Good morning and thank you for joining the Bridges for Peace weekly Torah devotions. My name is Rebecca Verbeten. I am a Regional Representative with Bridges for Peace overseeing the US Chapter of Zealous8:2. Zealous8:2 is the young adult division of Bridges for Peace. We serve to reach the young adult generation in the American church to serve the vision of Bridges for Peace.
This is a Christian Torah devotion, which is based off of the Torah portion, which will be read in synagogues throughout the world. We will look at what the Jewish sages and rabbis have had to say about this portion, but we will also look at what the Christian scriptures say about this portion. Through this we want to encourage meaningful and supportive relationships between Christians and Jews around the world and to educate and equip Christians to identify with Israel, the Jewish people, and the Hebraic foundation of the Christian faith. So, we welcome both our Jewish and our Christian listeners.
Today’s parsha is called Tetzaveh, which means “You shall command…” and is found in Exodus chapter 27 beginning in verse 20 and ending in Exodus chapter 30, verse 10.
My prayer is that this devotion would truly serve us as it is intended to. Torah is not simply a list of rules or do’s and don’ts, but Torah means guidance or direction. It comes from a word that had to do with archery and meant to guide the arrow straight to target. Torah is loving instruction from God to help us do what He knows is best for us.
In last week’s parsha we read how God gave the Israelites instructions on how to build the tabernacle.
In this Torah portion, God appoints Aaron and his sons as priests. God describes the priestly clothing, and explains how to properly sanctify the priests. Aaron is commanded to make incense offerings to God every morning on an altar. God explains that once a year Aaron will make an offering on that altar to atone for all of the Israelites’ sins.
God chose these men to be in a position of spiritual leadership. In the days of the tabernacle and then later in the temple, they were responsible for the sacred service. The Hebrew word kohen actually means “to serve,” and a deeper connection can be found in the word ken, meaning “yes.” Thus a priest, or kohen was called upon to direct himself, and others, in the proper service of God as Exodus 28:1 says: “And you, separate your brother Aaron and his sons from among the Israelites, and bring them close to you… so they can serve me.”
God has told Moses to receive the Israelites gifts and build a tent Sanctuary so God would have Divine Presence in their midst.
God said to Moses, “Tell the sons of Israel to use only pure hand-pressed olive oil to light a lamp continually. Arrange for it to burn from evening until morning in God’s Presence.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, considered to have been the most phenomenal Jewish personality of modern times said, “Everlasting flame” implies a state of perpetuity and changelessness. For such is our mission in life: to impart the eternity and perfection of the Divine to a temporal world…” We see the same message brought out, using a very similar word picture in Matthew 5:14 in the Christian scriptures when Yeshua said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill can not be hidden.”
From both examples, we learn that God intends for his people to serve as a light, which will point mankind to Himself. This was the purpose of the Menorah in the tabernacle. And this is the purpose of those who believe and trust in the God of Israel today.
God said, “You will then bring your brother Aaron and his sons nearer so they can be Kohens, priests who Minister to Me.” And in Chapter 28, God gives Moses very detailed instructions about the garments Aaron and his sons, the priests were to wear. He was specific in stating that skilled workers who were wise and talented should make them. He says to start with a woven apron with a gem mount for each shoulder, then engrave them each with six names of the twelve sons of Israel. Over his heart, as High Priest, Aaron shall wear a gold Breastplate of Judgment, embedded with twelve jewels, each engraved with the name of one son of Israel. This, along with the Urim and Thumim, will ensure that the sons of Israel shall be upon Aaron’s heart when he comes before God and that he shall bear the judgment of the Children of Israel in his heart. He was to consider that he was the representative of the children of Israel; and the stones on the ephod and the stones on the breastplate were to remind Aaron that he was the priest and mediator of the twelve tribes. This idea is echoed in the Christian scriptures in James chapter 3, verse 1 where we are cautioned, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” This command to Aaron and the verse found in the book of James both serve to remind those in leadership of the weighty responsibility we’ve been entrusted with. The medieval French rabbi, Rashi said that the twelve stones also served “So that the Holy One, blessed is He, will see the tribes written before Him, and He will remember their righteousness.” Both of these ideas cause me to envision Aaron approaching the Lord with the weightiness of responsibility as well as a deep love, concern, and commitment to the people of Israel. It has also challenged me as I approach God in prayer to carry with me the names of the sons of Israel, the people of Israel as we are told in Psalm 122:6 to pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.
In Exodus 28, verse 36 God tells Moses, “For Aaron’s forehead, you shall make a head plate of pure gold inscribed with: “Holy to The Lord.” What a bold and humbling inscription to bear! “Holy to the Lord!” Aaron was not a deity. He was merely a man, flesh, and blood like you and I are. He was imperfect and in that imperfection, like all of us, he sinned. Yet, when he appeared in service to the Lord on behalf of the people, he appeared “Holy to the Lord.” What fear must have gripped Aaron’s heart, as he was dressed for service? I wonder if the secret things hidden deep within him that only he and God knew about distracted his mind. Or was he confident that although, he was human, and had failed as humans do, he was chosen by the ONE true God to serve in such a position. I think Aaron may have struggled much like some of us do today. Often times as people called into the service of God, we may become overwhelmed and discouraged by our humanness. We may wonder how God could ever choose us knowing every one of our weaknesses, sins, and shortcomings. Yet, we can declare along with the prophet Isaiah, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” ( Isaiah 61:10)
The rest of the parsha goes on to detail the remainder of the priestly garments as well as to state that Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the tent of meeting or approach the altar to minister. God also says that it was to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants. And then God gives a very detailed description of how the priests were to be consecrated and more details regarding the altar of incense. Why so many details?
