Vayikra – Torah for Today

Original Broadcast Date: March 20, 2015

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Torah for Today Transcript for Vayikra

Beerman:

In this new section that we are looking at today, there is a lot of interest. There are, listeners will have in… again some of the details. The last Parsha that we looked at there was a lot of detail, and there certainly is some detail here. I am just looking forward to exploring this particular section. Tell us about what this really is.

Bolotnikov:

We are finished with the Book of Exodus, now we are into the Book of Leviticus chapters 1 through 5. This Parsha is called “Vayikra,” and it starts with the words, “And the Lord called to Moses from the tabernacle of meeting.” That is the beginning. That is what “Vayikra” stands for.

Beerman:

Yes, just for clarification, we talked about the tabernacle of meeting back in Exodus as it is referred to. Is this actually different then the sanctuary, the tabernacle itself? Is it setup outside, or is it one and the same thing?

Bolotnikov:

It is one and the same thing. Three terms are used. This one is called “Ohelmoed,” which literally means “the tent of appointed times.” Then there is a term called Mikdash from the Hebrew kadosh (holy) means “sanctuary.” Then there is a term Mishkan, which is from Shakhan which means “the place where God abides.”

Beerman:

Again that connection with the Shekinah. Many people are familiar with God’s dwelling place. Here in Leviticus, right after off the bat, chapter 1 begins with the Lord calling unto Moses in verse 1, and then it goes right into voluntary offerings. It appears here that children of Israel bring in verse 2,”Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When anyone of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of the livestock, of the herd or of the flock. If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord. Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.”

So there are all these different references to burnt sacrifice, atonement, and offerings, and there are lots of details. As we go down through these next few chapters here, it raises some questions that hopefully we will get to earlier, but why don’t we just start?

First with Leviticus, there is so much sacrificial stuff going on here–animals, a huge slaughter of animals. It almost comes across—to the unbelieving community and of course to many in the Christian community out there—as almost barbaric. This is like a butcher shop. It is cruel to kill animals. So how does that relate and how so we understand God? What really is going on here?

Bolotnikov:

We need to understand that God speaks in the language of that culture and that society. Sometimes our society, three thousand years later, needs to be able to understand and interpret to ourselves and to our applications. These sacrifices definitely come, and they have a specific meaning—all of them.

First of all, we see the explanation of the sacrifice back in Genesis 22. That is the first real explanation. There we find the story where Abraham was supposed to offer Isaac, to offer up his son as a burnt offering. So basically what we have is an interesting situation. Abraham was about to—he already had a knife in his hand—literally slit Isaac’s throat. The angel of Lord held his hand and at the end of it, in verse 13, it says that Abraham turned around, saw the ram and he offered the ram in place of Isaac. Then God restored the covenant with Abraham. So the offering here is very important. It is the restoration of the covenant through the death of somebody who died in place of the human being.

Beerman:

This is substitutionary really isn’t it?

Bolotnikov:

Yes, that is exactly right, and that is also played again in story of Passover. The angel of death is coming and literally killing the first born, but in order to avoid being killed, you just have to take the lamb and slaughter it. Then your first born will survive. So that is a very good teaching which prepares the Israelites for the sacrificial system of Leviticus.

I have to tell you why it is so important. According to the Talmud, when the Jews lived in Diaspora in the 1st century B.C through the 1st century A.D, there were many Greeks and Romans throughout the Roman Empire who wanted to convert. It would take usually about seven years to train these Greeks and Romans before they were ready to convert for a very simple reason. Rabbis spent times and times, hours and hours, days and months explaining to these former Pagans the difference between the intent and the goals of the pagan’s sacrificial system compare to the Israelite sacrificial system instituted in the Torah, because the main problem is that everybody did sacrifices. There were Pagan temples, and there were all kinds of sacrifices. At the same time, you have to understand that the pagan’s sacrifices main goal was to feed gods.

Beerman:

It was very much appeasement, wasn’t it?

Bolotnikov:

Well, it was appeasement. You are right, Stan, but it was feeding and appeasement. According to the Babylonian myths, recorded in Enuma Elish the Babylonian creation myth, the intention of the gods in creating human beings was that the human beings would feed them.

Beerman:

So you are actually feeding the god—that is what you are doing when you are sacrifice. It isn’t so much about substitution, it is about feeding the god.

Bolotnikov:

That’s it exactly…

Beerman:

Wow, okay.

