestly practices as regards the offering of sacrifices in accordance with the Book of Leviticus and bring them up to date so as to make them relevant in our times.

The classic story in the New Testament that deals with one of the main principles of sacrificing to the Lord is the story in the Book of Acts of Hananiah and Shifra.

So, today we don’t have a temple in Jerusalem or anywhere else, and the churches are not temples, all they are is a place for the saints to gather and study, worship, and serve the community, just like any of the world’s synagogues. The only thing that is holy inside the synagogue is the Torah Scroll and the people who worship God and serve the community. The New Testament Church was people not buildings.

The first so called “Church Building” was created (not built) in the second quarter of the 4th Century BC, in Asia Minor during Constantine’s time. So, you might ask, just where did the Saints worship? That’s a good question. Let’s look at the New Testament and see if we can discern where the Saints met to fellowship and worship.

“‘They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.’” – John 16:2 [NKJV]

This text is one of the very few passages in all the four Gospels that are relevant to our question. We see that the disciples of Yeshua worshiped in the synagogues and we have more than one scripture that tells us that Yeshua Himself was going to the synagogues and even teaching in all the synagogues of the Galilee.

(Note the following texts: Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 12:9, 13:54, Mark 1:21-23, 1:39, 3:1, — I could go on to the gospels of Luke and John. The list would be long.)

To summarize this point there is one more text from Mark 6:2:

“And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!’” – Mark 6:2 [NKJV]

If I continued through the Book of Acts and the letters you would see that the place most often mentioned as the place where the disciples of Yeshua went to worship was the synagogue. The other places that are mentioned in the Book of Acts and in the letters of Paul, Peter, James, John, are by the river (where Paul met Lydia on the Sabbath day). They had no synagogue, so they went a short way out of town to worship.

Another place that is mentioned more than one time as a place of meeting for the disciples of Yeshua to worship was their homes: Acts 2:42, 12:12, 18:7, 21:8, 16. In all these texts the disciples of Yeshua from all around the Mediterranean Sea were meeting in people’s homes. They had no church buildings.

My point, dear brothers, is that our sacrificial service to the Lord is much more than just investing in buildings. Buildings are not the church, the Saints that use the buildings or the city parks or the picnic grounds by the river outside of town are not the church, only the people are the church — those who are a living sacrifice to the Lord.

I realize that for many of us this section is calling for a change of paradigm, and it is not easy after 1800 years of “Christian” history to erase the “hard drive” and reset our minds and thinking to conform to a more biblical view.

Please note one thing from the texts above. Yeshua was a rabbi who was accepted in the synagogues of the Galilee, and even in Jerusalem and around Jerusalem, as being a great Teacher of the Torah and prophets. He was not always rejected by the Jewish people, and neither were His disciples in Israel or in the Diaspora. Paul was accepted as a rabbi and given the opportunity to teach in many synagogues in Greece and in what is today Turkey.

Joseph Shulam: A Gift of Sacrificial Love [2019]

The reading of this next Shabbat is actually what I read in my Bar Mitzvah. I had my Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem, in the synagogue near my home in the south side of Jerusalem. We lived on Bethlehem Road and the synagogue was just a little distance from my home – in the same building that I started school on first grade.

My birthday is in March. Usually my birthday is much closer to the feast of Purim, but this year it is a little earlier. Every year I have taught from this parasha – from Leviticus chapter 1:1 – 5:26.

This portion of the Torah deals with the laws of sacrifices. It starts with sacrifices, what is right and what is wrong to sacrifice, and how to sacrifice and butcher the animals for sacrifice.

In fact, most preachers very seldom read or preach or teach much from the book of Leviticus. Especially not from the first chapters that deal with issues of sacrifices that are not so relevant for Christians today, and actually in practice are not very relevant even for Jews. We don’t have sacrifices as a part of our religious practices since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 AD.

