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Who are we trying to impress?

Parashat Shemini is a very difficult portion and its stories have been used by religions to promote their own dogmas and doctrines. It is always important to understand the lessons of these stories so that we can learn how to apply them to our lives today. The Torah is not to be taken literally but holds a series of principles told in parable-form that can be applied in every generation. Shemini is better understood when we begin with Leviticus 8 from the previous parashah where it speaks of the inauguration of the priesthood. Aaron and his sons were in the Ochel Moed – Tent of Meeting, for seven days of “training” before it would be opened to the rest of the people on the 8th day (Shemini).  Number 8 in Gematria means new beginning. It was a time of joy and excitement; then suddenly in chapter 10 there is the shocking story of the death of Aaron’s two elder sons, Nadab and Abihu. Imagine, such a joyous day of inauguration being marred by their bodies having to be carried off by their cousins, and Aaron was not even allowed to mourn!  There was discussion with Moshe as to why he and his sons did not keep the rest of the liturgy where they would have needed to eat the offerings, the korban chataat. Aaron, with a broken heart, admitted that it would been disingenuous of him to have eaten it at this time.  Our Creator could have killed Aaron for not following the prescribed rituals as He supposedly did with Nadab and Abihu but instead this shows us how much He cares about our feelings.  Moshe understood.

Religion teaches us to go through the motions and put our feelings aside. Is it more important to follow a rigid system than to do things with our hearts?  That is what I believe happened with Nadab and Abihu. Our Creator looks beyond the externals at the intention of our hearts.  Most of us, however, are more worried about how we appear to others and play the game of being holier than thou.  However, the moral intention of the individual is what counts to the Creator.

To illustrate this, let’s examine a teaching from our Rabbi Yeshua from the Messianic Writings, in Matthew 15: 1-20. There are excellent to be found there, just as there are in the Talmud but they both do not replace the Torah.

1Then the Perushim and Soferim from Jerusalem came to Yeshua and said,’ Why do your disciples break away from the tradition of the elders? They eat without washing their hands.’ He answered, ‘And why do you break away from the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? (Notice a Jew usually answers a question with another question.) For God said, “Honour your father and your mother” and “Anyone who curses his father or mother will be put to death (Deut 5:16).” But you say, “If anyone says to his father or mother: Anything I might have used to help you is dedicated to God,6 he is rid of his duty to father or mother.” In this way you have made God’s word ineffective by means of your tradition.   

Our sages had prioritized their values by saying that if anyone made a vow, whether it was just or not, it must be kept. By doing this, they invalidated the Word of the Creator, making themselves worse than the pagans. 

Yeshua continues: 7 Hypocrites! How rightly Isaiah prophesied about you when he said: This people honour me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me.9 Their reverence of me is worthlessthe lessons they teach are nothing but human commandments.’  (Isaiah 29:13)   

How many of us live by appearances?  Could that be the case of Nadab and Abihu? The heart means kavanah (intention) and is so important in Judaism.  I have spoken to you about the process of going from “emunah” (faith) to “bitachon” (trust); of taking His gift of “bechirat chofshit”- free will and moving to kavanah (intention). We have been given the privilege of being able to make our own choices. The Creator is not at all impressed by our Korbanot, our offerings; He knows our hearts, by which we will be judged, not by our doctrines or our religious costume. We can lie to anyone but the Creator. The relationship with Him is not about showing up at synagogue on Shabbat but it involves every moment of our lives. He is always with us; He even has night vision. We can’t hide from Him in the dark.

10 Yeshua called the people to him and said, ‘Listen, and understand. What goes into the mouth does not make anyone unclean; it is what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean. Then the disciples came to him and said, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were shocked when they heard what you said?’ He replied, ‘Any plant my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind; and if one blind  person leads another, both will fall into a pit.’ At this, Shimon-Kefas (Peter) said to him, ‘Explain the Parable – Mashal for us.’

   He knew it was a parable, not to be taken literally. 

16 Yeshua replied, ‘Even you — don’t you yet understand? Can’t you see that whatever goes into the mouth passes through the stomach and is discharged into the sewer? But whatever comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and it is this that makes someone unclean. For from the heart come evil intentions: murder, adultery, fornication, theft, perjury, slander.  These are the things that make a person unclean. But eating with unwashed hands does not make anyone unclean.’

This parashah speaks of “tahor and tamei” – clean and unclean. We speak of the fear the LORD which means to hold Him in awe, in reverence.  What kind of God have you created that you are so foolish to believe that you can deceive Him?  Nadab and Abihu had just spent seven days in His Presence in the Ochel Moed and yet they fell.  We here today did not see the Creator the way they did; we were not at Mt. Sinai to see the Glory upon that mountain.  Let us not presume that we are be better than they are. Let us be careful not to follow man but to be obedient to the Creator. No man has the right to change the Word of God. 

I have been asked about the laws of Kashrut.  There is a teaching in Deut. 14: 21 that says: “You must not eat anything that dies a natural death; you may give it to the stranger that is within your gates, that he may eat it; or you may sell it to a foreigner; for you are a holy people to the LORD your God.”. Does that mean that the Creator wants us to poison them, and that He’ll protect us? Let us not be literalist but understand its principles. He was separating the people, Israel at that time alone, for a specific purpose. It was easy to do then, since it involved separating them by what they ate and how they dressed. That is no longer possible today.  Today, our distinction lies in our heart, in our behaviour, in our moral values. That was Yeshua’s message.  It’s not about what we eat or how we dress but what comes out of our mouths – our intentions. Those who are truly walking with the Creator are humble, not stuck up or judging others. A true righteous person does not boast about his actions.    

There are many explanations by our sages about what Nadab and Abihu did.  My understanding was that the Creator knew their true intentions. What happened to them created an awesome respect for the Creator in the eyes of the people.  If those who had been so close to the Creator suffered in this way, will we also not suffer the consequences of our actions which begin with our intentions.  The more that is given to us, the more is required of us.  

Shabbat Shalom