The God Who Pays Attention to Details
Emor אֱמֹר ("Say it!") Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23
The parasha for this Shabbat is entitled Emor, which means "Say it!" and covers Leviticus chapters 21 through 24. These chapters reveal to us a God who is holy, who pays attention to details, and demands the same of those who would draw near to Him. In particular, the priests who were intermediaries between Israel and God were required to be free of any physical defects. God is awesome in perfection, and the priests represented Him. The ancient Jewish priests were also a type of the Messiah, and Messiah Yeshua was flawless in every respect. Those who were blind or lame or who had any sort of disfiguration on their face or who had eczema or a crushed testicle were disqualified. Even a something as simple as a broken bone or a limp disqualified a man from serving at the altar. I and many of us here would be disqualified on that alone. Their lifestyles also were to reflect holiness. Priests were required to marry virgins of Israel. They could not marry any woman who had ever been a prostitute, or an adulteress or even divorced. In terms of ritual purity, the priest was not to have any contact with a deceased person.
Chapter 22 includes a reminder that, likewise, animals brought for sacrifice to the Lord also had to be without defect. Animals with any sort of blemish or deformity were unacceptable as sin offerings or for burnt offerings fulfilling vows. We were prohibited from slaughtering a cow or a sheep and its young on the same day, but to allow no less than a week for the mother and the young calf or lamb to be together. Animals may be simple, but they do have feelings, and God cares about all of His creation.
Chapter 23 gives an overview of the seven annual feasts of Israel, four in the Spring, and three in Fall. Why did God command us to have these festivals? Was it to make our lives more difficult? No – these special days were given us so that we could have occasions to draw near to God and enjoy His presence! God also knows we need reminding of who we are and who He is. Each of these feasts in some way points to Yeshua as the Messiah.
Passover portrays Yeshua as the spotless Lamb of God, not a bone of whom was broken, by whose blood death passes over those who believe. The seven-day Feast of Matzah points to Yeshua as the sinless One, who was afflicted for our sake, and by whom death passes over us. The Feast of First Fruits, falling on the 3rd day of Passover week, anticipated the resurrection of the Messiah from the dead on the third day. Seven weeks and a day later, Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks (or, Pentecost), with its offering of new grain and two loaves of bread baked with leaven waved before the Lord as first fruits, looked ahead to the Holy Spirit's coming and drawing together of Jew and Gentile in Messiah as one new man.
Leviticus mentions no Summer festivals. The Summer was a time for the crops to grow and ripen, but the harvest was yet to come. In terms of God's redemption of the world, we are in the very late days of Summer. For the past 2,000 years the seed of the Gospel has gone out worldwide and taken root. The harvest of believers from all the nations is soon to be reaped at the End of the Age.
Israel's three Fall Festivals are also prophecies, anticipating the Second Coming of Messiah. Yom T'ruah (Rosh HaShanah), on the 1st day of the 7th month of Tishri, with its blowing of shofars looks ahead to the coming Great Day when
"…the Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Messiah shall rise..." (1 Thess. 4:16).
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, occurs on the 10th day of Tishri. The High Priest, representing all Israel, would enter K'dosh K'dosheem, the Holy of Holies, but only after elaborate ritual purification and the offering of a bull for his own sin. What a solemn day! It was all or nothing - we would either be accepted by God and live another year, or be judged by God and condemned. God commanded us on Yom Kippur to humble ourselves - to afflict our souls. We were to fast and to reflect on our desperate need of God's forgiveness for our many sins. The rabbis tell us that in ancient times a scarlet-colored piece of fabric was tied to the Azazel, the scapegoat, and another piece tacked up at the Templegate. They say that when the Azazel met its death, instantaneously the scarlet-colored fabric would turn white; symbolizing God's acceptance of our atonement for the year, and reminding us of God's word through Isaiah:
"Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool (Isaiah 1:18).
Imagine the joy and relief that was felt by all when they knew they were accepted for the year to come!
That relief would naturally give way to joy and celebration, which is precisely what the third Fall Festival was all about: Sukkot - the Feast of Tabernacles, five days later, on the 15th of Tishri. The sukkahs, the little shelters we were commanded to build and decorate with leafy branches, were reminders of our wandering in Sinai. But I believe we were also to consider our all-too-brief sojourn in this world as temporary as those shelters. This world is not our home, and these bodies of ours will one day fail. Sukkot looks ahead to both the Millennial Kingdom of Yeshua, characterized by peace and abundance, and to our eternity in fellowship with God, about which the apostle wrote,
"Behold, the Tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any mourning or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new" (Revelation 21:3-5).
Perhaps it is the very idea of a new beginning that explains why God appointed Shemini Atzeret - an additional assembly on the eighth day.
So if you're not physically perfect, don't despair. God has not only graciously declared us a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, but we have a righteous and perfect High Priest, One who for our sake was disfigured. And because Yeshua has provided the ultimate offering of Himself once for all time, we are accepted by God in Him. Through Yeshua we have everything to celebrate, and these festivals hold for us incredible joy, and the promise of even greater things to come!
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Emor אֱמֹר. Other transliteration: Emore