Tag Archives: korban

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Outside the Camp

Our religion involves a lot of ritual foods, including the ceremony that Christians refer to as the Eucharist, but the writer of the book of Hebrews warns his readers to steer away from sacramental interpretations of ceremonial foods. This discussion of Hebrews 13:9-14 brings the central conflict behind the epistle into sharp focus.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Forty-five: Outside the Camp
Originally presented on March 8, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Hebrews 13:9-14 (NASB)

I have no idea what happened to sermon forty-four. It’s not in the list at the Beth Immanuel website. We seem to be missing the previous week’s sermon which probably covered Hebrews 13:1-8. I guess we’ll have to live without it.

But Lancaster says something compelling about today’s sermon. He says that the whole summation of the entire epistle can be found in these verses. Really?

However, we have to be willing to accept some speculation on his part about the meaning of the “varied and strange teachings”. There’s no way to know for sure what they really were, but Lancaster has a theory. The thinks that these strange teachings were some odd, mystical interpretation about the meaning of the sacrifices, particularly the peace and sin offerings, which are the only ones that were eaten.

Lancaster guesses that some teachings were being circulated, probably by the Sadducees who were in control of the Temple, stating that unless the priest actually eats of the sacrificial portion in the presence of the person making the offering, the offering was ineffective. Or unless the sin offering were completely burned, the sins were not forgiven.

Again, this is pure guesswork on Lancaster’s part, but I thought it sounded sort of like the following:

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.”

Matthew 23:16-22

PriestsSwearing by the Temple vs. swearing by the gold in the Temple; yeah, that sounds like a strange and diverse teaching, too. Lancaster believes the writer of the Hebrews letter was saying that the priesthood was circulating strange teachings about the animal sacrifices indicating they meant far more than they actually did. This was an attempt to pile on more pressure, since the readers of the letter, the Greek-speaking believing Jews, had been exiled from the Temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices. If these Jews thought that not offering sacrifices meant, on some mystic level, that they were exiled from God, they might actually abandon faith in Messiah for the sake of offering korban.

Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.

Hebrews 13:9

But God’s grace and favor doesn’t come from “mystic food”, it comes from faith.

Lancaster offered the example of the Catholic Church from the Middle Ages to the present. Even in the present-day Catholic Church, the Church can refuse to offer the sacrament of the eucharist, Holy Communion, to a Catholic who has gone against church teaching, perhaps by supporting abortion rights for example. It is a terrible shame to be excommunicated and many Catholics are successfully manipulated by the pressure to at least publicly change their beliefs so they can regain access to Communion.

This is sort of how Lancaster sees what the Jewish letter readers were going through.

Except, like the eucharist, the sacrifices are not “magic food”. Simply offering and eating doesn’t impart or remove God’s grace and blessing apart from the believer’s faith and devotion to God. Verse 9 says the heart is strengthened by grace, not food. It also says that if eating the “magic food” was so effective, how come the corrupt priesthood of Sadducees was still so wicked?

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.

Hebrews 13:10

This verse could be one of the proof texts used by the early Catholic Church to justify the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion as a sacrament that replaced the Temple sacrifices (and no doubt more than a few Protestants also believe this). The people who have no right to eat of the sacrament, in this scenario, are the Jews, unless they convert to Christianity.

The Death of the MasterLancaster’s take is different from the traditional Christian interpretation, and follows along with what he’s taught about the rest of the epistle. He’s saying that the earthly Temple is a reflection of the Heavenly Temple, and that the Heavenly altar has “food” that those who serve in the tabernacle, that is, the earthly priesthood, have no right to eat, not because they’re priests or Jews, but because of their wicked hearts and actions.

The next several verses metaphorically compare the national sin offering to the Messiah’s death.

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. herefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.

Hebrews 13:11-13

The blood of the sin offering was to be taken outside the camp which in those days was outside the walls of Jerusalem. This is where the Master was executed, outside the city walls. The letter writer says that we too should be willing to share in the Master’s reproach, for just like he was, they also have been rejected from the larger community, like lepers, ostracized, seemingly abandoned. But if they are worthy of the Messiah, then they would be willing to suffer, even to the death, for the sake of their faith and the promise of the Messianic Age to come.

What Did I Learn?

I would have missed most of those details, but by now, I’ve stopped reading the parts of Hebrews not covered by the sermons I’ve heard and I’ve been willing to listen to Lancaster’s explanation first. That’s probably a fault of mine, and in retrospect, I should have read ahead to see if what I’ve learned so far could help me in anticipating what comes next.

Be that as it may, I wouldn’t have gotten the comparison of “magic” sacrificial food to the eucharist and the artificial manufacture of a sacramental system created to replace the Temple practices. The sacrament of Holy Communion also requires a priesthood, so you can see how the earliest foundations of the Church were predicated on replacement theology or supersessionism. And even though the Protestant church doesn’t emphasize the necessity of frequent taking of the eucharist, they haven’t done away with it either, accepting the fundamental underpinning the Catholics established, that the wine and the wafer mean something, and that a Christian cannot be complete without accepting Communion.

Lancaster made another point, a big one, that really spoke to me. He compared Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles to those put “outside the camp”. He compared us to the readers of the Hebrews epistle. Those of us who identify with the Messianic Movement are largely to completely rejected by both mainstream religious Judaism and mainstream Christianity in all its denominations.

Judaism not only rejects those Jews who accept the revelation of Yeshua as Messiah, but absolutely rejects the Gentiles who have come alongside Israel through faith in Messiah. Of course this is also true of the Church. I know what it’s like to maintain a Messianic theological and doctrinal framework within a local church environment. Everyone was nice and friendly and accepting of me but not of most of what I had to say. And for the Messianic Jew, the Church has no problems with that person as long as they convert to Christianity and surrender any form of Jewish practice beyond a token Passover seder or maybe building the occasional sukkah.

Lancaster states that Messianic Judaism is based on a completely different set of theological assumptions than Christianity. But it’s a set of foundations that he believes are correct, and in fact, represent a major “course correction” in the deviated trajectory Christianity has charted over the past nearly two-thousand years.

