Shemini - Return to Joy
Ha-Foke Bah Hebrew
Ha-Foke Bah English
Review: We are in our series through the book of Leviticus. This whole series I have said that “We all want a world that is good.” A world where there is love, joy, peace and patience. We know that our world is lacking this and so we yearn for it. The answer starts with the world's need for God’s unrelenting love to renew and create us.
Leviticus drops us right at one of the ugliest moments in Israel’s history, the golden calf, and shows us how much God loves us, he moves from mountain-top-throne to soil-bound-tent to be with his people and heal us from sin. Sin destroys and vandalizes.
Today: If you prioritize happiness over holiness you will create a hot mess.Most people believe the Bible teaches that “God does not want you happy. He wants you Holy.” False Dichotomy, bad teaching, that has done more to turn people away than singing hymns. You are hard wired for happiness. God takes joy and happiness in all that His hands have made. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is “joy,” we are admonished to sing and rejoice, to be glad.
What is tragic to me is to watch people undermine their own happiness. Who has the greatest potential to steal, hurt or kill your happiness? Don’t you look at your spouse. Don’t look at your children. You need to look in the mirror. You are the greatest threat to your own happiness.
Here is how I know it:
You bought it.
You leased it.
You dated it.
You slept with it.
You married it.
You ate it.
You drank it.
The number one reason we tragically undermine our own happiness is because we prioritize happiness over holiness.Happiness and holiness are not opposed to one another.
Happiness is a natural by-product of holiness. Holiness seems like such a big scary religious word but it is not. Holiness just means to be set-apart for a reason. Like your bathrobe is set-apart for home use not going to the office. Like your toothbrush is set-apart for your teeth and not cleaning your oven. Holiness - in the most common sense means just to be set-apart. Holiness, in Leviticus, is to be set-apart as an extension of God’s nature and His will to bring about love, joy, peace and justice. I would argue that you experience greater happiness to the degree you submit to God’s holiness.
If you prioritize happiness over holiness you will experience the Law of Diminishing returns. Definition - benefits gained become significant decreased compared to energy and resources put out. Happiness by itself has limitations, Holiness is unlimited because its origin is in the One who is Infinite, Eternal, and Unmeasurable.
The greatest threat then to true happiness is Sin.Sin vandalizes your relationship with God, others and yourself. Sin destroys your relationship with God, others and yourself. Sin separates you from God and the renewed world of love, joy, peace and justice He wants to cocreate through you.Sin reprioritizes your heart. We all know what we reach for to make ourselves “happy” when we are “unhappy.” We all know what we to do other people for to make ourselves “happy” when we are “unhappy.” We all know what we buy to make ourselves “happy” when we are “unhappy.” We all know what it is like to regret making ourselves “happy.”Sin always reprioritizes the heart and threatens what can truly make you happy. People think that if they become “religious” they can no longer have fun. I am sorry that is the projection some religious people have put out there. That is just not true.
Bible: The Food Laws, actually the Birth Law, Leprosy Laws, Discharge Laws, are about One Thing, prioritizing holiness over happiness.
Transition: This ancient priestly document called Leviticus speaks directly to our prioritizing problem. I remember about 15 years ago I was reading this section of Leviticus and thought, “What in the world is going on.” This section called “Shemini” which means 8th because in the narrative of Aarons’ ordination that started in Chapter 8 we have completed the 7 days of rituals and now on the eight day we are supposed to be entering into Jubilee. This is like the Genesis narrative of seven days of making the earth and on the 8th they enter into the good world. Look at how things go down:
God’s Man starts His Ministry on 8th day
God’s Fire Consumes Sacrifices
God’s People Worship Him
Aaron’s sons offer God’s fire in a strange way
Aaron’s sons die tragically by God’s fire
Aarons must teach Israel, Even Moses, to Discern what is Holy.
Here is a bunch stuff to not eat, be Holy.
