Weekly Commentary

"BE HOLY FOR I AM HOLY"

This Parashah reveals that Torah encompasses teachings for all aspects of human life. These teachings aim to regulate even the most intimate relations of human existence. In the eyes of God nothing is secular and every one of our actions has a purpose for holiness. Just as none of our actions can be withdrawn from the unity of our life, so, too, God’s ethics revealed in Torah cannot be excluded from none of our actions.

Among the teachings about purity, first place is given to the subject of food, as we have seen in the previous Parashah, because our diet intimately affects our whole being. The food we eat and how we eat it - a daily activity - is an outwardly expression of our inner holiness. There are those who see a hygienic purpose in these prohibitions, and hold the view that the forbidden foods are not prohibited arbitrarily. Science recognizes that certain animals harbor parasites that are both disease-creating and disease-spreading, thus their flesh could be harmful to humans. The supreme motive, however, of the dietary teachings remains holiness, not as an abstract idea, but as a regulating principle in the everyday lives of men, women, and children.

"For I am Yehovah your God. You shall sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy, for I am Holy; and you shall not contaminate your souls through any creeping thing that moves about on the earth, for I am Yehovah who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am Holy" – Vayikra 11:44-45. These dietary teachings affect our souls because they accustom us to restrain both the growth of desire and the disposition to consider pleasure of eating and drinking as the main purpose of human existence. We should abstain from these foods, not only from personal aversion, but because obedience to our Father in Heaven who has desired that we should abstain from them. Respect for these Teachings trains and helps us to subordinate our desire before the will of our Father in Heaven.

After the Dietary Teachings, Torah turns to the spiritual impurity caused by a new life. But why is a woman impure by giving birth? It is to show that the mere fact of giving life is not enough. Life must be a tool used in the service of God. The new mother begins the cleansing process from a period of complete contamination culminating in complete cleanliness by bringing of two offerings, an elevation and a sin offering, symbolizing the desire to achieve closeness to God and to be dedicated to Him.

Vayikra 12:1-8: "And Yehovah spoke to Moshe, saying, 'Speak to the people of Israel, saying, "If a woman conceives, and bears a male child; then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her menstruation, shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying for thirty three days; she shall touch no consecrated thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying sixty six days. And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, to the door of the Tent of Meeting, to the kohen. Who shall offer it before Yehovah, and provide an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. And if she is not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering; and the kohen shall provide an atonement for her, and she shall be clean."'"

Today, it is customary for a woman not to attend the synagogue until the days of her purifications are over. Some rabbis see the holiness of the law of circumcision, which needs to be performed on the eighth day, as the reason for the shorter period of contamination for a male child.

The issue of circumcision is a divisive subject among the Jewish and Gentile believers. Some advocate that the Jewish believer is no longer bound by the Mosaic system of worshiping God, thus there is no longer a requirement to circumcise a believer's son. But, what we have to understand is that the circumcision – Brit Milah - is not a commandment but a covenant between God and Israel. This covenant was first made with Avraham before Torah was given through Moshe (Bereishit 17:10,11). This expression of the Avrahamic covenant is unique to the Jewish people. It was performed to the infant Yeshua not for Him - in His humanity - to become Jewish, but because He was Jewish - He came to this earth into a Jewish family. "And when eight days were completed for His brit milah, Yeshua was given as His name, which He was called by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days for their purification according to the Torah given to Moshe were completed, they brought Him up to Yerushalayim to present Him to Yehovah (just as it has been written in the Torah, "Every first-born male that opens the womb shall be called holy to Yehovah") and to offer a korban according to the thing having been said in the Torah, "A pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons" (Luke 2:21-24).

So if a believer is Jewish - and God blesses him with a son - circumcision is an act of acknowledging the covenant expressing the family Jewishness and not making the boy Jewish. Circumcision "doesn't save the child, since circumcision doesn't save anyone any more than infant baptism can save an infant. Salvation is always by personal faith in Yeshua. Rather, circumcision is an outward reminder to your child when he grows up that God is faithful to His people and that he needs to give his heart to Messiah for 'the circumcision that is not made with hands'" writes Sam Nadler in his book "Messianic Wisdom." When a Jewish person becomes a believer in Messiah Yeshua, he cannot become un-Jewish. The Avrahamic covenant cannot be undone because it is unconditional. Thus circumcision is part of the believer's desire to worship God in a Jewish way and reflect the covenant that God made with him through Avraham.