If the foundation of Christianity is “out of whack,” the only recourse is to tear down the structure and rebuild it from the ground up. That’s pretty radical talk, and I can’t imagine too many Christians who would quietly accept such words.

Lancaster was quick to point out that he feels brotherhood with all Christians as fellow disciples of Messiah, but on an institutional level, he has little in common with them.

So if we are reviled and rejected by Jews or Christians for our beliefs, perhaps we are partaking in the Master’s suffering in some small way, and bearing his reproach.

For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Hebrews 13:14

TempleThis is why we’re willing to suffer. Our hope isn’t in this world or the present institutional state of the Church. We are waiting for the city to come, “New Jerusalem,” if you will, the Messianic Age.

I should note that Lancaster believes the Hebrews letter writer didn’t know that Jerusalem would be leveled a few short years in the future, but the Holy Spirit knew, so portions of this letter, including the above-quoted verse, are prophetic. Once there was no Temple, the believing Jews could only turn to the Heavenly Temple and the Heavenly High Priest, Yeshua.

This is where our faith lies, not in Heaven but in the future Messianic Kingdom come to earth. The price we pay is to share in the trials, the reproach, and the rejection of the world around us including many or most religious institutions. But in that rejection, we must not give up our faith in our Master, lest we lose our reward in the world to come. Too many Messianic Gentiles have lost their faith in the Master and converted to Judaism as their “true love.”

Like Abraham, God sent us out from the accepted and the familiar into an unknown territory and requires that we accept a promise of what we can’t see or touch or hear (see Genesis 12:1-4). We endure difficulties today for the sake of the fulfillment of the future. It’s as if we are approaching the end of a Passover seder and we say symbolically, “Next Year in (Messianic) Jerusalem.”

I must say that listening to this particular sermon brought up some of the same issues I discussed in yesterday’s morning meditation. It’s difficult to discuss the theological and doctrinal differences between traditional Christians, Messianic Judaism, and Hebrew Roots without at least potentially stepping on someone’s toes. How do you say that you love your fellow brothers and sisters in the faith and yet also acknowledge some of the extreme differences in viewpoint?

Next week, I’ll write my review of the final sermon in Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews” series.

Advertisements

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Single Sacrifice for Sin

Hebrews 10:10-18 presents the death of Yeshua of Nazareth as the “single sacrifice for sin,” but does that make Yeshua a sin offering like those once offered in the Temple? In what sense is Yeshua a sacrifice? How can he be a sacrifice when his death does not accord with the Levitical laws for the sacrificial services whatsoever? This teaching, based upon the final chapter of D. Thomas Lancaster’s booklet What about the Sacrifices? answers the difficult question of how the death of the Messiah provides atonement for sin.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Eight: Single Sacrifice for Sin
Originally presented on January 11, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
After those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws upon their heart,
And on their mind I will write them,”

He then says,

“And their sins and their lawless deeds
I will remember no more.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10:10-18 (NASB)

In today’s sermon, Lancaster continues to build on the points he made in previous weeks, including last week’s sermon in which he strongly differentiated between the nature, character, and purpose of the Temple sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood, and the purpose of Jesus as the single and final sacrifice for sin in the Heavenly Temple.

Now he specifically takes on a really big issue that even many Christians struggle with: just how does the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross take away sins and why doesn’t that mean God approves of human sacrifice?

LambThe “official” answer of the Church is that the sin and guilt sacrifices as well as the annual Yom Kippur sacrifices of the Temple took away the sins of the people of Israel, sacrifice by bloody sacrifice, year by year until Jesus was crucified, taking our sins away forever. Then the Temple system was rendered meaningless, having been replaced once and for all (Hebrews 9:27-28, 10:12) by the blood of Jesus, for as John the Baptist said (John 1:29), “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

But we have some problems with this theological theory. The Torah is very specific about what qualifies as a sacrifice according to God. Lancaster laid out a very convincing list:

Condition 1: An acceptable sacrifice must be an unblemished, undamaged, uninjured kosher animal, and usually a specific animal or set of animals relative to the particular sacrifice. Jesus wasn’t an animal of any kind, he was a man, and he certainly wasn’t unblemished or uninjured, having been whipped and bloodied before ever being nailed to the cross.

Condition 2: Any sacrifice must be made in the Temple, according to the Torah. Jesus was executed outside the walls of Jerusalem, not in the Temple.

Condition 3: The blood of the sacrifice must be splashed on the altar. This did not happen with the blood of Jesus.

Condition 4: The sacrifice must be performed by Levitical priests. Jesus was killed by people who weren’t even Jewish, the Romans.

Condition 5: The sacrifice must be slaughtered in a highly specific manner, with the throat cut by a very sharp knife. The animal must be bled out and suffer no pain whatsoever. If it suffers, it is disqualified as a sacrifice. Jesus certainly did suffer and suffer greatly, and no knife came anywhere near his throat.

Condition 6: God forbids human sacrifice and finds it repugnant.

All this means that Jesus absolutely, positively could not be a literal sacrifice for the atonement for sin and guilt.

Lancaster brought up the obvious objection of the Akedah or the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19) but the flaw here is that God did not allow Abraham to actually kill Isaac. It was a test, not a human sacrifice.

This is the problem with Christianity reading from the Gospels and Epistles backward into the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. If you start with a New Testament mental and interpretive template, it forces standard Christian doctrine into the Old Testament text. Unfortunately, this results in erroneous conclusions based on Christian tradition.

So if the blood of goats and sheep never, ever took away sins in the first place, and Jesus can’t in any sense be considered an acceptable sacrifice, how does his death take away sin? Are the anti-missionaries and apostates right? Is Christianity a crock?

First of all, the writer of the Book of Hebrews says that the death of Jesus takes away sins once and for all in his single sacrifice:

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:10

After that single act, Jesus waited and still waits.

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.