There are many issues that are extremely important in this section of the book of Leviticus. I just want to mention a few that in past years I have addressed from this text:

  1. The sacrificial system is not absolute. It is relative! It is relative to the social status and the financial status of the person who sacrifices. It depends on the wealth of the sinner and his ability to sacrifice big animals. A poor person does not have to big a bull or a sheep or a goat, or even two doves. It is enough for a poor person to bring a handful of corn anointed with oil, and for that person, the handful of corn is as effective as a bull brought by a rich person.
  2. The sin is also relative. Not every sin has to be expiated by the sacrifice of an animal or corn even. The sins are graded by the punishment that the Torah requires. Also, the person who sins is relative to the punishment that the Torah requires.
  3. There are at least seven different kinds of sacrifices, and some of them have nothing to do with sin. There are sacrifices of thanksgiving and purification, and others too.

Now I just want to share with you the need for sacrificing! The need to sacrifice is a direct outgrowth of the need to love and to be loved. There are three words in the Greek New Testament for Love, and I can say that the same is true for the Old Testament in Hebrew. I will write about the three Greek Words from the New Testament.

The highest form of love is agape love, that is, love without any selfishness and intention of gain. Agape love is divine-type love. The kind that God loves us with. It is a love that is pure and holy, freely given, and willing to sacrifice for the person or people or goal that is loved with agape love.

The second type of love that is mentioned in the New Testament is philia. This is love between really good friends. Like the city of Philadelphia, which means “brotherly love.” This kind of love also has a sincere desire to spend time and to fellowship, and to give to friends and receive from friends.

The third kind of love is eros, erotic love. It is a love that depends on what you take and what you give, what you gain and what you share. It is not a love that does not seek benefit like agape, and it is no like philia, a question of friendship and sharing as friends. Eros is a love that needs and requires gain and benefit.

Now all these three types of love sacrifice. Agape is like divine love, it is giving of the best, without any motive to gain some selfish gain. The reason that one sacrifices and the motive for the sacrifice is of prime importance, and it makes all the difference how the Lord receives the sacrifices that we make for the Kingdom.

Can we love God and love our families and brothers and sisters without sacrificing anything for the ones that we love? The story of the Good Samaritan is a demonstration of what it means to love people. The Samaritan, who was not considered a friend of the Jews, took that Jew that was wounded and damaged on the road to Jericho. He picked him up and took him to the inn, and was willing to pay for the inn and the medical care of this stranger who was robbed and wounded.

We are commanded, each one of us, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12). The Apostle Paul noted that sacrificing our bodies as living sacrifices is the only reasonable thing that we can do in response to the sacrifice of Yeshua for our sins, for giving us a new life, a new birth, and the hope and promise of eternal life.

How can you go to church, spend an hour or so, and put in the plate just something that will make it clear that you are a part of the congregation and not some freeloader? Of course, you give something, it could even be 10%.

Today people give checks, and checks have your name on them. The people who count the money will know what you gave. So, you have to keep the fashion of the time and place.

However, can you sincerely say that you are sacrificing? You have good projects, that you believe to be good for the Kingdom of God and the salvation of the world, and you give to these projects.

Now, put yourself in the time when there was a Temple in Jerusalem, and you would give an animal, a bull or sheep or goats or birds! You would bring your animal, and before anything the priest will inspect the animal and see if it is healthy and whole, without blemish. If the animal would have a broken leg, or some skin illness, or was breathing heavily – your sacrifice would not be accepted.

The Word of God commands us to give and to give sacrificially. And to sacrifice our life as a living sacrifice. The same requirement that the Israelites had in the Torah is valid for us today. We have to give to the Lord what is without blemish and without damage.

We today must sacrifice and live sacrificial lives, that is, we must give the Lord our best. Because He is worthy not only for our praise, singing, and worshiping, but He is worthy of our best – the best of our life, the best of our time, the best of our money too.

Although the Temple does not exist in our day, there is the need to live a sacrificial life for the Lord and His Kingdom, to make a good change in the world. This includes the sacrifice of time, service, money, and talent, and to care for the needy.

There are many ways to sacrifice for the Lord and for His Kingdom! If you don’t feel that you are sacrificing something for the Lord and His Kingdom, and for the spreading of the Good News – please pray to God and ask Him what you should be doing, and how to sacrifice for the Kingdom of God!

