- (Shabbat Zakhor):
I Samuel 15:2-34
The readings for this week 10-16 March 2019 are called VaYikra—“And He Called”:
NOTE: On the Sabbath before Purim, there is an additional Torah portion, relating to the eternal enmity of YHVH and His people against Amalek. The usual Haftarah (In this case Isaiah 43:21—44:23) is replaced with the passage from I Samuel in which Saul is commanded by God to destroy the Amalekites, but disobeys and spares Agag. In the Purim story recounted in the Book of Esther, Haman was a descendant of Agag.
This week’s reading brings us into the Book of Leviticus. This English name comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures and means “Relating to the Levites”. However, the Hebrew name VaYikra is drawn from the first word in the book and refers to the LORD “calling” to Moses from the Tent of Meeting to give him instructions. He not only desires to dwell among us—He longs to speak and commune with us. Some 50 times in this book it is written that God “spoke” to Moses. The book’s emphasis is holiness—and regards primarily the services of worship at the Tabernacle—the way that the priestly intercessors or ‘go-betweens’ could accomplish their work on behalf of the people.
This week’s portion pertains to five specific types of offerings (divided generally by chapters): These sacrifices were for the common people as a whole. They deal with voluntary private sacrifices, for expression of gratitude, prayer, spiritual communion or desire for expiation, on the part of the individual. The mishkan (dwelling place of God’s presence), had been prepared by the sacrifice of all the people—men women, young and old—and these sacrifices are on their behalf, not just on behalf of the priests.
1. Burnt Offerings (Leviticus 1:3-17):
From cattle herd (3), sheep (10), birds, turtledoves or young pigeons (14). A “Burnt Offering” carried the idea of “submission of the worshiper to the will of God in its most perfect form, as the entire animal was placed upon the Altar to be burnt. The Hebrew word ohlah signifies “that which ascends”, symbolizing the ascent or rising of the soul in worship. “By making the offering ascend to heaven, the one who offers it expresses his desire and intention to ascend himself to Heaven; i.e. to devote himself entirely to God and place his life in God’s service.” (The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, 2nd Ed: The Soncino Press, 1960. Here and in all subsequent quotations).
2. Grain Offerings (Leviticus 2:1-16):
Offerings of Flour, Wheat or Barley prepared with oil and frankincense. “When anyone (‘a soul’) offers a grain offering…” The very poor who could not afford an animal, could offer a “meal offering” The Hebrew is mincha—here referring to a sacrifice not involving slaughter of an animal. The Meal and oil “are not natural products, but are obtained as the result of toil. The meal-offering typified the consecration of man’s work to the service of God” (Ibid.). (2:13) “Every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking in your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.” (Salt acts as a preservative, preventing deterioration and putrefaction—which may be produced by leaven and honey). Salt typifies “that which is abiding.” On Friday evenings in Jewish households, salt is sprinkled on the bread as thanks is offered up for God’s provision.
3. Peace Offerings (Leviticus 3:1-17):
Zevach shelamim—sacrifices ‘made in fulfillment of a vow (zevach), or in gratitude for benefits received or expected. It would thus be an occasion when man seeks and obtains peace with his Creator. In the peace-offering there was inherent a feeling of joyousness, either in celebrating a happy occasion in the people’s life, or some important event in connection with a family or individual”. Taken from the cattle herd (1), the flock (6) (a lamb (7) or goat (12).
4. Sin Offerings (Leviticus 4:1-35):
Sin (het): For humankind, made in God’s image “to miss the mark” of set by His righteousness. All are under sin, even when as here, he or she did it in ignorance: the Anointed Priests (3); the congregation as a whole (13), civil rulers of the people (22), individuals from among the common people (27). Blood was required to make atonement for sin and to provide forgiveness.
5. Guilt and Trespass Offerings (Leviticus 5:1—6:7)
Special cases for sin offerings—coming into contact with impurity (5:2-3); omitting to fulfil a vow (5:4): “trespass”—unintentionally appropriating for one’s own use a ‘holy thing’ from the Sanctuary. Lastly, Chapter 6 deals with sins or trespass against God and against one’s neighbor and the offering required for restitution, atonement and forgiveness. In all of these it is the Priest (the Cohen) who “shall make atonement…before the LORD (6:7).
Thursday March 21, the 14th of Adar * (beginning sundown the evening before), is Purim – the day, as described in the Book of Esther, when Jews celebrate their remarkable deliverance from a plot in Persia in 483 B.C. to annihilate them as a people.
* In most of the world, Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, 21 March this year. However, Jerusalem and other “walled cities” celebrate “Sushan Purim” a day later on the 15th of Adar – as was done in ancient Shushan – “Susa” – Esther 9:18-19).
It is a joyous occasion. The Scroll (Book) of Esther will be read. This is the only book of the Hebrew Bible which has from ancient times been copied out onto small parchment scrolls for use in many Jewish homes (see picture above). It is a time for celebration! “Feast” or “feasting” are mentioned at least eighteen times in the Book of Esther. A traditional Hebrew word for holiday yom tov appears only here (Esther 8:17) in the Bible. There will be Purim plays and costume parties; special pastries (Oznei-Haman—“Haman’s Ears”, small tri-folded butter cookies with sweet fillings), desserts and wine.
Although these are meant to be days for rejoicing and feasting (Esther 9:18-19)—for the observant, they are preceded by days of soberness of spirit and fasting. Esther 9:31 relates how, following the great deliverance, Mordechai and Queen Esther also prescribed annual times for fasting and lamentation, in remembrance of those which the Queen had called for her Jewish subjects as she was preparing herself to go in and seek the favour of the King.
An “Esther Fast” will be observed by many Jews from dawn to sundown Wednesday March 20th.
It is unfortunate that Purim has come to be regarded in Israel primarily as a minor holiday for children (often adorned in Halloween costumes from America). We bless the children, certainly—but for their very sake we believe it important that Israel take seriously all of the message of this season. We encourage you to join with us in doing so!
Readings for Purim:
Book of Esther
As an act of Intercession read through the Book of Esther, asking the Lord to illumine its message for today. Perhaps He will lead you to join together with us in the fast. Pray that the LORD our Banner would expose and deliver Israel from the covenant-hating spirit of Amalek – which, like Haman in Esther and Mordechai’s day, would seek to annihilate God’s Covenant people Israel. And then, rejoice and celebrate the God who watches over all who care for and guard His covenants—to guide them in the way of His kindness and truth (Psalm 25:10).
– Your Friends in Jerusalem
[The readings for next week (17-23 March 2019) are called Tsav – “Command!”: TORAH: Leviticus 6:8 – 8:36 Deuteronomy 25:17-19; HAFTARAH: Jeremiah 7:21 – 8:3; 9:23-24]