Hebrews 10:11-13

LevitesOn Earth, the Levites had to daily minister in the Temple, but the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem were never designed to take away sins, but instead, to cleanse the bodies of those desiring to draw near to the Divine Presence physically (Hebrews 9:13). The sacrifice of Jesus was qualitatively different in that it enables people to draw near to God spiritually (Hebrews 9:14). But now that the single sacrifice of Jesus has been made, he need offer no other sacrifices in the Heavenly realm, but waits seated at the right hand of the Father for the final battle to begin, when his and Israel’s enemies will be laid at his feet.

Verses 14-18 cite the New Covenant, specifically how God will write His Torah on the hearts and minds of the people of Israel and he will cleanse them of sin forevermore. In fact, verse 12 says for all time,” which Lancaster interprets as from the beginning of human history and the sin of Adam and Havah (Eve) to the end. So the blood and death of Jesus cleanses you and me of our sins two-thousand years after he was slain, and cleanses Abraham of his sins two-thousand years before the crucifixion, even though Jesus was executed at a single point in time, the early First Century CE. I’ll get back to this in a bit.

But first, we have to solve the mystery of how Jesus can be an effective sacrifice to atone for sin for all time and yet not be a literal Temple sacrifice. I mean, when John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God” do you really think John believed Jesus was a four-footed animal who grew wool and went “baa”? Of course not. John wasn’t being literal, the was being “literary”

The hearers and readers of the teachings of the Bible, that is, the ancient Jewish people, received these teachings within a certain conceptual context. They understood the Hebraic metaphors, symbolism, and wordplay being employed by the Prophets and the Sages of each time period in which the Biblical text was authored. As Christians almost twenty centuries later, we can make the mistake of either allegorizing the Bible, rendering God’s promises to Israel as “really meaning” promises to “the Church,” or we can be overly literal and attempt to directly compare the sacrifice of a sheep on the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem on Passover with the execution of a late Second Temple itinerant Rabbi, and one who ultimately was proven to be Moshiach, by a bunch of Roman soldiers at the command of the local Roman governor.

So if Jesus wasn’t a literal sacrifice, and comparing him to a lamb and the spilling of his blood to the splashing of the blood of lambs on the altar is metaphor, how does his sacrifice work?

self sacrificeThe answer isn’t very obvious in the Bible, which tends to throw a lot of people, but it has to do with God’s quality of absolute justice and something called “measure for measure.” That is, the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished.

Period.

Problem is, we see very little of that kind of simple justice in the real world:

Righteous are You, O LORD, that I would plead my case with You; Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You: Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?

Jeremiah 12:1

Good question.

According to Lancaster, the Pharisees answered Jeremiah’s (and our) question this way:

  1. Death is not the end. If it were, then our world, and God, is unjust.
  2. Justice is delivered in the resurrection when the righteous and the wicked are judged before God, with the righteous being rewarded and the wicked being condemned.

The righteous may suffer in this world, and even suffer horribly, but they will be rewarded in the Messianic Kingdom and the life in the world to come.

…strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Acts 14:22

Of course, even the best among us isn’t completely sinless. Even Lancaster admitted to having committed acts of which he is still ashamed and probably will be for the rest of his life. It can be said that we suffer in this world, at least in part, as a consequence of our own imperfections and our own sins, and thus, when we die, it can be said that our death is just because we have sinned. Even Paul said “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

But what if a totally and completely sinless person should die unjustly? If he’s not suffering and dying in his own sins, when why is he suffering and dying at all?

Another explanation of AND THOU SHALT MAKE THE BOARDS FOR THE TABERNACLE. Why does it say FOR THE TABERNACLE? Should it not rather have said ‘ into a tabernacle ?  R. Hoshaya said: Because the sanctuary stands as a pledge, so that if the enemies of Israel became deserving of destruction, it would be forfeit as a pledge. Moses said to God: Will not the time come when Israel shall have neither Tabernacle nor Temple? What will happen with them then? ‘ The divine reply was: ‘ I will then take one of their righteous men and retain him as a pledge on their behalf, in order that I may pardon all their sins. Thus too it says, And He hath slain all that were pleasant to the eye (Lam. II, 4).

-Exodus Rabbah 35:4

This Talmudic text points back to Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant, and specifically verse 11 which states:

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities. (emph. mine)

The Death of the MasterAlthough the traditional Jewish interpretation of these verses render the suffering servant as Israel, I have to agree with the Christian view in this case, and say that the Prophet is writing about Messiah, who as an individual person and who was completely without sin, suffered and died to justify the many.

The concept of the Suffering Tzaddik is known in Rabbinic literature and Lancaster even delivered a sermon on the topic. Although I haven’t listened to that sermon, I wrote a commentary of my own on the same subject several years back. Here’s part of one of the texts I quoted:

“… suffering and pain may be imposed on a tzaddik as an atonement for his entire generation. This tzaddik must then accept this suffering with love for the benefit of his generation, just as he accepts the suffering imposed upon him for his own sake. In doing so, he benefits his generation by atoning for it, and at the same time is himself elevated to a very great degree … In addition, there is a special, higher type of suffering that comes to a tzaddik who is even greater and more highly perfected than the ones discussed above. This suffering comes to provide the help necessary to bring about the chain of events leading to the ultimate perfection of mankind as a whole.”

Derech Hashem (The Way of God)
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
As translated and annotated by Aryeh Kaplan
Feldheim Publishers
Jerusalem, 1997, p. 122.
Quoted from Yashanet.com

To extend the thought, if a tzaddik or righteous one among the sages may die and atone for the sins of his generation, how much more so can death of the great tzaddik, the most righteous one, who was completely without sin, take away the sins of all peoples in all generations across the vast span of time.

Thus, the death of Jesus is effective to take away the sins of the world, but not because it was based on the sacrificial system that took place in the Temple as commanded by the Torah of Moses. It was effective based on God’s justice and the principle of “measure for measure.” If the completely sinless Jesus died an unjust death, to balance justice, since he did not die for his own sins, in the merit of his death, his blood atones for the sins, not just of many in a single generation, but of all people across all generations.