Joseph Shulam: The Historical, Basic Human Need to Sacrifice [2018]

The Torah reading this Shabbat is from the book of Leviticus. In 2017, teaching the book of Leviticus was one of the main topics that I taught in four continents. The last time was in January 2018 in Amsterdam, Netherland.

The book of Leviticus is not an easy book to study today. The reason that is normally given is that most of the book of Leviticus addresses the work of the priests and the Levites in the Tabernacle, and later on in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Well, today neither the Jewish people nor the Christians have a physical temple, nor do we sacrifices of animals on stone altars. For Christians, the book of Leviticus is one that is seldom used, although in the New Testament Leviticus is one of the books of the Torah that is quoted by Yeshua, by Paul, and the other writers of the New Testament. Statements like, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” and, “Be holy because I the Lord am holy,” are from the book of Leviticus.

The issue of sacrifices in all religions is complex. It seems like it is in human nature to sacrifice, to give, tp offer to powers that control our lives, to people we love, and to God. All religions have some system of sacrifice to their gods.

The oldest temple discovered in archaeology is found above Ein Gedi in the Judean Desert, next to the Dead Sea. This temple dates before the 7th millennium before the Messiah, that is, more than 9000 years ago.

It has the following elements: a broad room with a special bench for the seat of their gods, idols. A bench for offerings of gifts to their gods, an altar for offerings of valuables, a water basin, and an altar for animal sacrifices.

In South America, the ancient Maya and Inca temples all had places for sacrifice, and often the sacrifices were human. The same phenomena is in every ancient temple.

For this reason, I am bringing you the opinion of one of the greatest rabbis who lived in the 12th century in Spain, during the Muslim occupation of Spain. He was a medical doctor and served the Muslim Caliph, who ruled from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean throughout the 10-40th parallel.

Maimonides (the Rambam) writes the following about sacrifices in Israelite Faith:

“Approximately one fifth of the Pentateuch and one third of the Talmud are devoted to korbanot-sacrifices. Birth, salvation from distress, the joy of the festivals, inadvertent sin-are all associated with korbanot or related procedures. Even with the destruction of the (Temple in Jerusalem) House of Holiness the centrality of korbanot in religious life was not extinguished. Many prayers are centered around them. We constantly seek their renewal in an era of peace and political freedom which will allow us to serve God as in former years.”

According to Rambam, God gave us the korbanot (sacrifices) in order to wean us away from the idolatrous practices of the heathen nations in which we had lived. God therefore redirected the sacrificial urge to Him, and commanded us to offer sacrifices to Him, so as to uproot the erroneous views we had acquired.

Ramban, in his book “A Guide to the Perplexed” states:

“When God sent Moshe to make us a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6) by means of the knowledge of God… the custom which was in those days common among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted of sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them… It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used… For this reason, God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner.”

(The Rambam introduces his discussion of the sacrifices, in chapter 32 of Book III of the Guide to the Perplexed.)

We do see the same attitude like Maimonides in texts like Jeremiah 7:22-23,

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.” But they did not obey or incline their ear but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts and went backward and not forward.’”

Isaiah 1:12–14, says:

“When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.”

Understanding this aspect of our relationship to the Creator is of great important to me personally. Paul states in the clearest way to the Athenians in Acts 17:24–28,

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’…”

Giving and sacrificial giving to the church is for service to the community, to both disciples and believers and also to the unbelievers. The Apostle Paul brought the contribution that he raised from the churches in Asia Minor and Greece for the poor saints in Jerusalem. He says what he did with that money:

“Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings.” (Acts 24:17 ESV)

The Word “offerings” in the English translation really means sacrifices, and here it does not mean money, but actual sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem. This is visibly clear from Acts 21 when James (Jacob) and the elders of Jerusalem direct Paul to the Temple to prove that he has not been teaching against the Torah.

Joseph Shulam: A Rabbinical Perspective on Sacrifice [2017]

The reading this week is from Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26. The book of Leviticus is the Priestly Code – the first chapters are somewhat tedious dealing with all the details of the sacrifices, the kind of animals, and how to butcher them before the sacrifices. What parts of the animals are burned totally and what parts are eaten by the priests. I would like to share with you the broader picture of why there are sacrifices as a human phenomenon.