God summarized His purpose behind all of His ordinances in Numbers 37:40. He says, “‘You will remember to obey all of my commands. And you will be set apart for your God.
His desire was a people holy, sanctified, and set apart for Himself. A people who wouldn’t just blend in or get lost amongst the other people of the world. People marked by details. And today, as in the days of the tabernacle, God is longing for a people holy, sanctified, and set apart for Him. As we survey the happenings in the world today, it’s not difficult to see that we are living in days where the earth is covered with darkness. As more and more people are becoming comfortable with and accepting of things which God’s Word clearly calls sin it is as though we are an exact mirror image of what the prophet Isaiah says in Chapter 59, verses 7 through 13
7 Their feet rush into sin;
they are swift to shed innocent blood.
They pursue evil schemes;
acts of violence mark their ways.
8 The way of peace they do not know;
there is no justice in their paths.
They have turned them into crooked roads;
no one who walks along them will know peace.
9 So justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
10 Like the blind we grope along the wall,
feeling our way like people without eyes.
At midday we stumble as if it were twilight;
among the strong, we are like the dead.
11 We all growl like bears;
we moan mournfully like doves.
We look for justice, but find none;
for deliverance, but it is far away.
12 For our offenses are many in your sight,
and our sins testify against us.
Our offenses are ever with us,
and we acknowledge our iniquities:
13 rebellion and treachery against the Lord,
turning our backs on our God,
inciting revolt and oppression,
uttering lies our hearts have conceived.
In the midst of such sin and lawlessness, God is still calling both men and women who will live lives of holiness. Men and women who will harken to every detail of His calling and obey. Men and women who, not by any means of their own, but because of the grace of God can wear upon their heads “Holy to the Lord;” A set apart people who will intercede on behalf of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
1 Peter 2:9 in the Christian scriptures says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, [God’s] own [a]purchased, special people, that you may set forth the wonderful deeds and display the virtues and perfections of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
Rabbi Robert Lennick, the president and CEO of Religion in American Life would agree with this. He said,“History does in fact teach us that our people have always been committed to the doing of mitzvoth. In our time, this means reflecting and then committing ourselves to Torah, learning; devotion; and deeds of loving-kindness. In this sense we are all priests, bearers of God’s light. The eternal flame is not only a symbol in the sanctuary, it is also a burning flame within us that ignites our passion to repair the world.
So, as priests OF the One, True God, the God of Israel, how do we display, as did the priests of old, the virtues and perfections of God?
We too should be clothed in such a way that people are struck with awe and reverence for God. In the day and culture in which we live, though, such clothing would only serve to draw attention to us rather than to God. There are two ways that we can be clothed for holiness. The first is by wearing spiritual garments. The Christian scriptures, in Galatians 5:22 say, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” These 9 fruit, as they are referred to, boldly display the virtues and perfections of God. We also wear garments that ready us for the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. In Ephesians 6:13 we are urged to, “Put on the full armor of God.” These garments include the belt of Truth, the breast plate of righteousness, feet fitted with readiness, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. Again, these are articles, which fully serve to display God’s virtues and perfection.
Secondly, I would like to suggest that it just might be of some importance that what we place on our physical bodies also point others to the holiness of God. I am not suggesting that we all wear t-shirts with Bible verses on them. And I am not, by any means, standing on the side of legalism. It is very evident, however, that the physical garments that the priests of old wore was very important to God.
I imagine a holy hush, an unequivocal reverence reserved only for such moments silently rippled throughout the people of Israel at the sight of the priests robed for their service. And at the mere sight, the people were reminded that they were set apart and their thoughts were immediately drawn to the ONE to whom they were set apart.
When I was a little girl, our family woke up early every Sunday morning to begin the routine of getting ready for church. I still have vivid memories of my father standing over the ironing board pressing all of our finest clothes. My mother always made sure our faces were cleaned and our hair was perfectly combed. My brother, one year younger than I am, always received compliments that he looked like a “little preacher” dressed in his 3-piece suit. I was taught that by giving special attention to our appearance, we were offering God our very best as we gathered to minister and serve. This is something, that each of us might want to consider within our own hearts.
At the very least, we should be challenged to ask ourselves, “Am I offering my very best to the Lord?” Am I giving attention to the details of my life?” Our lives do, after all, serve to represent God to a lost and dying world.
A wise religious leader once said, “God has three sorts of servants in the world: Some are slaves and serve God from fear; others are hirelings and serve for wages; and the last are children, who serve because they love.” When we truly serve with love, we give and prepare to give our very best, paying close attention to every, single detail.
As I contemplate this Torah Portion, I sense the heart of God saying, “Return to me, whole House of Israel. And return to me, wild olive branch grafted into the root, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Return to me in holiness and be set apart.”
Father God, Holy one of Israel, we praise you and glorify you. We bless you and magnify your name. We thank you that in you we are a royal priesthood and we receive that call to service with reverence, fear, and humility. We ask you for the grace to be holy as you are holy. You have set us apart as your holy people to be a light to the world. May our lights shine ever so brightly and even brighter as the days grow darker. Let every detail of our lives truly display your holiness and righteousness. Amen
In closing, I invite you to stand if you are able to as together we say the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
And with all your soul, and with all your might.
Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.
Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home
And when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.
Bind them as a sign on your hand; fix them as an emblem on your forehead,
And write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Thank you for joining us for this morning’s Torah devotion. God bless you and Shabbat Shalom.