This also means that any comparison or “competition” between the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrificial system of the Temple is like comparing apples and airplanes. The one has nothing to do with the other. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was employing metaphor so he could get his point across, not saying Jesus was a literal lamb, or a literal sin offering. This is like saying Jesus is a Priest of the Order of Melchizedek. Jesus didn’t really establish and belong to this “order” of priests (and he certainly wasn’t literally Melchizedek). The Hebrews writer was using metaphorical language to say how Jesus could be High Priest in the Heavenly Court, even though he can’t and won’t qualify to be a Priest of any kind in the Earthly Temple (including the future Temple) in Jerusalem.

What Did I Learn?

The biggest thing for me was nailing down the “time span” within which the sacrifice of Jesus atoned for sins. Lancaster says that metaphysically, it covered all sins across human history, from Adam and Eve in the Garden, to the very end of the age including our age and beyond.

…“for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”

“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Romans 11:25-27

King DavidThis seems to answer the question, “are the Old Testament Jews saved?” The answer is “yes” if they sincerely repented of their sins. Like David’s lament in Psalm 51, it wasn’t the sacrifices of bulls, goats, and sheep that atoned for his willful sin with Bathsheva, it was repentance and a broken heart.

Lancaster didn’t address this, but it brings up the question of a Jewish person and if he/she must believe in Jesus in order to be saved. A Christian would say “yes,” and further, a Christian (at least some of them) would say that only Jews who believed in Jesus after the crucifixion were saved, since no one comes to the Father except through the Son (John 14:6). However, if that is literally true, than all of the Jewish people who were born, lived, and died before Jesus (and the rest of humanity as well) were automatically condemned to eternal damnation.

But that violates the language of the New Covenant promises as well as Romans 11 and Hebrews 10. While I don’t understand it completely, the Jewish people, not just in the age when Jesus returns, but across time, will “mourn for him as one mourns for an only son” (Zechariah 12:10).

These conclusions won’t sit well with most Christians (and most Jews, since Lancaster will be accused of playing “fast and loose” with the Talmudic texts), especially the Bible literalists, but they have the benefit of making the older scriptures harmonize rather than drastically conflict with the Apostolic Scriptures. If we are to consider the Bible as a single, unified document describing God’s overarching redemptive plan for Israel, and through her, for the rest of the world, then we can’t have that plan jarringly switch tracks somewhere between the end of the Gospels and the beginning of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.

If the Bible doesn’t appear to have a seemless flow that preserves God’s promises and integrity, and avoids making Him a liar by pulling the biggest “bait and switch” with Israel the world has ever seen, then the problem isn’t with the Bible, it’s with how the Bible is interpreted.

“And their sins and their lawless deeds
I will remember no more.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10:17-18

Restoration
Photo: First Fruits of Zion

The consequence of the New Covenant promises to Israel is just that. On the merit of the death of the great tzaddik Yeshua who is the mediator of that covenant, God remembers the sins of Israel no more and writes His Torah within them so they will never sin again (but see last week’s review for why sin offerings will continue, even in the absence of people sinning). From that time on, with all sins forgiven, there will no longer be any offering for sin, for there will be no need for Israel to make sin offerings. They have drawn near to their God in Spirit and in truth.

May it be so for all of us who believe and make teshuvah before Hashem by the merit of Moshiach.

Tonight begins the festival of Sukkot. Chag Sameach Sukkot.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: A Body You Have Prepared

Dive into Hebrews 10 with an entertaining, fast-paced discussion of an apostolic midrash on Psalm 40 and it’s appearance in the argument regarding the suffering of the Messiah as an atoning sacrifice for sin.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Seven: A Body You Have Prepared
Originally presented on January 4, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster touched on this in one of his previous sermons, but in today’s lecture on the Book of Hebrews, he goes into depth about why we can’t compare the Temple sacrifices to the death of Messiah, and also why the death and resurrection absolutely doesn’t cancel the Temple service…because it would be like saying apples cancel oranges (my metaphor, not Lancaster’s).

Lancaster, as he starts talking at the beginning of this recording, admits that his opinion of Hebrews chapters seven through ten, disagrees with all New Testament commentators everywhere. On the one hand, he says this probably makes him an unreliable source (and I know folks who would agree) since no other scholar corroborates his opinions. On the other hand, the traditional interpretations of Hebrews (and the rest of the Christian Bible) are fundamentally based on the theological necessity to remove the Torah and the Sinai Covenant post-crucifixion and replace it with New Testament (Gentile) grace. I’ve mentioned how more than once, Lancaster has pointed out how the theology of the Bible translators has been read back into the Bible such that they render the Greek incorrectly.

Here’s what I (and Lancaster) mean:

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves.

Hebrews 10:1 (NLT)

This is how the New Living Translation (or the “New Living Targum” as Lancaster quips) renders the first sentence of this verse. The word “only,” which I put in bold, doesn’t appear in the Greek, and the word “dim” is not indicated in the original text.

The NASB, which is the translation I most commonly use, isn’t much better.

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.

At least the words I’ve bolded above appear in italics in the online translation of this verse, but a casual reader might not realize something is amiss.

Lancaster then reads from Young’s Literal Translation which, while sounding awkward, renders the Greek text without attempting to interpret it.

For the law having a shadow of the coming good things — not the very image of the matters, every year, by the same sacrifices that they offer continually, is never able to make perfect those coming near…

“Coming near” is a technical term, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

What this sentence boils down to once you remove the translation bias, is to say:

The Torah is good because it contains a shadow of the coming good things.

No indication that those good things have already arrived (because they haven’t) or that anything has been done away with. Just a statement that the ceremonies of the Torah foreshadow the Messianic Age and beyond.

Period.

Lancaster explained his main point and I believe I got it, but it was hell trying to take notes so that point would be easy for me to explain. I’ll try to create a more straightforward statement than what I heard in the sermon, and then I’ll go back and cite some of Lancaster’s proofs.

The Sacrifice - detailThe sacrifices for sin listed in the Torah were never, ever meant to actually forgive intentional sin. In fact, there is no sacrifice for intentional sin in the Torah, only for unintentional sin.

