This week’s parsha (Sh’mini – Leviticus 9:1-11:47) is all about how to approach HaShem properly.
We pick up right after the ordination and training of Aaron & his sons for their priestly duties. They have made the first sacrifice & Adonai has come down in His glory into the tabernacle. Right away we see Aaron’s two sons Nabab & Abihu, perhaps in a fit of ecstasy – caught up in the euphoria of the moment, stepping outside the bounds of Adonai’s instruction.
They offer what we’re told is “strange” or “unauthorized” fire. There are many conjectures as to what this could have been. The bottom line is that they stepped outside of the boundaries expressly given to them by Adonai and they are immediately struck down.
This incident is followed by some discourse between Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s two remaining sons – who weren’t so much involved as they were the target of Moses’ anger. Aaron’s response to Moses’ anger appeased Moses & it seems apparent that HaShem accepted it, as well.
What comes next is what I want to focus on this week. It’s something that most believers today don’t think about much, but is of paramount importance to G-d. It’s something that as people we handle on a daily basis and it’s something that often goes largely ignored in the body of Messiah: Food.
Food and Holiness
Don’t you find it at least a little bit curious that immediately following the deaths of Nadav & Abihu and a rebuke from G-d about being sanctified by those who draw near, the very next most important thing HaShem discusses isn’t sexual purity. It isn’t treating your neighbor with honesty and integrity. It isn’t even anything to do with childbirth and bringing new life into the world.
Instead of discussing any of those other topics, which I think we can all agree are very important, Adonai brings up food. Specifically clean vs. unclean meats. This is also the first instruction to the general population since Exodus. So we should understand that this is one of the most important topics to Adonai and it affects who can approach Him. And enabling mere humans to approach G-d is what the scriptures are all about.
Now, whenever we talk about food we have a tendency to get defensive. I had a conversation once with someone I respected and who had been a Christian basically as long as I had been alive. This was about 10-12 years ago when my wife & I were still relatively new to the Messianic Jewish life. So I was really surprised at this person’s response when I suggested that perhaps G-d does care about what we eat. The response went something like this:
“What do you mean telling me what I can and cannot eat!?! You can’t tell me how to live!!!“
Never mind that within scripture we have strict instructions concerning how to treat others and what is and is not permissible sexually speaking. This is food we’re talking about!
Well, let’s talk about this a bit.
I’ve already mentioned that this is the first regulation given from HaShem to the entire nation of Israel after the ordination of Aaron & his sons. It directly follows the death of two of Aaron’s four sons. And it deals directly with what states someone can and cannot approach Adonai.
Not only that, but it says that if anyone eats of the unclean meat, he will be “cut off from his people”. Looking back at Exodus 34, it’s safe to say that being “cut off” is a death sentence. So we get the idea that this is an issue of major importance to Adonai.
“New Testament” Believers
But aren’t we “New Testament” believers, you say? We don’t have to deal with all those dietary, ceremonial laws, right? Besides, maybe you’re a Gentile (not Jewish by blood or conversion). Certainly Gentiles are exempt from such laws, right?
It just so happens that we have a legal ruling directly from the apostles for Gentile believers concerning food. In fact, it was such an important topic that it’s one of the only rulings we have from all of them collectively. You can find it, and the discussion around it, in Acts 15.
In Acts 15:19-21, Peter addresses the Jerusalem Council and says:
”Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
The rest of the council agrees with Peter and sends a letter out to the Gentile believers saying the same.
The interesting thing is that three of the four things mentioned in the letter have to do with what these new Gentile converts eat. And if we follow these four things, we’ll realize that only kosher slaughtered meat was acceptable (things strangled & blood refer to kosher meat). Only meat that is kosher according to Leviticus 11 is kosher slaughtered.
Furthermore, in Isaiah 66:17 the prophet says “Those who [eat] pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, declares the Lord.”
This time spoken of in Isaiah has not happened yet, though we may be at its precipice. It’s a scary thing to think that those who think they are close to Adonai may be some of those who “come to an end altogether”.
Isaiah 66 starts off by HaShem saying that the “one on whom [He] will look [is] he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at [His] word.”
If you remember what we learned about Pharaoh a couple months ago, his great sin was arrogance against G-d. He gave more weight to his own thoughts & ways than he did to G-d’s. We as believers in the one, true G-d need to be sure that we’re not elevating our own thoughts & opinions above the Word of G-d.
Without being dogmatic about it, if we consider the gravity eating strictly kosher meat is given by HaShem in Leviticus, the fact that most of the basic instructions given to Gentile converts by the apostles had to do with eating kosher, and G-d’s strict future punishment on some of those who eat non-kosher meat in Isaiah, I think we should take a second look at what we put into our bodies.
I submit to you the possibility that eating is not only a spiritual activity, but also one through which we might be able to bring more honor to Adonai with our lives. What do you think?