First, sacrifices are a part of just about all religions in the world, both ancient and modern. Second, sacrifices are offered for a variety of reasons. The most common types of sacrifices are offered because of fear from the anger of the forces (gods) that rule the world, nature, weather, disaster like a volcano, earthquake, and illness.

Another reason why people offer sacrifices is to receive a blessing from the gods, harvest, fruit, prosperity, protection from evil forces and demons. Some people want to sacrifice to show the love and appreciation they have for their gods. Gratitude is another one of the motivations to sacrifice.

The God of Israel regulates this drive, urge, instinct, need to sacrifice and make it an institution. God regulates who can sacrifice, how the sacrifices should be treated, what can be sacrificed, when is the right moment to sacrifice, and where sacrifices can be offered.

All the world knows how to sacrifice to their gods. Israel was not an exclusive nation that sacrificed to God. There were sacrifices in Egypt to their gods, and the same in Canaan, and Mesopotamia their sacrificed to their gods. What was special about Israel is that God gave very specific and clear and extensive rules and regulations for each sacrifice.

Contrary to the other nations, the God of Israel did not order the sacrifices because He needed the meat or the gifts or the appeasement from His anger by sacrifices. The biblical sacrifices are not for God – they are for us human beings to satisfy our base human instincts.

It is easier for us to sacrifice money. Sheep, goats, bulls, pigeons, and wheat meal are all measured as money. We see this from the relativity of the sacrifices. If a person is rich he must offer a bull, if he is poor it would be enough to offer a hand full of meal anointed with oil.

Maimonides explains that the wisdom and intelligent design of God is evident in the complexity of the universe. This same wisdom is manifest in God’s providential care for humanity. God considers human nature. God knows that human behaviors and attitudes cannot be suddenly, radically altered.

Maimonides offers a novel approach to explaining animal sacrifice. He explains that God’s objective in His relationship with Israel was to develop the people into a nation devoted to His service. God chose to allow sacrifice that is like the nations but also very different in substance.

Sacrifice was an established form of worship in all the neighboring nations. If God had abandoned sacrifice as a form of worship it would have been a radical change of attitudes and behaviors. In other words, to achieve the goal of forming a nation devoted to God, a concession was made to human nature and sacrifices were commanded in a controlled environment and with limitations.

To reform sacrifice is highly controlled and structured. This intensive attention to detail assures that all elements of idolatry are removed and not permitted to reenter sacrificial service. When we read Isaiah 1 or Jeremiah 7, we see that the sacrificial system that God allowed or promoted in the Torah failed, and God had to say some strong words to bring Israel back to focus.

Maimonides knows that animal sacrifice is not an ideal form of worship. He seems to accept that this form of worship is a remnant from more primitive times and cultures.

Maimonides explains that the sacrificial system could not alter human nature. Only the Torah with the understanding of the ultimate divine love and grace can motivate us to change and be transformed into the divine nature by following the One who became a human and sacrificed himself for the lost seed of humanity. The shadow of the divine sacrifice of Yeshua is the model that mirrors all the sacrifices that were not sufficient to change our nature.

Maimonides believed that the Torah created a system of sacrifices in response to two considerations. First, it would have been impossible to develop a new religion that completely abandoned traditional, deeply rooted forms of worship that were the norm the whole world over.

Second, the Torah was compelled to regulate and structure sacrifices to “sanitize” them and strip them of idolatry. Looking at the prophets the structuring and regulating of sacrifices did not fully eliminate all elements of idolatry. The Torah’s concession to human nature in allowing sacrifices is a dangerous one. It allows an institution identified with idolatry to continue to exist.

Maimonides was aware that there is danger that the sacrificial system might become corrupted and degenerate back into idolatry even with the careful regulation of the Torah. Which we know happened by the time of the Judean Kings and Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and in fact, most of the prophets understood this.

