Parashat Shimini - April 22

שמיני Shmini

Lev. 9.1 — Lev. 11.47

The offering of sacrifices is a central theme of the Torah. In Genesis 8.20-22 we see that, despite man’s sinful nature, God promises that he will never again curse the ground. Why? Because of the burnt offerings made by Noah. Later God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering, but he then provided a ram as a substitute for Isaac. This was just what Abraham had said earlier to Isaac: “God will provide himself a lamb” (Genesis 22.8). Abraham named that place “God will provide” (vs 14), meaning that God will supply the lamb for the burnt offering. Right after that the scripture says, “on the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” From this we learn that the binding of Isaac is also a prophetic act of what will happen later “on the mount of the Lord.” There God will supply a victim for sacrifice.

Similarly, we see that also in the exodus from Egypt there was the need for a substitute sacrifice for the firstborn of the homes of Israel: the Passover lamb (Exodus 12). On Mount Sinai God gave Israel a comprehensive sacrificial system. From it we learn that God is holy, and that without the shedding the of blood of sacrifices as atonement for sins, no one can approach God or dwell among his people. In fact, most of the commandments of Mount Sinai are directions and instructions related to the Tabernacle, the priesthood, and the sacrifices (see Exodus 25 – Leviticus 17).

Later on, in the very place where the binding of Isaac had happened, Mount Moriah, at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, God commands David to offer a sacrifice that stops the plague in Israel. In that same place Solomon would build the Temple (2 Samuel 24:18-25. 1 Chronicles 21:18—22.1. 2 Chronicles 3:1).

But the story doesn’t end here. When the nation of Israel has gotten so far away from God that the prophet Jeremiah says even if Moses and Samuel were to pray for the nation, it would not help (Jeremiah 15.1), when the Sinai covenant has been broken and its curses are coming on the nation – even then there is still hope for a positive outcome. Jeremiah prophesies of someone who will intercede even better than Moses and Samuel: Israel’s “glorious ruler,” someone God will bring and through whom Israel will be God’s people and he will be their God. This promised one will establish a new covenant (Jeremiah 30.21-22; 31.31-34). Isaiah the prophet reveals this same person to us, the one who is near to God, approaching him by sacrificing himself. On the basis of this sacrifice of himself, he will intercede for sinners (Isaiah 53.10-12).

The New Testament tells how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled this prophecy when he died on the cross on Mount Moriah, outside the walls of Jerusalem. “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53.7). In him are fulfilled the prophecies of the Tanach from Genesis onward. He was “provided” as a sacrifice on the mount of the Lord, on behalf of Israel and the whole world.




When we look at our own time, the long period of time from the destruction of the second Temple to our own days, we first of all are made aware of the sad fact that the principal factor that characterized our ancient history—the presence of God Himself in the midst of his chosen people, as in times of the Tabernacle and the Temple—is no longer with us. If this is so, then obviously there is no longer need any for priesthood and sacrifices, and all the ceremonial activity as it was before the destruction of the Temple. What does it mean? Has God abolished all these things? In principle nothing has been abolished, but after the last confrontation be­tween God and his people about forty years before the destruction of the Temple, when the people of Israel sinned more grievously than in the wor­ship of the golden calf, when they said “this one shall not reign over us,” the Shekinah glory withdrew from us, and spiritually we are as a people in a vacuum.

This particular period of history is well described by the prophet Hosea: “For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.” And again, “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress they seek me.” (Hosea 3.3-4, 5; 5.15).

God has returned to his place; he has withdrawn from us. We have a religion, but this religion does not bind us to God. In the course of the ages we have studied the Scriptures; we have heaped comment upon comment; we have filled our heads with these, but the heart has remained empty, except for our nostalgic longings for our glorious past and the hope for a future redemption. Today we pour out our hearts' love to places sanctified by the wonders of the past. We browse through the pages of our history, and our hearts expand at the sight of the great things God had done with us. But for two thousand years Israel has lived in a one-way street, for God has returned to his place and is waiting until. . . . Indirectly in his Divine Providence, he takes care us, for “he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,” but direct contact with God, as in olden times we have not. “Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.” (Hosea 3.5). David their king! Was not David dead some two hundred and fifty years before Hosea prophesied? Hosea truly had in mind the Messiah - son of David, and in this combination—God and his Messiah—the Geulah, redemption, is to be found.




Haftarah: 2 Samuel 6.1 — 2 Samuel 7.17

2 Samuel 7.14: “I will be his father, and he shall be my son.” See also Psalms 89.27-28: “And I will make him the first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth. My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him.” The Son of David will be the Son of God.

2 Samuel 7.12-14 has long been considered the foundation of messianic prophecy. The name of David becomes the symbol for the messianic figure to come. In fact, the name “Son of David” is a more frequent designation in rabbinic literature of the one to come than the title “Messiah.” Many of the prophets build on this text. Jeremiah writes: “They shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them” (Jeremiah 30.9). So also Ezekiel: “And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it” (Ezekiel 34.23-24). Similarly, he adds later: “And my servant David shall be their prince for ever” (Ezekiel 37.24-25). See also Isaiah 55.3,4 and Psalms 89.20-29, 34-37. These words lead directly to the King of Kings on an eternal throne. Unless they have been realized in Jesus, the Covenant with David has been broken.



Shabbat Shalom!

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