But we have seen that circumcision was a point of discontent among the first century believers as well (Acts 15), some advocating the circumcision of the Gentiles coming to faith. But after a further analysis the apostles agreed that the Gentiles do not have to go through this ritual because the Gentiles are grafted into the kehilat Yisrael – the community of Israel - by faith and not by circumcision. This expression of the Avrahamic covenant does not apply to them because it is between God and the physical Israel only. In the case of Timothy, rav Shaul circumcised him because his mother was Jewish - he was halakhicly (rabbinically recognized) Jewish. Shaul felt that in Timothy's case not being circumcised was an impediment for his ministry to the Jewish people — for one, he could not have entered into the Temple in Yerushalayim.

But the apostle Shaul also said that circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, meaning that circumcision is not a requirement for salvation. In fact, today in America, many boys are circumcised as a matter of hygiene, thus not a sign of faith in Yeshua.

In the Jewish tradition circumcision should be done on the eighth day as prescribed in Genesis 17:9-12, even if the eighth day falls on Shabbat or on a Holy Day such as Yom Kippur. The professional circumciser is called a Mohel but it could also be the father, the mother, or even a gentile if he is qualified and if there is no other Mohel available. On the morning of the eighth day the father brings the son to the Mohel. Then the baby is given to a person called Sandek, or Godfather. A minian must be present and a rabbi. The Sandek sits in a special chair called Kissay shel Eliyahu - The Chair of Elijah. That is because Elijah is called Malach HaBrit, the Angel of the Covenant (Malachi 3:1) - he was the one complaining about the Jews forsaking the circumcision, the Covenant of God. The Mohel recites a blessing and moisten the child's lips with wine, and then performs the operation which takes less than a minute. It is also customary to name the child at this time as we have seen in the case of Yeshua. After he dresses the cut, the Mohel gives the child to the mother and the celebration begins – Mazal Tov.

In case the child dies before the eighth day, a rabbinic law states that the child must be circumcised and named before burial. This is because the circumcision, again, is a covenant between God and Israel and it must be shown that the child was Jewish. Another unusual rabbinic ruling is that if the mother does not want the circumcision to be done, it must be respected and not be done.

The Parashah continues the theme of un-cleanliness with an unusual body affliction, “tzaraat” in Hebrew. The popular translation of tzaraat has been leprosy, and it was commonly accepted that prevention from the disease's spread was to quarantine the afflicted. But there are different symptoms of tzaraat outlined in this Parashah, which are different from those of leprosy as we know it today. When the malady covers the victim's entire body he is declared clean, but if his skin displays raw flesh, he becomes contaminated, it is unclean: “And if the tzaraat breaks out in the skin, and the tzaraat covers all the skin of him who has the affliction from his head to his foot, wherever the priest looks. Then the priest shall consider; and, behold, if the tzaraat has covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce clean him who has the affliction; it is all turned white; he is clean. But if raw flesh appears in him, he shall be unclean.” Vayikra 13:12,13

For this reason some of the Sages teach that tzaraat could also be the physical manifestation of a spiritual disease, a punishment designed to show the sinner that he must mend his ways. They teach that the word “metzora” (the one afflicted by the tzaraat, i.e. the leper) is a contraction of “motzyira” meaning "one who spreads slander." Therefore, according to this teaching, tzaraat is a punishment for the sin of slander, false oaths, pride and selfishness; it is a Divine retribution for the offender's failure to feel the needs and share the hurt of others. God rebukes this antisocial behavior by isolating him from society, so that he can experience the pain he has imposed on others and heal himself through repentance: “A person with tzaraat is unclean; the kohen shall declare him contaminated; his affliction is upon his head. The person with tzaraat in whom the affliction is, his clothes shall be torn his head bare, and he shall put a cover up to his upper lip, and he shall cry, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ All the days when the affliction shall be upon him he shall be unclean; he shall dwell alone; outside the camp shall his habitation be” Vayikra 13:44-46.

Whatever the cause of the affliction must have been there was no treatment. Instead, the contaminated one was treated with rejection and isolation. But when Yeshua came, He removed the condemnation of sin imposed under the Mosaic system, and He also healed the one affected by the tzaraat. Unfortunately, the effects of slandering God and slandering God’s people, pride and selfishness are still seen today and are reflected in the moral degradation throughout the world. Only a sincere and repentant heart could be cleansed from the spiritual tzaraat, and healing could only come through the atoning shed blood of Yeshua, the Passover Lamb of God.

Shabbat joy, peace, and blessings! Shabbat Shalom!

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