The book of Hebrews sums up this point with the following words:

Heb. 9:11-14, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

Maimonides is the anglicized name of Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon. He was the most influential rabbi for modern Judaism. Maimonides was born in Cordova, Spain on Passover Eve, 1135 or 1138, he worked as a rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Morocco and Egypt. He died in Egypt on December 12, 1204, whence his body was taken to the lower Galilee and buried in Tiberias.

Joseph Shulam: A Living Sacrifice [2013]

This torah portion of this week’s reading is from Leviticus chapter 1 to chapter 4. The book of Leviticus’ 13 first chapters deal with the Sacrificial System.

Most Christians don’t really study in depth these chapters, because they are considered boring and not interesting, and with no little details of what to do with the kidneys and the fat and the skin and the feathers of the doves that are being offered as sacrificial animals. However, there is much that needs to be learned from these detailed instructions of what and how and where sacrifices can be acceptable to God.

Here are some things that I think important for all of us to learn from the first chapters of Leviticus: Sacrifices are a serious business for God’s people. This is the reason that God’s revelation is so detailed specific concerning every sacrifice and every kind of sacrifice.

Sacrifices are relative to the person’s possibility. The rich must offer a bull, the poorer a lamb or a goat, the even poorer can offer two turtledoves, and those who are really poor can offer a handful of grain anointed with oil. This is also the basis of the story of Yeshua of the widow’s two mites that were more than the Pharisee’s 1000 dinars. God knows what our capability is and if we short-cheat God in our offering and if it less than our best – our sacrifices are unacceptable and just stand as witnesses against us.

The sweet savor of our sacrifices to God is not the actual animal that is put on the altar, but our sincere dedication and intention of the heart. God looks to our heart and not to the smoke and smell that comes from the burning of the animal.

Those who accept the sacrifices of the people, i.e., the priests, also need to be purified and dedicated and sacrifices for their own selves before they can accept and perform sacrifices for others. This is a very important message for the “pastors” of today, because many but not all ask others to sacrifice for the church, but they themselves live opulent lives of little sacrifices.

Of course this last statement is an exaggeration, because there are many “pastors” who are living sacrificial lives, and I know some who sold their own car to give the money for the poor and for missions. There are many kinds of sacrifices, and for many different reasons, not all are for forgiveness of sins.

There are sacrifices of thanksgiving, and some for order and administrative purposes, and others still are for sin that was not committed intentionally. All ancient religions, even among idolatrous and pagan nations, had some kind of sacrifices.

The New Testament commands us as disciples of Yeshua to offer sacrifices, and no cheap sacrifices, as Paul said it:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

Paul says that offering our bodies as a living sacrifice is the reasonable or logical thing to do. We received a new life from Yeshua and that life is eternal and the right thing to do the logical thing to do is to give our bodies (the temporal and limited time bodies) as a living sacrifice to God, to His service, to the service of our fellow man in the Kingdom of God.

We still have to sacrifice and offer to our Lord, but now it is not the animals that are sacrificed but our own bodies and lives. We must remember that our bodies are much more than money, and much more than worldly goods, and much more than social status and acceptance.

Our lives and bodies are something that in time of need, illness, accident, we would spend all our worldly wealth to save our bodies. So, how much, what price, would we be willing to sacrificed as our reasonable, logical, service to our God and for Yeshua.

I pray that God will allow me to sacrifice my life, more of my life, for the service of our Lord. I hope that you read Leviticus the first chapters, and seek the Lord about the sacrifice of your bodies to the service of the Lord and His Kingdom.

Joseph Shulam: A Purpose-Driven Life [2011]

This next Saturday, in all the synagogues of the world, the reading will be from Leviticus chapters 1:1 through chapter 5:26. These first chapters of the book of Leviticus deal with the sacrificial system. Sometimes the text is very detailed and gives instruction how and what to do with internal parts of the sacrificial animal, and what to do with the skin, and with the fat.

Sacrifices are a part of every religious system the whole world over. There is always a demand and command to sacrifice for the God that is being worshiped. The God of Israel also required for people to sacrifice, and in fact created the whole Levitical Priesthood, to organize and administer the sacrifices all in great detail and special instructions and specified tools.