So what happened when a Hebrew in the days of the Tabernacle or the Temples intentionally sinned? Or, for instance, what happened if a Jew lived in the diaspora, the lands other than Israel, far away from the Temple, and he sinned? Did he have to go all the way to Jerusalem to give a sacrifice? But I guess that wouldn’t matter. Even if the Jewish person lived in Jerusalem and committed an intentional sin, was that person destined to burn in Hell for eternity because there was no sacrifice for intentional sin?

For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

Psalm 51:16-17 (NASB)

This is David’s prayer to God after his sin with Bathsheva. He deliberately, purposefully, has an illicit affair with a married woman, impregnated her, tried to trick her husband to sleep with her by getting him drunk, and when that didn’t work, had her husband Uriah murdered, then quickly married Bathsheva so he could claim the child as his as a premature birth.

However, none of that was hidden from God and David’s sins were “outted” through the prophet Nathan.

But this was a series of premeditated and deliberate sins. How could David have possibly atoned for such sins since there is no sacrifice for them? Even David says that God would not be pleased with animal sacrifices. But he does say God would be pleased with a broken spirit and a contrite heart, or more accurately, that those sacrifices God “will not despise.”

Lancaster says that prayer and teshuvah (repentance) have always been effective for the atonement of deliberate sins.

But then, why did God command the sacrifices at all if they weren’t effective for the forgiveness of sins? Was it that they “covered” the sins whilst the death of Jesus finally, completely washed them away? Lancaster said that’s not it.

The sacrifices were never designed to atone for sins.

OK, wait a minute. What about Yom Kippur when the Aaronic High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies once a year to make atonement for the sins of all Israel?

But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Hebrews 10:3 (NASB)

If the Yom Kippur (“year by year”) sacrifice never took away sin and neither did the required sin offerings for even unintentional sin, what did they do? What was their purpose?

Remember, a Jew (anyone, actually) who sins intentionally or otherwise, can receive atonement for those sins through prayer and sincere repentance, so technically, there’s no real reason for making animal sacrifices, even when the Temple was standing, for the forgiveness of sins if you weren’t going to enter the Temple.

PriestsBut God commanded Temple services for all Israelites for a number of specific occasions such as Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Jews had to enter the Temple for those moadim and to commemorate a number of other events and acts as well, including offerings when an unintentional sin was discovered. But if a person sinned, even if spiritually he was forgiven, according to Lancaster, he still needed to enter the mikvah and perform the required sacrifices for the purity of the body, so that the person could draw physically near to God’s Divine Presence.

Even a woman who had recently given birth had to offer a sacrifice for sin, and even then, not until forty days after giving birth as commanded in the Torah. It wasn’t that giving birth was a sin. Far from it. But it’s a requirement for physical purification in order to draw near (the word translated “sacrifice” in English is “Korban” in Hebrew, meaning “to draw near”) to God’s Divine Presence. For imagine praying to God when His physical manifestation was only a few meters away. What an incredible experience to actually be commanded to enter into God’s Holy Presence at the Temple.

I have to admit, this one is hard for me to wrap my brain around, since so much of the Torah language does speak of atoning for sins and forgiveness. Even Lancaster says as much. And yet, if sin, even unintentional sin, defiles a person’s body, he or she cannot enter the Holiness of the Temple and draw near the presence of God without purification of the body which was defiled because of that sin. Even if the person was forgiven on a spiritual level through repentance, and remember, some events, such as giving birth, required a sin offering even when there was no sin, there still remained the need for physical cleansing.

That’s an especially important point because it means that Jesus (Yeshua) in his earthly existence, could still have been required to provide a sin offering at the Temple, even though he never sinned. He would just had to be in some state of ritual uncleanness (which is not a sin). That also means, certain prophesies about “the Prince” (Ezekiel 45:22) offering a sin sacrifice in the Messianic Age could indeed be about the sinless King Messiah. No supernatural hocus pocus required and no contradiction involved in a sinless person offering a sin sacrifice.

This also has the benefit of helping us realize that the death of Jesus on the cross didn’t have to cancel the sacrificial system, the Levitical priesthood, the Temple, and the Torah, since it didn’t replace the actual function of that system. Animal sacrifices didn’t take away sin and then have to be replaced by Jesus who did. Prayer to God and authentic repentance has always provided for atonement.

As far as Yom Kippur is concerned, the Aaronic Priest offered the required blood sacrifices and then he prayed for the forgiveness of his own sins and those of all of Israel.

So what is so much better about the sacrifice of Jesus? It inaugurates by the merit of his holiness and suffering, the New Covenant era which does provide for the permanent perfection of human beings to make them sinless.

What Did I Learn?

Lancaster compared Hebrews 10:5-8 with Psalm 40:1-9. Here are the relevant verses:

Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,

“Sacrifice and offering You have not desired,
But a body You have prepared for Me;

In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.

“Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come
(In the scroll of the book it is written of Me)
To do Your will, O God.’”

After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.”

Hebrews 10:5-9 (NASB)

Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.

Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.

I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.”

Psalm 40:6-8 (NASB)

Levites singingThe writer of Hebrews, although apparently quoting Jesus, is actually putting the words of Psalm 40 in his mouth, so to speak, since it is a prophetic Psalm. Psalm 40 was one of the songs sung by the priests in the Temple, probably during a Thanksgiving Offering. David is giving thanks for being delivered from some difficulty.

Notice in verse six, he says that God “opened his ears” (in Hebrew, it literally says “dug out my ears”) meaning, according to Lancaster, that God enabled him to hear God in order for him to do God’s will.

But Hebrews 10:5 renders the quote of that verse as “a body you prepared for me.” What happened?

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is likely a Greek-speaking Jew writing to Greek-speaking Jews and is using the Septuagint, the Greek Translation of the Tanakh, as a Biblical reference. Lancaster says a scribal error actually mistranslated the verse about “God opening ears” to “preparing a body” (you’ll have to listen to the recording to get the detailed explanation). However, the Hebrews letter writer makes good use of this error.

