Parashah Emor 2019 (Speak) Leviticus 21-24

These three chapters deal with three topics: the cleanliness of the Priests who serve in the Sanctuary (as well as the sacrifices brought there), the Holy Days God instructs us to celebrate, and the rules regarding punishment for blasphemy and murder.

As always, I find so much in here to talk about, all of which may be edifying to us and help us better understand what God requires of us. Yet, so that you don’t fall asleep during this message, I will choose just one topic to discuss. And this topic has been so zealously argued that I don’t think anyone will be yawning. At least, I hope not.

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For the purposes of this message, let’s separate Holy Days from holidays. A Holy Day is a festival or celebration which God has instructed us to observe, whereas a holiday is a man-made celebration. God’s Holy Days are found in the Torah, and holidays are found in the other books of the Old Covenant and in traditional religious doctrine.

The 7 Holy Days God has commanded we must celebrate are:

Shabbat, the day of rest;
Passover (a pilgrimage festival);
Feast of Unleavened Bread (7 days);
Shavuot (the second pilgrimage festival);
Yom Teruah (Day of Trumpets, later turned into Rosh Hashanah, a rabbinic celebration);
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement); and
Sukkot (Tabernacles, and the third and final pilgrimage festival.)

Pilgrimage festivals are the only ones where it is required to travel to the location where God places his name. During the time of the Judges and up until King David moved it, that place was Shiloh, where the Tent of Sanctuary was located. King David moved the tent to Jerusalem and once Solomon completed the Temple, the Temple was the place to go. After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, Jews worldwide have had nowhere to go to bring a sacrifice so they can be absolved of their sins or celebrate the pilgrimage festivals as God instructed us to do.

To those of us who have accepted Yeshua as the Messiah God promised to send, his sacrifice replaced the need to bring an animal to the Temple in Jerusalem so we are able to receive forgiveness; however, we have to settle to go to Shul (Synagogue) instead of Jerusalem to celebrate the pilgrimage Holy Days.

Now let’s get into that heated topic I referred to earlier, which is this: because God instructed us to observe only these 7 Holy Days, is the observance of any other holiday a sin? Especially those created by Christianity, whose origins are found in paganistic celebrations.

I suppose we should begin with identifying what sin is: a sin, for the purpose of this discussion (and I believe it is a good definition for any discussion), is when we do something that God says we shouldn’t do, or, conversely, don’t do something that God says we should do.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at other holidays and test them against our definition of sin.

Let’s start with the Jewish ones, of which there are many. How about Rosh Hashana?  The Jewish New Year, according to God, is the first of Aviv (now called Nisan), but the rabbinical or civic celebration is on what God said is the Day of Trumpets, a day to be a memorial. From that day on the 10 Days of Awe begin, in which we all look introspectively to determine how close, or how far, we have been from obeying God over the past year. Since Rosh Hashanah is a form of a memorial, I don’t see celebrating it the way we do as being sinful. There’s also Sh’mini Atzeret, also known as Simchat Torah, the 8th day of Sukkot. We honor God and his word by celebrating the turning back of the Torah from the end to the beginning so we can start reading it all over again. That doesn’t go against anything God said we should or should not do, and it is respectful, thankful and honoring to God.

There’s Purim (biblical but not commanded), the different fast days, the 9th of Av, and any number of lesser holidays, none of which dishonor God or go against anything he has decreed. So, since we celebrate God, honor him and his word, and aren’t doing anything against what he says, according to our definition of sin, celebrating these man-made Jewish holidays is not sinful.

Let’s now take a look at the major Christian holidays of Easter and Christmas…Oy Vey!! -now we are in for it.

Here is where the majority say celebrating them is sinful. The Maypole (a leftover from the Asherah pole), bunnies and eggs (paganistic fertility symbols), the name Easter (the pronunciation is the same for the fertility goddess, Ishtar), the use of a tree and ornaments to celebrate the birth of Yeshua (Jesus) is similar to graven images and Druidic practices…all of this is considered sinful. And the intention of the ones that worshiped false gods on these days and using these items was sinful.

But did God say we cannot celebrate the birth of the Messiah? Did God forbid us from celebrating the fulfillment of the work of the Messiah, demonstrated by his resurrection?

It is clearly a sin to celebrate and worship Ishtar, Molech, Ba’al, or any Semitic gods or the gods of other religions; but, if we are desiring to honor the one, true God and his Messiah with thankful worship in our hearts, will the paganistic origins of those days and items used overrule the current intent of our celebration? In other words, just because once, long ago these days were paganistic rituals, does that mean when we worship God and Messiah on these same days that they are unacceptable to God?

I don’t think so. God is clear that we are NOT to worship any other God but him, and if someone puts up a tree, adorns it, and does so solely to honor Messiah and God, they are NOT worshiping another God. Yes, maybe the things they are using and the way they are using them was once the way someone would worship a false god, but that is not what Gentiles Christians are doing. They are doing so with the intention of being worshipful and celebrating God’s gift of salvation through Yeshua.