The Jewish people don’t have a Temple anymore, nor do we have a Levitical system anymore. There are no more animal sacrifices in the Jewish world. In the New Testament we are clearly commanded to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. The Apostle Paul says:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”(Rom. 12:1)

We must not teach Christians that we are not required to sacrifices. We are required and the Apostle Paul’s words are very strong, “I beseech you . . . by the mercies of God.” Paul is begging the brothers to offer their bodies, their physical existence, their whole earthly possession, as a living sacrifice.

There were and there are many people who paid with their lives for maintaining their faith in God and in Yeshua the Messiah. The disciples of Yeshua in the first three centuries knew that their faith is going to bring them persecution and may be even death in the arena. They knew that their faith is the insurance for eternal life and it is worth to sacrifice their whole life now for gaining eternal life with God and the saints.

This teaching of living a sacrificial life is needed so much in our days. Pastor Rick Waren’s book, “A Purpose Driven Life,” is one of the bestselling books. The true disciples of Yeshua can’t have any other life. The only life that we can have if we follow our Lord and hear the teaching of our Rabbi Yeshua, and keep His commandments, is a purpose driven life.

Paul says in that passage of Romans 12:1, that sacrificing our bodies as living sacrifices is our reasonable service. I am writing this because I realize how insecure with their finances are people these days.

The contributions to Netivyah have fallen dramatically in the last few months. The reasons why contributions fall could be many, but one reason could be that the disciples of Yeshua are not aware of the need to sacrifice.

Netivyah is built on the principle of sacrifice and in fact for more than 40 years of ministry every single accomplishment has been because someone sacrificed. I know that many of you who contribute to Netivyah are sacrificing, but I also know the Lord honors our sacrifices much more than the amount that is given.

We learn this from the story that Yeshua told about the Pharisee and the widow. The Pharisee gave a lot of money to the charity in the Temple, and the widow gave the two pennies that for the Lord were much more than all that the Pharisee gave.

This principle is still at work in God’s economy and even today the one who gives sacrificially gives much more than the nominal sum of his gift. We are all called to sacrifice and to give our whole bodies as living, vital, full of energy, and dedicated gifts for God’s work here on Earth.

Yehuda Bachana: God Doesn’t Want Your Sacrifice, He Wants You [2018]

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

This Shabbat we start the Book of Leviticus with Parashat Vayikra. Leviticus focuses on commandments, many of which are related to the sacrifices, the holy service in the Tabernacle, and the laws regarding the consecration of the priests.

It opens with an explanation of the variety of sacrifices, this includes voluntary offerings, sin offerings, and more. The very requirement that God had for different types of sacrifices, at different times, and for a variety of reasons, points to their importance in the worship of God.

Does God Favor Some Sacrifices Over Others?

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What is God really looking for when He asks for a sacrifice?

Sacrifices appear all throughout the Bible, from the beginning of Genesis until the end of the Torah as well as the end of the New Testament. The first sacrifice was from Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s sons and it served as a backdrop for the first act of jealousy and murder.

This story also leads us to the question regarding the relationship between the quality of the sacrifice versus the intent of the one bringing the offering. In other words, is it true that the greater the quality of the sacrifice, the more serious the intent? Or is it possible that there is no connection between the two?

Let’s take a closer look at the story:

“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” – Genesis 4:3-5 [NIV]

Why did God not look upon Cain with favor in regards to his offering? Some commentators say that Abel brought offerings from the firstborn of his flock, the best animals he had.

However, in Cain’s case, it was said that he brought some of the fruits of the soil, but not necessarily from the best of his crop. The commentators understand from this that there is a relationship between the quality of the sacrifice and the degree of intent shown by the one presenting it.

There are other commentators who interpret the text a little differently:

It does not say: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel’s offering, but on Cain’s offering he did not look with favor.” But rather it says: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.”

These commentators claim that the difference depends solely on the personalities of the individuals offering the sacrifices and not on the sacrifices themselves. Cain was unacceptable and therefore his offering was unsatisfactory.