If you’ve read all of Psalm 40, you’ll have noticed that verse six also mentions God not wanting sacrifices. Again, this isn’t replacing sacrifices, since a few verses later, David says that he delights in doing God’s will and God’s Torah is in his heart. He is again saying that the sacrifices aren’t designed to forgive sins, though they certainly are a part of a Jew’s obedience to God.

By the way, the part of the verse in both Psalm 40 and Hebrews 10 that says “he was written about in the scroll of the book” is usually interpreted to mean Messiah, but Lancaster says it’s more likely that David meant the Torah speaks of anyone who does the will of God.

However, as far as the body being prepared, Lancaster does say that this is the sacrifice that actually does provide for the permanent atonement for Israel’s sins and perfects them such that they will sin no more in Messianic Days. It brings forth the question of whether or not anyone will have to offer a sin sacrifice in the Days of Messiah, but remember, there are other reasons for making those sacrifices that have nothing to do with actually sinning.

After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:8-10 (NASB)

OK, so the second replaced the first. Sure sounds like the sacrifice of Jesus replaced the Temple sacrifices but what are the “first” and “second?”

The first is that in order to draw near to God in the earthly Temple, the first system, the sacrificial system, was necessary, but this won’t work to draw near to God in the life of the world to come. The “second” speaks of a time past the Messianic Era when there will be no Temple.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple

Revelation 21:22

In Messianic Days, there will still be a Temple because while the redeemed will be perfected, not everyone alive then will be among the redeemed. However, in the world to come, when all evil has been extinguished and God once again lives among His people, the Temple will no longer be needed, just as at the first, when Adam and Havah (Eve) dwelt sinless in the Garden.

Lancaster pointed out something interesting about Hebrews 10:9:

He takes away the first in order to establish the second…

The Greek verb translated above as “takes away,” also translated as “sets aside,” “cancels,” “does away with,” and “abolishes” is never, ever used in any other part of the New Testament or Septuagint to mean that. In any Greek lexicon, the word has two possible meanings:

  1. Kill or slay
  2. To take up, to lift up, to carry

It doesn’t make much sense to say:

He kills the first in order to establish the second…

Lancaster thinks the second meaning in my list, which Greek lexicons indicates is the most common usage, is the more likely meaning:

He takes up or lifts up the first in order to establish the second…

From Lancaster’s perspective, it’s high time that the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews receive a fresh translation into English to do away with centuries of mistaken translations and interpretations based on the errors required by Christian tradition.

praying_at_masadaMessiah came to do the will of his Father and by that will, we have been sanctified due to the offering of his body and the merit of his holiness.

I have only touched on some of the points Lancaster made. In the approximately forty minute lecture, he inserted a lot more detail. I hope I’ve been able to adequately summarize his sermon and make it understandable. For this one especially, I recommend listening to it yourself. Lancaster says, and I agree, that his interpretation is highly unorthodox, but it has the benefit of not throwing the baby out with the bath water, or in this case, extinguishing the Temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the Torah in order to establish and lift up the Messiah as the mediator of the New Covenant, for in fact, the earlier must flow seamlessly into the latter for the Bible to make any cohesive sense at all.

Why the Torah is the Tree of Life

I also raised My hand [in oath] against them in the Wilderness to scatter them among the nations and to disperse them among the lands, because they did not fulfill my laws, they spurned My decrees, desecrated My Sabbaths, and their eyes went after the idols of their fathers. So I too gave them decrees that were not good and laws by which they could not live.

Ezekiel 20:23-25 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

In a moment of great pique, God has the prophet Ezekiel tell his exiled brethren of the relentless misdeeds of their fathers, which brought about their loss of the land. God insists at one point: “Moreover, I have them laws that were not good and rules they could not live by.” The import of these harsh words is that God might just be the author of inadequate or even malevolent law, a proposition that flies in the face of God’s goodness, love, and perfection.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Divine Music in a Human Key,” pg 468 (May 14, 1994
Commentary on Torah Portion Bamidbar (Numbers)
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

The twenty-fifth verse in Ezekiel 20 relates a startling admission on the part of God through the prophet, that God gave Israel “decrees that were not good and laws by which they could not live.”

When reading those words, I was immediately reminded of the traditional Evangelical Christian reasoning about why God gave the Torah to Israel at Sinai in the first place. I mean, if God was going to cancel the Law with the death and resurrection of Jesus, or at least have it pass into obsolescence to be replaced by the much more “livable” grace of Christ, by what rationale did God require and demand that the Israelites keep the Torah mitzvot?

The answer, and I was also startled when I first heard the Pastor at the church I attend present it to me, is that God wanted to illustrate that no one could possibly keep the law and that we all need God’s grace to save us from sin.

So God sets forth a lengthy set of conditions associated with the Sinai covenant between Hashem and Israel, with a generous collection of blessings for obedience to God’s Torah (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) and an abundant list of curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

God, being faithful to His Word, has indeed blessed Israel when they cleaved to His Torah and cursed them when they strayed from obedience.

The haftarah reading for Bamidbar, Hosea 2:1-22, chronicles the course of God’s response to His covenant people, from wrath in response to Israel’s faithlessness when she “played the harlot” (v 7) by abandoning her “husband” (God) and chasing after foreign lovers (idols), to the promise of renewing the intimate relationship between Hashem and Israel when they returned to Him in obedience:

And I will espouse you forever: I will espouse you with righteousness and justice, and with goodness and mercy, and I will espouse you with faithfulness; then you shall be devoted to the Lord.

Hosea 2:21-22 (JPS Tanakh)

Laying TefillinAfter all of that, with generation after generation of Jews all striving, sometimes succeeding and often failing to willfully keep the commandments, yet in their heart, always loving and revering the Torah, they never suspected that God was just setting them up for a huge fall. And then, during the Roman occupation, just a few decades before the destruction of Herod’s Temple, God was going to yank it all away from them and abruptly declare that He had planned to have Israel fail and fail miserably all along, in some sort of demented preparation for the coming the Messiah and “the law of grace.”