For the record: I, myself, do not celebrate any Christian holidays because I am Jewish, but if I was a Gentile Believer, I most likely would still celebrate Easter and Christmas for the reasons I state above, to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to celebrate salvation through Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ.)

Throughout the Bible, both Old and New Covenants, God constantly makes it known to us that he is not interested in anyone just “going through the motions” but in what is in our hearts.  He constantly told the Israelites that their bulls, sheep, and other offerings meant nothing to him because their hearts were not in it. I interpret this to mean that so long as what we offer to God is with a grateful and worshipful heart, God will accept it from us.

I absolutely believe that when we celebrate a day to honor and thank God, he is more interested in why we are doing it than in the way we are doing it.

Therefore, in my opinion, celebrating Easter and Christmas with the intention and desire to be thankful to God and the Messiah is not a sin. If you eat ham at your Easter or Christmas dinner, well…that is different. That is clearly something that is a sin because God said pork is off the menu, forever.  But having a Christmas dinner, being with family and enjoying each other, celebrating God and his Messiah…really, how can that be wrong in God’s eyes?

Finally, it comes down to individual choice. If you don’t want to celebrate any festivals other than the ones God gave in the Torah, that is great! So long as you do that because you want to, and not because you are trying to earn anything with God. Likewise, if you give up something you like for Lent, celebrate Easter, put up your Christmas tree every year and do so solely with the intention of honoring God and Messiah, I believe God’s is fine with that.

There is, however, this caveat: if you do not celebrate the festivals God commanded in Leviticus Chapter 23 because you have been taught they are “Jewish” and not important to Christians, then you ARE in sin! Remember that our definition of sin is not doing what God says we should, and he clearly instructs us to celebrate these festivals. Even Yom Kippur, asking for forgiveness, is not done away with by Yeshua- we all sin, we all need to ask for forgiveness, and doing so in accordance with God’s instructions is never going to be wrong.

So, nu! There you have it! The bottom line, the Acid Test to determine if celebrating a man-made holiday is not a sin is this: if you celebrate a day to honor God and you do so with proper worship, desire, respect, and thankfulness in your heart, you will be OK.

Thank you for being here, please don’t forget to subscribe and share me out to your friends and family. I always welcome comments so long as they are respectful.

Tonight begins the Shabbat, so I wish you all Shabbat Shalom, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

What Does Do Not Add or Take Away Really Mean?

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There are many times within the Bible, from Genesis through to Revelation, that we are told we are not to add to or take away from the commandments we are given. The most specific commands I could find regarding this can be found in Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; 13:1; and in Revelation 22:18-19.

Too often I have noticed that people use these admonitions as a means of denying the validity of both Jewish and Christian traditions, rites and holidays that are not specifically commanded in the Torah. They believe the words “do not add to or take away from” as universally encompassing any and all words, ceremonies, activities or regulations outside exactly what is written in the Torah.

This is a form of legalistic interpretation, and although their heart is in the right place, their understanding is incorrect.

When Moses warned against adding to or taking away from the instructions God gave us he meant not to change only those things which he just instructed us to do. Rabbi Rashi gave an example by saying that we are told to use 4 species for the Lulav, so we shouldn’t use 5 or 3. The idea is that we are not to make arbitrary changes to the laws; that, however, does not mean we cannot make new additions to the Mosaic laws, as conditions require. Obviously, with the advent of new technology and moving from an agrarian economy to a service economy, the Mosaic Laws, taken in a stoic and unbending literal meaning, in many cases cannot be applied.

Let us consider that we do not change anything in the Torah at all- literally, not one word is to be added or taken away. If that is the case, then the only way we can be sure we obey that command is to read the Torah in the original Hebrew it was written in. For example, if we are not to add to the words in the book, then English cannot be used to translate the Bible because we would have to add many, many words.

Here’s an example: in Hebrew, the possessive is usually the noun with the ending having a “-nu” added. “Adonai” means “Lord” but when we write “Adonainu” it means “our Lord” The Hebrew is a single word but the English translation requires the use of two words, which is a violation of the command not to add anything to the words in the book. Imagine how many uses of the possessive we find in the Bible, and how many words will have to be added just to interpret the Hebrew correctly. Not to mention that the Torah has been translated into scores of different languages, each of them having their own need to add or remove certain words to make the translation fit.

Can you see how ridiculous it becomes if we insist on an absolutely literal interpretation of that command?

The Torah is a book of instruction- it is the ultimate User’s Manual for worshiping God and treating each other. Torah doesn’t mean “law”, it means “instruction” and the instructions we are given are to be performed as God said to. That means we are to do what God said to do the way God said to do it, but it does NOT mean we cannot adjust to a changing world. R. Maimonides has said that the sages (Sanhedrin) are allowed to temporarily suspend some requirements or allow that which is forbidden under extreme circumstances. These are not to be permanent changes, but under extreme conditions and only to allow what needs to be done only while there is a need for it.

And under no circumstance can additional requirements be considered as Divine instructions- that is what it really boils down to when Moses said do not add to or take away from what God gave us:  the instructions in the Torah are not to be changed, deleted, altered or modified in any way. However, what new “fences around the law” are required (aka, Talmudic instruction) are acceptable so long as they are not presented as Divine instruction. 