Meanwhile, Abel was looked upon with favor, and in return, his offering was admissible. God’s acceptance of a sacrifice is dependent upon the individual offering it, including his identity, intentions, and background.

God Doesn’t Want Your Sacrifice, He Wants You

We tend to think that sacrifice is what brings atonement for our sins and that God will accept it every time. The purpose of sacrifice is to bring forgiveness, and the better and more costly it is, the greater the aroma will be to God.

In turn, He will be more satisfied and will forgive all our iniquities. This is also how we see Yeshua; He is our perfect sacrifice, the inventor of salvation.

God wants more than just the sacrifice, however, He wants the heart of the one offering it. What’s important when sacrificing is the person’s will, seriousness, and true intent. God examines the heart, and if a person’s heart passes the test, God accepts the sacrifice.

As believers we tend to think that Yeshua’s sacrifice is the most pure and desirable of all, and this proves true. However, this is only half of the equation. The other half is the identity and intent of the one offering the sacrifice and receiving salvation – our intent as believers.

Can God Reject a Sacrifice?

Can God reject a sacrifice? Is He able to reject fasting or prayer?

Indeed, Isaiah teaches us if our intentions and our hearts are not in the right place, then our fasting, sacrifices, and holidays are in vain. As can be seen in the following verses:

“‘The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!’” – Isaiah 1:11-15 [NIV]

Do we think God wants us to celebrate His feasts and too keep His Sabbaths? Is it important to visit His congregation and to pray to Him?

In the passage God is saying to us: “Are you coming to the house of God? Why? Who asked this of you? Do not come, I do not want to see you.”

This is because all we do is an abomination: Shabbats, holidays, fasting, etc.

Isaiah spoke strongly in this section, and God is saying to us through him – we will pray, but He will not listen. We will offer Him a sacrifice, although He will accept nothing from us.

Isaiah goes on to lay out instructions for us in order to learn how to be acceptable in God’s sight once more:

“Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” – Isaiah 1:16,17 [NIV]

We Must Sacrifice With Good Intent

Before we come to the congregation to stand before God, before we present to Him our prayer and sacrifice, before we say to God “in the name of Yeshua the Messiah,” we must come with good intentions.

We must stand before God after doing all we can to restore our relationships with one another in the community, between parents and children, employers and employees, etc. We must restore our relationships with others before we present our sacrifice and prayer before God.

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Treating one another with respect goes way beyond religion:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23,24 [NIV]

Offer a Sacrifice From the Heart

The part of this week’s parasha that touched me the most is where God commanded the people of Israel to offer a sacrifice to atone for their sins. Each person was required to bring a sheep, but is a person’s economic situation did not allow him to do so, God also allowed sacrifices of two pigeons. Again, if this was beyond financial means, God also allowed sacrifices of an ephah of flour. We find these instructions in Leviticus 5:6-12.

What I’ve learned through this portion is to be myself. I learned that it is essential to know what my limitations are, my strengths, and what I can give to God. If what we have to give is two pennies, then that is enough, just as it was enough for the old widow described in the New Testament.

In the eyes of God, she gave a donation to the Temple that was greater than baskets filled with gold, as they are given out of one’s excess.

When we stand in judgment before God, He will not ask us, “Why were you not more like Moses?” God will not even ask us, “Why were you not more like Yeshua?” despite the fact that we as believers often like to ask, “What would Jesus do?”, when we run into a difficult problem.

God will ask us, “Why weren’t you more like yourself? Why were not you more like the way I created you?”

In Conclusion

We must give our hearts as a sacrifice to God, and after that God will be pleased to receive from us the gifts we offer, the prayers, the holidays, the Sabbaths, and the days of fasting.

Going back to our point about salvation, Yeshua is the perfect sacrifice, and He is our savior. Yeshua alone cleanses our life from all sin and impurity, and presents us as pure and clean before God.

In order to receive the sacrifice of salvation, we must have good intentions.

All the commandments regarding sacrifices are based on this: God wants them only if they are given with good intent. The identity and the intent of the one offering the sacrifice is of utmost importance.

Click here to download a pdf version of this teaching.