This whole section makes me feel so uncomfortable as a reader. I felt like we started with this interesting story then it took an unexpected turn. Like a real twist with Aaron’s boys. Then it gets interesting when Aaron corrects Moses. Big moment for Aaron. I am looking for the resolution back to Jubilee and all I get are rules about food, childbirth, leprosy and icky body discharges that are called “Torot” and followed by “be holy.” This was not good story writing.
Until you realize maybe it is great story writing. These chapters leading to Yom Kippur and thereafter are working like the section in Lord of the Rings Book 1 when everyone meets in Riven dale to decide the fate of the ring and their a coalition is formed and terms are drawn up for a quest.
The chapters are how Aaron and future generations of Priest will teach Israel how to prioritize for holiness. Starting in chapter 11 with the food laws we are introduced to the next five Torot. Remember there were five Torot of sacrifices now there are five Torot of holy living:food, childbirth, leprosy, cleaning a leper, and icky body discharges.
For centuries and centuries the food laws have been at the heart of endless debate. In the Jewish community the arguments were around degrees of Kashrut and what animals were on and off the list. For Christians it was the abolishing of the food laws as a special designation.
People argued that the food laws were instituted for “hygienic” purposes but a thorough study of the banned foods and clean foods will prove that the “hygienic” theory has many, many holes in it. Others argued that they were for “religious” purposes. In other words, don’t eat the animals other peoples worship they might get the wrong idea. But, Egypt had a Cow God and Cow was on the Menu. Many holes in that theory. Others sited “behavioral” reasons for the food laws. You act like what you eat. Most of these animals are either predators or easy prey. That falls apart because animals like the Rhino or Horse or neither predators nor easy prey. They are like the pig they don’t one but not the other of split the hoof or chew the cud. Then came along a social anthropologist, Mary Douglas in 1966, who proposed another theory “dirt theory” we will call it the value theory. She said Customs and rituals of any society are reflections of its values. So too a society’s taxonomy of the animal world will mirror its value system.
What you eat mirrors what you value. She said we all have “dirt.” In other words, there is always something we consider out of place but not just out of place but contaminating. Like, I believe placing my dinner on top of a toilet is dirt, out of place and contaminating. If you put my dinner on a toilet, I would not eat it. I would either remake my dinner or wait until the next evening. Which by the way that is what happens with the dietary laws. 9 times we are told in Leviticus 11 that eating “dirt” makes you unclean until evening, the start of a new day. But I don’t want you to think these laws are trivial because in the book of Deuteronomy staying in the land was tethered to these eating laws. Remember, its the value behind the system that is important.
Think about this way. Let’s assume that my wife one night placed my dinner on the toilet. And let’s say I calmly and maturely expressed my disgust about this. Then let's assume she did it the next night and I said the same thing. And let's say she did this for the next 365 meals. Is this really a “food problem” or is this a “value problem.” This is not a food problem but a heart problem.
This where people get really messed up on this whole issue they start to prioritize “clean food” over “holiness.”
The reason why the laws of clean and unclean eating are important is because they teach you to prioritize holiness over happiness.
Let me show you what I mean.
Teach Israel to Prioritize (Discerning) for Holines
The Jubilee began right here,
וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי קָרָא מֹשֶׁה לְאַהֲרֹן וּלְבָנָיו וּלְזִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל׃
“Now it happened on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron, his sons, and the elders of Israel.” (Leviticus 9:1, TLV)
Now it happened on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron, his sons, and the elders of Israel.
The eight day was always considered a “Jubilee” a day of “newness.” Eight day celebration always occurred after a period of set-apart “sevens.” Like the world went from chaos to goodness in seven days and on the eight day Adam and Eve entered into a good new world. Or like 8th day circumcision from life outside of covenant to life within. Or, like when we complete seven days of dwelling in a Sukkah on the 8th day we come out for a solemn celebration, a crescendo event. Like in John 7:37 on the 8th day when Yeshua stood up and said, “He would give us living waters to drink.”