Bolotnikov:

So according to Psalm 50, it says, “If I was hungry I would not have told you.” Every Jew before taking the food, lifts up the piece of bread and says, “Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz” which means “Blessed are Thou, LORD our God, King of the universe who brings forth the bread from the ground.” So God is the sustainer who provides food according to the Bible. According to Jewish thinking, that is why the intent of the sacrifices is totally different. The intent of sacrifice is not to appease God but to bring atonement and the removal of the sin of an individual, when basically the animal takes the responsibility for the sins of an individual and dies in the place of that individual.

Beerman:

So here really we do have, as opposed to some of things that we are talking about in our last Parsha with laws, we actually have some symbolic meaning, typological meaning attached to this, pointing to a God who provides us with substitution, rather than us providing the god with food and that sort of thing.

Bolotnikov:

Yes, that is exactly right. That is very symbolic and of course this idea is prophesied about by the prophet Isaiah—in particular in Isaiah 53—when a suffering Messiah servant is likened to “a lamb led to slaughter,” and that suffering Messiah servant is actually carrying our sins—the sins of Israel, the sins of humanity. That is how the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, actually applies the lessons the people learned from the sacrificial ritual, projecting it into the future work of the Messiah, the future role of the Messiah.

Beerman:

These instructions here, they are part of Torah, they are part of law, and so they are to carry out these instructions in terms of the burnt offerings and grain offerings and so forth. What is our understanding of the role of carrying out these instructions of sacrifice? Did the Jews believe that by doing this, they earned salvation through this, doing the act of sacrifice?

Bolotnikov:

Absolutely not. Question like these arise in the minds of many Christians because of the system of penitence that existed in the medieval churches. That system of penitence works like a scale.

You could see this same concept in the ancient Egyptian “theology” where you have this god with the head of a dog, and you have another god with a scale. The heart of a dead one is light on one side of the scale, and then they look to see if it is light enough and if the scale tips then the dog god. It is the heart that is the Egyptian theology mythology.

So in the medieval church that is exactly how it was. Your sins are one side of the scale. You need to pay, and you need to do some good deeds. You need to do some prayer. You need to do some pilgrimage. Then later they figured, oh it is enough to pay just money because they needed to construct Saint Peter’s Basilica.

So what happens next? Luther and the reformation come, and they say, “Oh, this penitence is salvation by works. We are saved by grace. They rebelled against this system, but there is a problem with Luther and the reformation. They went way in the other direction, and they started barking at the wrong tree. They viewed the laws of the Torah as if they are penitence.

Beerman:

Interesting.

Bolotnikov:

And they were never meant to be penitence. You ask them about the Jews, because now we are talking the understanding of the 1st century early Judaism, Jews were assured in their salvation just because they were Jews. So what are these? These just make you a Jew. Doing the Torah is what makes you a Jew.

If we go from the Jews of the 1st century back to the Israelites of the 14 century B.C. It is very clear here. It says here in verse 4, “Then he shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make an atonement for him.”

So it’s very clear what is needed to receive atonement. Just lay the hand, and then all kinds of manipulation begins which carries symbolic meaning, but this manipulation does not earn you forgiveness. God receives your offerings right there, as soon as you lay the hand.

Beerman:

So laying of the hand on the head symbolizes what specifically?

Bolotnikov:

That is very important. We look at this gesture. It appears many times. For example, when one man broke the Sabbath—and he did it viciously by demonstratively coming out and picking up firewood—Moses was commanded to have all community of Israel lay their hands on this man, and then he was stoned. So laying of the hands here is kind of laying responsibility, and that is exactly what the sacrifice does. It takes responsibility for the sin of the Israelite.

Beerman:

So there is a transfer of responsibility, guilt onto the head of this substitute, which in this case is an animal—a bull or goat, whatever it might have been.

Bolotnikov:

Exactly and that is when we get to the beauty of the atonement. Atonement occurs (that is the lesson) when somebody takes the responsibly for your sin.

Beerman:

Unpack the term atonement a little bit for us. It’s not the term we use a lot today in our society, so let’s unpack that just a little bit.

Bolotnikov:

Well, atonement is as I said—I will repeat it again—atonement is actually removal of sin from a sinner to someone who takes full responsibility and receives punishment for that sin. That is what the atonement is all about. If we look at the practical application. That is basically what we humans need. Sometimes there is a burden in your heart, and you want to unload. That’s what we need. That is what God is looking to do, when He talks about atonement. He provides the channel to unload what lays heavy on our hearts.