I enjoy reading mystery books that have a creative and unanticipated plot twist to keep things interesting, but God, according to Evangelicals, is the undisputed master if “I didn’t see that one coming,” the ultimate jumping of the tracks where the train carrying all the exiled Jews back to Jerusalem becomes the carriages transporting endless hoards of formerly pagan Gentiles to Rome.

Ezekiel 20:25, especially when read out of its immediate context and outside the overarching plan of God for Israel, could be interpreted as supporting this “double-dealing” motivation of God except for this:

But note what has been accomplished by this exegetical twist: The holiness of the text has been preserved. Whatever blemish we may detect has nothing to do with the original power and beauty of the Torah, but derives solely from inferior mediation. Not the author, but the interpreter is at fault.

-Schorsch, pg 469

It is said that Biblical interpretation starts with translation but it obviously doesn’t end their. The value of our Holy Scriptures rises and falls with the correct understanding of what we’re reading. Putting on the supersessionism-colored glasses forged by the Gentile “Church Fathers” and polished by the men of the Reformation, we indeed do read the Bible “through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) rather than accessing the plain sight of God.

But how can man see with God’s vision? We probably can’t, though we are experts at saying we really can, and in saying that, we reveal ourselves to be deluded or liars.

This thing you call language though, most remarkable. You depend on it for so very much. But is any one of you really its master?

-Spock/Kollos (Leonard Nimoy)
Is There in Truth No Beauty? (1968)
Star Trek: The Original Series

Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy

The above quote references a “mind-meld” between Mr. Spock and a non-humanoid being named Kollos, an ambassador for his planet who is non-verbal and who can only communicate with people through telepathy. He experiences “humanity” for the first time seeing the world (or the bridge of the Enterprise) through Mr. Spock’s senses and communicating through spoken language which he never had done before. You and I like to think we are familiar and even (as I said above) “experts” on understanding the Bible, but an outside observer, if they could access our point of view, might accuse us of what Kollos accused the people on the Enterprise, depending on language for so very much without truly being its master.

We depend on the Bible for so very much, but who can say if anyone can be the master of a document that, while scripted in this world by human beings, was inspired by the mind and spirit of God?

But it’s just about all we’ve got, just like language is just about all we’ve got to communicate with one another, to learn about one another. We only have the Bible to teach us about God.

But no one of us being its master, how dare we say that any part of the Bible, down to even the tiniest jot or tittle, in any way has been cancelled, annulled, eliminated, replaced, folded, spindled, or mutilated?

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB)

It is a Tree of Life for those who cling to it, and happy are those who support it.”

Proverbs 3:18

It’s not just a matter of poorly interpreting the Bible but in selectively reading it. Christians can “cherry pick” those scriptures that seem to support a classic supersessionist view of an expired Torah, but they can’t explain those portions that support a high view of Torah, a continued zealous observance of Torah by multitudes of believing Jews in New Testament times (when Acts 21:20 speaks of “how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law,” the Greek word we translate into English as “thousands” is literally “tens of thousands,” and that Greek word is the basis for the English word “myriads,” telling us that vast numbers of Jesus-believing Jews were completely over-the-top zealous for the Torah), and since the Bible (in my opinion…and the Epistle to the Hebrews notwithstanding) doesn’t speak of the Torah expiring like an aging carton of milk in the back of the fridge, then I have no reason to believe that God intended to annul the Sinai Covenant and its conditions for the sake of the inaugurated but not yet arrived New Covenant…not until after Heaven and Earth pass away.

Tree of LifeUntil then, the Torah is a Tree of Life, first to the Jew and also to the Gentile, defining, among other things, who we are in relation to God and who we are to each other, Jewish believers remaining wholly and completely Jewish in identity, role, and responsibility, and grafted in Gentile believers taking on, not a Jewish role, but one that uniquely defines us as the people of the nations who are called by His Name, who have a calling that is not Israel but that supports Israel, for our salvation comes from the Jews (John 4:22).

The one mystery I have struggled with up until recently was why, after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, is worshiping God “not enough” anymore?

Many, many years ago, long before my wife and I became religious, we attended a Passover Seder at a friend’s home. At one point during the reciting of the Haggadah, he stood up and joyously cried out, “No one comes between a Jew and his God!” Even as a non-believer, it was quite obvious to me that he was referring to Jesus and Christianity, perhaps viewing Jesus as a layer of abstraction that was thrust between people (or Jews) and God when no such separation existed before.

We can debate whether or not the Temple and sacrifices separated Jewish people from God or actually brought them closer and say that Jesus draws Jews (and everyone else who will believe) closer still rather than further away, but from a Jewish point of view (I can only assume, not being Jewish), being told you now can only come to God through Jesus rather than praying to Him directly with no intermediary, makes it seem as if the rules have changed and a brand new player was added to the game, one that the Jewish people never needed before.

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.”

Deuteronomy 30:11-16 (NASB)

The Torah is the Tree of Life, the source of everything that is good and is from God for a Jew. It was never too far away and it was never intended to be impossible to observe. God did intend for the Jewish people to observe the mitzvot and by obedience, they would draw closer to God and receive good life and prosperity in the Land. Why would that ever change? Not through Jewish disobedience, because God always provided Israel a way back through repentance. Not because of the coming of Messiah, but I’ll get into that at a later time (see below).

the-joy-of-torahSo far we’ve seen that Judaism is a religion of joy, and hopefully, I’ve shown that this joy emanates from observance of the mitzvot and study of the Torah, and that the Tree of Life brings a Jew (and realistically, all of us who embrace the Word of God) nearer to God. But where does Jesus fit in?

I know that’s an odd question and I know many of you think you know the answer. In my next meditation, I’ll see if I can show you a new answer (new to me, anyway) and why God didn’t change the rules, just as the New Covenant was never intended to replace the Sinai Covenant. God doesn’t destroy anything He has created, but He does continually reveal Himself to us across the history of the Bible.