Eighth day is jubilation. And, it is confirmed by Adonai’s response to all Aaron did on the first day of ministry:
“Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came back out and blessed the people, the glory of Adonai appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of Adonai, and devoured the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” (Leviticus 9:23–24, TLV)
Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came back out and blessed the people, the glory of Adonai appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of Adonai, and devoured the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
There can be no greater experience than this for Israel. On Sinai, Israel was removed from the glory of Adonai and only Moses, Joshua and the Elders went up the mountain to feast with God. Yet, here God has moved from mountian-top-throne to soil-bound-tent and all Israel, all the community that came out of Egypt saw this display of God’s glory, a theophany in the wilderness.
The day could not be better it is a day of Jubilee, God and His people are at one with one another. The community is in perfect harmony with it’s creator. Then Tragedy strikes:
“Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his own censer, put fire in it, laid incense over it, and offered unauthorized fire before Adonai—which He had not commanded them. So fire came out from the presence of Adonai and consumed them. So they died before Adonai.” (Leviticus 10:1–2, TLV)
Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his own censer, put fire in it, laid incense over it, and offered unauthorized fire before Adonai—which He had not commanded them. So fire came out from the presence of Adonai and consumed them. So they died before Adonai.
We don’t have to wonder what the “strangefire” is because Leviticus tells us. IN the only instance in all the Torah where Adonai speaks directly to Aaron and to Aaron alone He says to Aaron directly:
“Adonai spoke to Aaron saying: “Do not drink wine or fermented drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you go into the Tent of Meeting, so that you do not die. This is to be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to make a distinction between the holy and the common and between the unclean and the clean. And you are to teach Bnei-Yisrael all the statutes which Adonai has spoken to them through Moses.”” (Leviticus 10:8–11, TLV)
Adonai spoke to Aaron saying: “Do not drink wine or fermented drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you go into the Tent of Meeting, so that you do not die. This is to be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to make a distinction between the holy and the common and between the unclean and the clean. And you are to teach Bnei-Yisrael all the statutes which Adonai has spoken to them through Moses.”
The problem was that the two boys approached the Sacred in a common way. It was a day of jubilation and they had been drinking and then decided to put some of the sacred fire in the incense and offer them before the Lord. The problem was not that they had been drinking but they had been drinking on the job and treating Adonai’s presence as something common and not set apart. Same would be true of most people today, if you go to lunch and go black a little sloshy from drinking there is a good chance you will at least get reprimanded even worse, you might get fired and loose your job.
Jubilee quickly changes to tragedy. To add insult to injury Moses gets upset about the priests no eating their portion of the sin offering. At which point Aaron says, I have considered this talked to the Lord about it and it would not be appropriate and
“When Moses heard this, it was good in his eyes.” (Leviticus 10:20, TLV)
When Moses heard this, it was good in his eyes.
Aaron is here teaching the prophet. The High-Priest is now fulfilling his mandate to teach all of Israel. Then comes all these rules about what to eat and not eat. The animals all relate back to Genesis
Land, Waters, Sky, Insects, Rodents and Belly-Crawlers. Of special note, the Belly-Crawlers, snakes and such get special notice:
““Every creeping thing that crawls on the earth is detestable—it shall not be eaten. Whatever moves on its belly or crawls on all fours or has many feet among all the creeping things that crawl on the earth, these you are not to eat, for they are detestable. You are not to contaminate yourselves with any creeping thing that crawls nor make yourselves unclean with them or defiled by them.” (Leviticus 11:41–43, TLV)
“Every creeping thing that crawls on the earth is detestable—it shall not be eaten. Whatever moves on its belly or crawls on all fours or has many feet among all the creeping things that crawl on the earth, these you are not to eat, for they are detestable. You are not to contaminate yourselves with any creeping thing that crawls nor make yourselves unclean with them or defiled by them.
