Parasha EMOR (Speak) Lev. 21:1 – 24:21; Ezek. 44:15 – 31; Luke 14: 12-24
In a quick summary of the chapters contained in Parasha Emor we find that it focuses on two kinds of holiness.
Chapter 21 relates to holy people: in particular the priesthood and the prescribed lifestyle they were called to lead.
Chapter 22 relates to laws concerning the community of Israelites, a call to holiness when they entered the Mishkan, to offer unblemished sacrifices.
Chapter 23 refers to the holiness of time, relating to the moedim (appointed times) celebrated during the annual cycle.
Chapter 24 refers to the Menorah, lit twice a day, representing the holy light of God and the Shew bread, which was renewed every week, representing the Bread of Life who is without sin (leaven) who sustains and nourishes our lives. The parasha ends with an extraordinary story – one of the only two in the book of Leviticus – about someone who cursed another person during a fight, representing the antithesis of holiness.
We could spend all our time on just one of these things contained in the four chapters in this parasha but today I would like to share some thoughts taken from chapter 23 concerning the feasts of the Lord and specifically about Shabbat that is strangely included and nestled alongside all the other feasts that are referred to as “Moedim” (appointed times with a fixed date on the calendar), and a “mikra kodesh” (sacred assembly) when the entire community of Israel would gather at the Tabernacle.
Although Shabbat is included as a mo’ed and a mikra kodesh , it was in fact neither because in reality Shabbat was a day made holy and established specifically by God Himself at the beginning of Creation rather than something that was implemented by man: “ 2 On the seventh day God was finished with his work which he had made, so he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 God blessed the seventh day and separated it as holy; because on that day God rested from all his work which he had created, so that it itself could produce.”
The purpose for observing Shabbat as modelled by G-d is to maintain the holiness of the day as commanded in Lev.20:7 and quoted in 1Peter: “14 As people who obey God, do not let yourselves be shaped by the evil desires you used to have when you were still ignorant. 15 On the contrary, following the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in your entire way of life; 16 since the Tanakh says, “You are to be holy because I am holy.” (1Pet.:1)
Although we are commanded to observe Shabbat in the spirit of liberty rather than legalistically (“Shabbat was made for man not man for Shabbat” – Mark 2:27 ) we also discover that following God’s Law perfectly is an impossibility and therefore why then follow it if it cannot by itself transform us into “Kedoshim,” (“Holy ones”) so in a sense we are faced with a stale mate. The NT teaches us that the problem is not in God’s commands but in our fallen nature that is stained with sin. No matter how hard we strive for holiness it cannot be acquired through adherence to Torah as illustrated with Shabbat observance UNLESS we are first restored into a right relationship with God.
Scripture makes it clear , something that became a revelation in the Reformation period by our “friend” Martin Luther, that it is by faith we are saved by grace not by works through the blood of our Messiah Yeshua shed for us. We therefore walk by faith and live by faith and press on to discover Him as Lord. It is in this context that we begin to experience what holiness means. It is nothing of ourselves beyond exercising free choice, but all about His transforming power.
God never press-gangs into Kingdom service, because a holy God never uses coercion or bully tactics to make us comply to His will. But, the measure we choose to pursue Him above all things, or even at times when we drag our feet, will determine the depth of the relationship we enjoy with Him marked by a life characterised by holiness.
So here we discover that the words Mikra kodesh (sacred assembly) and mo’ed (appointed times) used in Parashat Emor as employed uniquely with respect to Shabbat have a purpose to emphasise our relationship with Him. This is the context. Without relationship there can be no meaningful experience of Shabbat or any meaningful relationship with any observance as commanded in Scripture. The writer of the Book of Hebrews places it all in perspective:
“ 9 So there remains a Shabbat-keeping rest for God’s people. 10 For the one who has entered God’s rest has also rested from his own works, as God did from his. 11 Therefore, let us do our best to enter that rest; so that no one will fall short because of the same kind of disobedience 14 Therefore, since we have a great cohen gadol who has passed through to the highest heaven, Yeshua, the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we acknowledge as true. 16 Therefore, let us confidently approach the throne from which God gives grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need.”
The Shabbat rest refers to knowing God’s peace that passes understanding within a restored relationship with the living God through the redemptive work of Messiah Yeshua who commands each one of us to,
“Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest, Take my yoke upon you for I am meek and lowly and you shall find rest for your souls, For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”(Matt. 11:28) Does this not reflect all the things we have referred to?
Creation, revelation, and redemption are the threefold structure underpinning Jewish faith and prayer. Here we see united the transforming power of God who created the universe, whose presence fills our lives with truth and love. And it is here where there is a sticking point and a departing of ways between traditional Judaism and biblical Christianity because it lacks that small piece of the jigsaw puzzle that entirely changes the overall picture, which is Yeshua “the way the Truth and the Life” for no-one can come to the Father but through Him. (John 14:6)
Whilst the Sages claim that central to Judaism is the belief that God can be encountered in the three different ways just mentioned: creation, revelation, and redemption, we find that undergirded is something of infinitely greater significance permeating throughout the whole canon of Scripture. This is demonstrated in the revealed manifestation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Tri-unity, revealed to the world in the perfection of time (Rom.5:6; Gal. 4:4), and revealed to us individually in the fullness of time; and the good work that He has begun in us, He will bring to completion unto that day when we shall see Him face to face. (Phil. 1:6)
Our God who is the architect of all things visible and unseen has established for us His Shabbat designed to be a rich blessing that we can all experience in full measure when we submit our lives to Him in reverent awe. It is in this sense that it is vitally connected to the “Moedim” (appointed times set apart but in this case without a fixed date on the calendar), and a “mikra kodesh” (a sacred assembly) where we gather together in fellowship to celebrate His love and redemption. This is the reason why in Scripture we are exhorted to, “ 23 … continue holding fast to the hope we acknowledge, without wavering; for the One who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us keep paying attention to one another, in order to spur each other on to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting our own congregational meetings, as some have made a practice of doing, but, rather, encouraging each other. And let us do this all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10)
The starting point for all this is well summed up as illustrated by a story concerning one of our great sages. The Kotzker Rebbe once asked his students where God was to be found; they answered that “He fills all the world with His glory.” He shook his head and said, “No, I asked where is He to be found, not where He is.” The students looked at the Rabbi with confusion and exasperation. “Did we not already say that He is everywhere?” “No, no,” the Kotzker replied. “You must understand that God is to be found in the place that you open up your hearts and let Him in!”
Let us respond to the One who invites us to open our hearts and yield our lives as a holy sacrifice unto Him (Rom.12:1-3) that we might truly enter the Shabbat rest spoken of in Heb. 4 which God desires for each one of us. He can be found when we open our hearts and let Him as Rev. 3:20 so beautifully states:
“20 Here, I’m standing at the door, knocking. If someone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me. 22 Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Messianic communities.”
This invitation made by Yeshua was a statement made to the 7 churches in Asia as an epilogue to the entire 7 congregations, both believers and unbelievers. It was not, therefore, confined solely for the Laodicean congregation – but for both believers unto salvation and to unbelievers to pursue a deeper walk of holiness in relationship with Him.