Beerman:

Would we say that the term then, in theological language that most people will understand, is justification? Is this justification or sanctification that happens here in this substitution? Is this the fair correlation?

Bolotnikov:

Well, justification is a little bit of a different term. Justification basically, that is true is exactly what happens here, but it is different than atonement. Atonement is our internal experience, it basically removes what is in us.

Beerman:

Forgiveness or cleansing?

Bolotnikov:

It is cleansing.

Beerman:

Cleansing.

Bolotnikov:

Forgiveness is different. I will tell you the difference here. When we just talk about forgiveness, it’s as if I said something nasty, and then I apologize and I ask, “Stan, forgive me,” that’s it.

But atonement works in this way. There are things within us. Why did I say that nasty thing? To who else am I saying this? Is this something inside my character? So atonement goes deeper than forgiveness. In other words, atonement seeks not just perpetual forgiveness. That is what unfortunately many people do. They fall, and they ask for forgiveness, and they fall again, and then they ask for forgiveness.

It is like a lizard. You take its tail, and it grows back, just because that is an internal quality of a lizard. So why do we fall? Because there is something there within us. There is something inherent, maybe acquired, some bad qualities that we have, and atonement actually seeks to go into the root of the problem. Where forgiveness is just you know.

Beerman:

Would there be a practical equivalence with what we find in a New Testament in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” so that would cover that basically…

Bolotnikov:

Absolutely Stan. There are two actions: forgiven—and it is not enough—then cleansing, and that is what provides the atonement.

Beerman:

It is an awesome thing, and I appreciate that clarification. We need to move again in our time here, as we look through these passages, these first five chapters. There are all kinds of sacrifices. There is a grain offering. There are peace offerings. There are sin offerings, trespass offerings, etc. The law of the burnt offering. Why all these different kinds? It’s very complex. It seems more complex then we normally think about.

Bolotnikov:

Well, first of all we need to see that there are two categories of sacrifices here. One category is voluntary—the burnt offering, the grain offering and the peace offering. These are voluntary and it says anyone who wants to.

Beerman:

Yes, I notice the free will aspect.

Bolotnikov:

Yes, the free will, and the problem with that is that you have here burnt offering and grain offering that is basically the same thing, because when you go, you go through different kinds of animals. It is basically like this. If you drive an S-Class Mercedes, you better bring a bull, but if you ride a bicycle, then you bring a turtle dove. But if you do not even have that, you still can receive atonement. Just bring a little bit of flour and whatever. So it is accessible.

It is interesting that the voluntary offerings, the burnt offerings if we look at the connection, specially the first time the word “olah” (which is something that goes up, something that ascends that is what olah is) occurs is in the story of Noah. When Noah comes out of the Ark, it’s the first thing he does. He brings a number of clean animals into an olah burnt offering. It is the same idea as here. Everything is burnt wholly, completely, and the smoke goes up, and the Lord smelled the smoke of the incense of the offering back then. In response, He literally restores the covenant, makes the covenant with Noah. So we can go and give more examples. We will see that the burnt offering is actually what a person does in order to establish the covenant relationship with God.

Beerman:

And that is voluntary?

Bolotnikov:

Of course, God does not compel us to establish relationship with him, we have to choose to love God and we have to want to establish this relationship and commitment.

Beerman:

So what would be the 2nd category? There is voluntary. What would be the 2nd category of sacrifice?

Bolotnikov:

Well, the 2nd category is when you are within the covenant, and you commit sin. It says in Leviticus 4, “when somebody trespasses against the commandment then you bring a sin offering.” That is a little different. In the sin offering, there is actually very clear distinction against this principle of “once saved always saved.” It is not just enough to commit to a relationship with God. You have to maintain it.

Beerman:

What would we find that in the New Testament?

Bolotnikov:

Well, the idea of sanctification come from justification. When we enter into our covenant with God, our sins are buried in the depths of the sea. That is the justification, but we still are sinful, and we have to die daily for our sins. That is the process of sanctification. That is what the sin offering symbolizes. When we commit some trespass, we did not know. God brings it to our attention, and we come to Him. We claim the substitutionary in the death of the Messiah and fix our problem.

Beerman:

There is a way out.

Bolotnikov:

Yes, there is a way out definitely.

Beerman:

Thank you for these clarifications, seeing a God who will adjust even to the people economic situation with sacrifices so forth.

Bolotnikov:

Yes, these are really great symbols, and they are very important.