These get special note because of a value that was deeply held in Israel that went all the way back to the garden. A value that related to a conviction that angelic being named Satan inhabited a snake and brought the world into darkness. To eat the snake that was cursed or anything like it was was reverse values, it was like saying, “God you got it wrong.” To the Israelites the snake, was good for nothing, not even eating.
Then comes the rationale behind all the dietary laws.
““For I am Adonai your God. Therefore, sanctify yourselves, and be holy, for I am holy. You are not to defile yourselves… For I am Adonai who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. Therefore, you shall be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44–45, TLV)
“For I am Adonai your God. Therefore, sanctify yourselves, and be holy, for I am holy. You are not to defile yourselves with any kind of creeping thing that moves on the earth. For I am Adonai who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. Therefore, you shall be holy, for I am holy.
God was asking Israel to prioritize their life around His holiness. He wanted Israel to live as unique people.
All these laws about sacred space, persons and animals is for one purpose and one purpose only to teach Israel to prioritizing life around a value for God’s holiness not prioritizing life around a diet.
Some of the animals like the snake represented a hostile value system of sin and death, most of birds feasted on living or dead animals with blood in it which was a violation of Israel’s sanctity of life rule, some of the insects feasted on carcasses or blood and still others were off the menu for reasons that only God knows but Israel was to value because God valued it.
“At the same time I’ll make a peace treaty between you and wild animals and birds and reptiles, And get rid of all weapons of war. Think of it! Safe from beasts and bullies!” (Hosea 2:18, The Message)
God is not restricting happiness he is prioritizing holiness.
He wants Israel to be able to say to the nations, “We do or don’t because our God has commanded us to do or to don’t.” This is God-centered way of living, when we prioritize holiness God promises His blessings which brings about happiness.
This is not about a diet, this is about holiness. Remember, this is a Torah for living, for eating.
““This is the Torah of the animal, the bird, every living creature that moves in the waters, and every creature that creeps on the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the living thing that may be eaten and the living thing that may not be eaten.”” (Leviticus 11:46–47, TLV)
“This is the Torah of the animal, the bird, every living creature that moves in the waters, and every creature that creeps on the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the living thing that may be eaten and the living thing that may not be eaten.”
Slide about Space
Slide about Time
Slide about Election
Slide about Animal
Slide about Noah
Then comes along Yeshua and he does what he always does which is shines a light on a problem that arose on the back of a great solution.
You see, Yeshua viewed many in party of the Pharisees as radical-backward innovators of the Torah. IN Mark 7, he says they are the very destructive innovators Isaiah warned about:
“And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Mark 7:7, TLV)
And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
Yeshua saw the Pharisees as dangerous innovators because they prioritized their life around tradition not holiness.
“Having left behind the commandment of God, you hold on to the tradition of men.”” (Mark 7:8, TLV) and “making void the word of God with your tradition that you’ve handed down. And you do many such things.”” (Mark 7:13, TLV)
Having left behind the commandment of God, you hold on to the tradition of men.”
making void the word of God with your tradition that you’ve handed down. And you do many such things.”
Then he drops the bomb or at least we think it is a bomb.
“When He had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you then also lacking understanding? Don’t you grasp that whatever goes into the man cannot make him unholy? For it does not enter into the heart but into the stomach, and then goes out into the sewer, cleansing all foods.” And He continued, “It is what comes out of the man that makes the man unholy. For from within, out of the heart of men, come evil intentions, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustfulness, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and make the man unholy.”” (Mark 7:17–23, TLV)
When He had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you then also lacking understanding? Don’t you grasp that whatever goes into the man cannot make him unholy? For it does not enter into the heart but into the stomach, and then goes out into the sewer, cleansing all foods.” And He continued, “It is what comes out of the man that makes the man unholy. For from within, out of the heart of men, come evil intentions, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustfulness, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and make the man unholy.”
