Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Nasso ('Lift up'') 18th June 2016. 12th Sivan 5776

Torah: Numbers 4:21-7:89. Haftarah: Judges 13:2-25

Obedient to death...and beyond!

My friend John went to a restaurant with an Orthodox Jewish man who held a prominent position in a local synagogue in Australia. They both ordered steaks but, to the horror of my friend, when the steaks were served, each was topped with a rasher of bacon! Out of respect to his Jewish friend, John put his rasher to the side of the plate. After a few moments his friend asked if he was going to eat the bacon and, if he wasn’t, could he have it. John expressed surprise but his Jewish friend explained that it was okay because there was no one there to see what he was doing!

This week’s Parasha deals in large part with secret sins and makes it clear that we can run from God but we can’t hide from him.

Israel was holy and God made his home in the heart of the camp in the Tabernacle. Physical and moral defects were problematic for approaching a God who is perfect in every respect. Certain defects were so serious that the sufferers had to be excluded from the camp until such a time as their abnormalities were eliminated. Israelites who had touched dead bodies or were suffering from certain types of skin disease that made them resemble the flesh of the dead were put outside the camp. Discharges of bodily fluids such as blood or semen, presumably because those fluids are associated with life, resulted in exclusion from the camp in which the living God resides.

When people failed to keep HASHEM’s mitzvot, their shortcomings had to be atoned for by sacrifices offered at the tabernacle. In that way, it was possible for the holy God to remain in their midst. But what about those in the community who were guilty of sins about which none but they knew? What if someone had purloined his neighbour's goods (5:5-10) but was then overcome by a sense guilty? What about a woman who had cheated on her husband (5:11-31) but had managed to keep the fact well hidden?

God sees and he has ways of bringing a matter to light, whether through speaking to a person’s conscience or through what might appear to us to be a crude magical ritual (It isn’t magic but it appears that way but to those of us living in an ‘enlightened’ age,). If a man obeyed the voice of his conscience and admitted to damaging or stealing the property of a fellow Israelite, he had to offer a sacrifice and restore the value of what he had stolen plus 20%. We could do a lot worse than apply the principle of restoration in our own legal system.

If a husband suspected that his wife had been cheating on him, he could arrange with the priest for her to undergo a ritual that would expose her unfaithfulness (if she had indeed been unfaithful) that involved her drinking water with some of the holy ground from the tabernacle mixed with it. If she was guilty, she would suffer horrible physical symptoms. However bizarre such a ceremony might appear to us, it was connected with the holiness of the tabernacle, the camp and the people. There is no record in the Bible of any husband making his wife drink dirty water and then watching to see if the hideous effects take place so it is possible that no husband ever took such a drastic step to assure himself of the faithfulness of his wife.

Nevertheless, Israel was to be a holy people and, should someone wish to devote themselves to a particularly holy life for a period of time, they could take a Nazirite vow, under which they would forego some of the more pleasant things of life, such as wine, in order to devote themselves to God. Samson (as we read in the Haftarah) and Samuel were both lifelong Nazarites.

Jesus of Nazareth has traditionally been depicted in western art with long hair, no doubt because artists confused ‘Nazareth’ and ‘Nazarene’ in Matthew’s Gospel 2:23: ‘And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”’

‘Nazarene’ is most likely a play on words because, according to Isaiah 11:1, the Messiah is to be ha Netzer, ‘a ‘shoot’ from the stump of Jesse. So it was a nice touch that he should live in a town with a similar sounding name.

As the offspring of David, Jesus was the Holy One of God, the Messiah who lived a totally sanctified life, devoted to doing his Father’s will. No one has ever been as obedient to HASHEM as Jesus: ‘The Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father’ (Gospel of John 10:16-18).

No one in all history has ever made the audacious claim that they had the ability to be obedient to HASHEM not only to death (as the martyrs were) but also beyond. And that is good news for Israel. All approaches to God in the past had to be through holy, sanctified, God-ordained channels: the tabernacle, the priests, the sacrifices, and so on. But all those institutions turned out to be flawed. They never delivered what they were supposed to.

But as HASHEM’s totally Holy One, Jesus superseded all Israel’s divine institutions, so much so that he could say he was ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’ and that no one could come to God except by him. He sees our faults, our failures and our sins, both blatant and secret, but loves us anyway and offers the imputation of his own righteousness as a free gift to all who trust him.


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