It’s revelation I’ll speak of next time.

Vayikra: Drawing Closer

eph-2-10-potter-clayThe Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock.

Leviticus 1:1-2 (JPS Tanakh)

The book of Vayikra (Leviticus) primarily deals with what are commonly called “sacrifices” or “offerings.” According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: a “sacrifice” implies giving up something that is of value to oneself for the benefit of another. An “offering” implies a gift which satisfies the receiver. The Almighty does not need our gifts. He has no needs or desires. The Hebrew word is korban, which is best translated as a means of bringing oneself into a closer relationship with the Almighty. The offering of korbanot was only for our benefit to come close to the Almighty.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayikra
Aish.com

Leviticus is one of the books of the Bible that many Christians can’t stand. It’s so boring. “Anyway,” we say to ourselves, “aren’t we done with all of those icky, bloody sacrifices?”

According to blogger and author Derek Leman, the sacrifices teach us a good many things about Jesus or Yeshua Our Atonement, as he titles his new book. No, I’ve not laid eyes on it yet but at some point, I’ll probably need to get a hold of a copy so I can review it. In the meantime, I’ll just have to offer what meager insights I have on this week’s Torah Portion and what it means for Christians.

The clue is in what Rabbi Packouz says about the nature of sacrifices or “korbanot” which has the meaning not so much of slaying an animal to appease God, but to bring an offering to God in order to draw closer to Him. Where else do we see this imagery?

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:4-5 (ESV)

Paul calls us to be living sacrifices and Peter says to offer God spiritual sacrifices. Obviously, in neither case are they suggesting that we bring animal sacrifices to the Temple or to offer (gulp) our own bodies as physical sacrifices on the pyre, though as I once mentioned, every soul can be considered to be on the altar of God.

Peasants-Carrying-Straw-MontfoucaultWhen we connect our lives to making a “sacrifice for God,” we usually think of depriving ourselves of something, doing without, even suffering pain and torture. I can’t say that’s not what God will ask of us. After all, in China and elsewhere in the world, Brother Yun and many others like him have suffered greatly and sacrificed much for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But regardless of what God may ask of you or me, whatever it is, it’s not a matter of what we are doing without but what immeasurable treasures we gain, the greatest of which is the drawing closer to God.

Sometimes it’s not a matter of waiting around to see what God will ask. Sometimes it’s a matter of looking around and seeing what needs to be done.

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov once came to the marketplace in Yaroslav. He was passing among the vendors, checking the quality of the straw and hay for sale, when he met his friend Rabbi Shimon of Yaroslav.

“Rebbe, what are you doing here?” R. Shimon asked in surprise.

“Leave out my ‘rebbe’ and your ‘rebbe,’ and come with me to carry a bale of hay to a poor widow who had no hay or straw upon which to lay her broken body,” the Sassover replied pungently.

The two holy leaders went together, hauling a bale of hay on their shoulders. Astonished bystanders stared in wonder and moved aside to make room for them to pass.

As they went, Rabbi Moshe Leib remarked, “Were the Holy Temple standing today, we would be bringing sacrifices and libations. Now we bring straw, and it is as though we have all the kavanot (spiritual intentions) that come with offering the minchah sacrifice.”

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov’s father, R. Yaakov, would take a job before Passover grinding wheat at the mill—not for himself, though he was also a poor man, but for a widow and orphan who lived in his neighborhood. And he did this despite his great and abiding love for the Torah, which he learned constantly.

Moshe Leib, his son, followed in his father’s footsteps. Despite his greatness in Torah, he did not worry about his honor when it came to performing acts of kindness for his fellow Jew with his own hands, even if they were beneath his status in the eyes of others.

-Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles
“In Place of a Temple Offering”
from Stories My Grandfather Told Me
quoted from Chabad.org

practicing_loveWe are the closest to God when we are the closest to other human beings, especially those who have needs far greater than our own. Here we see that two men, two Rebbes who normally did not carry their own straw much less carry straw for a poor widow drew closer to God by looking around, seeing a need, and responding unreservedly. Or as the Master taught:

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Matthew 23:11-12 (ESV)

Drawing closer to God is inconsistent with claiming self-righteousness, self-exaltation, and self-privilege. Servitude, humility, kindness, and a spirit willing to help with no expectation of return draws Creator and creation into close proximity. Seeking who we are in God brings us closer to God. Seeking who and what somebody else is in God as if it were our own will only bring trouble.

This is the way of Torah: eat bread with salt, drink water by measure, and sleep on the earth.

-Ethics of the Fathers 6:4

Does observance of Torah require living a life of poverty and depriving ourselves of all the niceties of the world.

Certainly not. The Talmud is elaborating upon another Talmudic statement: “Who is wealthy? One who is content with his portion” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1).

People who can be happy with the basics of life – food, clothing, and shelter – can truly enjoy the luxuries of life, because they can be happy even without them. Those whose happiness depends upon having luxuries are likely to be perennially dissatisfied, in constant need of more, and consequently unhappy, even if they have everything they desire.

A wise man once observed a display of various items in a store window. “I never knew there were so many things I can get along without,” he said.

If bread and water can satisfy us, then we can enjoy a steak. If we are not satisfied unless we have caviar, we will discover that even caviar is not enough.

Today I shall…

…try to be content with the essentials of life and consider everything else as optional.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Nisan 2”
Aish.com

open-your-handAs Rabbi Twerski says, this isn’t an invitation to pursue self-deprivation, to give all our belongings to the poor, and then move to India to work with lepers. It’s not even an invitation to abandon motivation and striving to better ourselves, our incomes, and our positions in life. It is, however, an invitation to consider that after we’ve done all we can in taking care of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, to look around, take stock of our environment, and to realize that we should be satisfied with the gifts of God’s providence. It is from those gifts that we give back to others and give back to God, for everything belongs to Him anyway, and who we are and what we have only exists so that we may serve Him.

And by serving God and serving others, we serve ourselves, for what we then achieve is union and belonging and closeness to who and where we came from in the first place.

Good Shabbos.