First of all, the only foods that the disciples ate at this time were Kosher foods. Yeshua is not referring to unkosher foods here. He is referring to the fact that the Pharisees were restricting kosher foods from being on the menu because of their traditions. Then Yeshua plays with their own tradition because there was one about how food after it is processed in the body and goes into the sewer is not clean.
Here is ultimately what he is saying: When you prioritize tradition over holiness you will be captive to your own sinfulness.
What makes you unclean for a day is eating the wrong animal what makes you unholy is purposely disobeying God’s commands.
Matthew 15:20 makes it more clear that Yeshua is talking about the problem of tradition not of Kashrut:
“These are the things that make the man unholy; but to eat with unwashed hands does not make the man unholy.”” (Matthew 15:20, TLV
These are the things that make the man unholy; but to eat with unwashed hands does not make the man unholy.”
Yeshua saying the same thing as Moses in our portion. You see Nadab and Avihu offered up strangefire, that is what was inside of them. The fire they put in the alter of incense was the very fire that came from God’s presence but what made it “strange” fire was what was in their heart when they offered a fire they were not commanded to offer in a way they should never have offered it.
Yeshua is saying eating food or not eating food that is not what the issue is. You got it wrong. The issue is what you value in your heart. Do you prioritize your life around your own happiness or God’s holiness?
You know the capital one commercial, “What is in your wallet?” God is saying, “What is in your heart, not your mouth, is what bothers God.”
I need you to lean in close if you are here at Beth El Shalom or if you are online. First, the principle about holiness in all of life including what you eat is a good principle. It is so good that in the Acts 15 council even the Gentiles have restrictions on what they can and cannot eat: idol meat and meat with blood in it. You like a rare steak, check your heart because God does not. Because that is blood in an animal, that represents life and God puts a high premium on life and you are supposed to model that. You may not think that meat offered to an idol is a big deal but maybe and really it is. It is not about the food, it is about the Holy God who speaks to us about “what to do” and “how to live” in this world. Secondly, if you are messianic, get over your badge of honor about eating Kashrut. Eating Kosher does not make you holy it means you have a diet plan.
What makes you holy is when you prioritize Holiness in your life in such a way that you are dealing with the issues of your heart. The things that truly make you unholy. You eat a ham sandwich according to the Law you are unclean until evening, you cheat on your wife and commit adultery you can loose your life. You eat a shrimp dinner you are unclean until sunset, you slander every person who has ever tried to do you a little good, you just committed one of the seven deadly sins.
Some of the most ruthless, cut-throat, hostile, deceitful and slanderous people I have ever met keep a mean Kashrut diet.
Eating the right foods does not make you a happy or holy person. What truly will make you happy according to Moses and Yeshua is prioritizing holiness over happiness however you get your so called happiness.
I want to ask you something. Is there something that is undermine you truly being happy. Is there anything in your life that you are currently prioritizing over holiness? If so, I want to tell you something. Lean in to me. You don’t have a food problem, you have a heart problem.
If you prioritize for holiness you can expect true happiness. If you choose to prioritize happiness over holiness you can expect your life to be a hot mess.
What is going to happen is you are going to create a past-time that turns into a pathway that will shut you into what feels like a prison. What starts off as a harmless indulgence will quickly turn into a habit that will turn into addiction that will trap you.
I want you all to lean in to me and please listen to me, men and women alike, “What pursuit of happiness is taking you prisoner right now? Is there something that you so want that you are willing to prioritize for it over holiness?
We all know what we reach for when we are unhappy.
You bought it.You leased it.You dated it.You slept with it.You married it.You ate it.You drank it.
Asking you to consider something about our Torah portion. To consider that the food laws are not the end of the matter they are just a means of getting to the “heart” of the matter. Will you prioritize holiness over happiness? Unlike Nadab and Abihu who did not discern their own actions as evil, did not judge their hearts as treating God with contempt will you discern your own priorities?