Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Emor ('Speak') 21st May 2016. 13th Iyyar 5776

Torah: Leviticus 21:1-24:23. Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31

Holy people. Holy Priesthood. Holy house

When God created the world, he placed man inside a sacred space (Gan Eden) from where a holy human race would multiply and fill the earth. God’s plan was that his holy creatures reproduce and spread through the world subduing, developing and – dare I say it? – improving his creation so that the whole world would be holy. The very opposite happened. Man rebelled against his Creator and because of his privileged position as the head of creation, Adam’s rebellion threw God’s ‘very good’ world out of kilter. The head of God’s creation became unholy and, as a consequence, the entire creation became unholy.

In the process of redeeming creation, God chose a people and set them apart from the nations. They were holy and separate, a kingdom of priests called to reveal God to the nations. Israel as a people was to mediate between God and the world, and from that holy people would spring the ‘seed of the woman’, the ultimate Redeemer of creation, the Messiah.

There was within the holy nation a holy tribe of whom God demanded a greater degree of separation and holiness. The priests were the chosen of the chosen, the mediators of the mediators, the holy ones of the holy ones.

This week’s reading from the Torah is Emor, from the first verse of the reading, which says, ‘HASHEM said to Moses, ‘Say (emor) to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron ...’ (Leviticus 21:1). Emor begins with special laws relating to sanctity, propriety and purity for the priesthood, Leviticus 23 provides an overview of HASHEM’s ‘appointed times’ and chapter 24 deals with the holiness of the bread of the presence and the holiness of God’s name.

The priests were to be a safeguard to the holiness of Israel. The priests were to instruct the nation in the ways of God and if the people sinned and compromised their holiness, the priests were there to intercede for the people and to make atonement for their iniquities.  

But what if the holy priests were unholy? What hope would there be for the rest of the nation? The tragedy of the history of Israel was that the priesthood became corrupt and the nation degenerated until the northern tribes of Israel were sent into exile. Judah refused to learn the lesson and she, too, was taken into captivity. The temple was destroyed and the land lay desolate for seventy years.

In exile, the prophet priest Ezekiel foresaw a day when a glorious ideal temple served by holy priests would exist (Ezekiel 44:15-31). The temple that was built after the exile was certainly not a fulfilment of the vision recorded in the final chapters of Ezekiel.

Structurally, Zerubabel’s temple was inferior to Solomon’s sanctuary, so much so that the former exiles who remembered the first temple wept when the rebuilt temple was dedicated. The beauty of Herod’s temple, although one of the wonders of the ancient world, was only wall deep and it was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70.

Today, Jews (even religious Jews) claim that they need no mediator between themselves and God and, furthermore, that they need no blood sacrifices to atone for sin. How, one wonders, can they make such claims when an entire book of the Torah consists of the dictated words of God relating to the holiness of the priests and the sacrifices that were to be offered daily.

Why, after stressing the importance of the sanctuary, the priests and the offerings, would God take away Israel’s mediators and the temple for almost 2,000 years?

Maybe the temple destroyed by the armies of Titus in the year 70 had simply run its course and had to be removed because it had been replaced by something better? What if the pure and holy third temple of Ezekiel’s vision had already become a reality and the defiled second temple had become surplus to requirements?

What if there is now a truly holy temple and a truly holy priesthood? What if there is a greater high priest than Aaron and what if there is now a better atoning sacrifice than was ever offered in the temple?

What if the old clapped out priestly system was no longer fit for purpose and God had provided the Jewish people with a brand-new, improved system that really worked? Wouldn’t it be tragic if it turned out that religious Jews were trying to jump start a rusty, clapped out Skoda with no engine while turning their backs on the Rolls Royce waiting to take them to their desired destination.


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