This is where Judaism has violated the Torah- the Talmud is studied and revered as scripture by some of the more Orthodox sects of Judaism, and that is what Moses said we should not do. There is nothing wrong with traditional forms of worship if they do not nullify or over-rule God’s commands, AND if they are recognized as man-made and not presented as Divinely ordered.

Here is an example: the Divine order in Torah is that we are not to boil a calf in its mother’s milk; the fence around that law (given in the Talmud) is that we are not to even mix meat and dairy. I, myself, will never boil a calf in its mother’s milk but I will go to Steak and Shake and order a cheeseburger, fries and a milkshake (Oy! Now I’m hungry.) I am not violating God’s commandment, and the truth is even if I never mix meat and dairy, I am not violating God’s commandment, and I am not sinning- I am simply doing a little more than the minimum to ensure I do not violate the Divine order. That is really what the Talmudic/Rabbinic traditions are designed to do- they are to help us perform God’s commandments properly and not accidentally violate them (hence the term “fences around the law”, i.e. a way to prevent us from accidentally trespassing the law.)

So, here is how I look at “traditional” rites and holidays: do they change what God has said? Is celebrating Hanukkah (not specified in Lev. 23) a violation of God’s commandments? In my opinion, it isn’t because God couldn’t include it when he gave the Moedim to Moses simply because it hadn’t occurred yet. Is thanking God for a miraculous military victory which saved Judaism wrong? How could it be? How can anything that is a loving and worshipful celebration of the Lord and what he has done for us ever be wrong?

On the other hand, is failing to honor the Sabbath OK? Certainly not! Or if we decided we wanted to celebrate Sukkot for only 5 days, would that be OK? Certainly not! But what if I want to have a party and read the Magillah of Hadassah on Purim, is that OK? It certainly is!

God gave us the Torah so we can know how he wants us to live. It is not all-encompassing, it does not cover everything we will run into as the world changes, and it is not absolutely the exact words God gave to Moses. There is no way we can know that. So, nu? What is it? It is a collection of instructions that are the minimum we should do to obey God. Anything outside of the Torah that is required by our religious leadership is not a sin as long as that requirement is in accordance with God’s instructions; they must not nullify, overrule or change them, and they must not be presented as a Divine instruction.

What we are given in the Talmud and Constantinian Christian dogma is man-made instruction. It is not Divine, it is not absolutely required, and if it goes against what God said (such as changing the day we celebrate the Sabbath) it is a sin.

So, celebrate the Lord, give thanks in every way you can and don’t restrict your thankfulness to only what is in the Torah.

Parashah Emor (Speak) Leviticus 21 – 24

There is enough in here to fill a book. I could write a whole chapter of a book just on Leviticus 23, the designations of the Holy Days…oh wait! I already did- it’s Chapter 7 in my book.

God tells Moses and Aaron the requirements for priesthood: about who they can marry, keeping clean (ceremonially) and who may eat of the holy foods. He also tells them those who serve must not have a blemish or an unnatural (today we would say challenged) physique.

It also, as I mentioned above, designates the Festivals of the Lord, the 7 Holy Days (not holidays, but Holy Days- read my book) that God has separated and commanded us to observe:

The Sabbath

Passover Passover is not 7 days long: it is just from the evening meal until midnight, when the angel passed over.

Hag Ha Matzot The next seven days are called Hag ha Matzot, the Festival of Unleavened Bread. First Fruits is also celebrated the first day after the first Shabbat after Passover starts.

Shavuot Festival of Weeks, which includes the counting of the Omer and is celebrated by Christians as the Pentecost (50 days). For Jews it celebrates also the giving of the Torah, although that is civil, not biblical.

Rosh HaShanah The bible declares this day as Yom T’Ruah, the memorial celebration with sounding of trumpets. The civil holiday it has become is a new year celebration. According to God, the new year begins 14 days before the Passover, with the month of Aviv (now called Nissan)

Yom Kippur The Day of Atonement is when we ask God to move from the Seat of Judgment to the Seat of Mercy and forgive us for our sinfulness and the sins we have committed. Of course, we are to ask forgiveness every day, but this was a special time, and the only time that the Cohen HaGadol, the High Priest, was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies.

Sukkot The Festival of Tabernacles is when we build small tabernacles, or open roofed shelters and live in them for a week, to recall the way we lived in the desert for 40 years. Today (not from Torah but a Rabbinical add-on) we also celebrate Sh’mini Atzeret, the Eighth Day, also called Simchat Torah (Joy of Torah). On that day we read the final lines of the Torah, then while the congregation sings (and dances in some synagogues) the Torah is turned back to the beginning, and the cycle of reading starts all over again.

The one thing I want to discuss today is at the very end of this parashah. Leviticus 24:22, where God says:

Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for the home-born; for I am the Lord, your God

This command is one of the most important of all commandments in the Torah, as far as I am concerned, because it signifies clearly that God makes no distinction between your geographic origin, your parent’s beliefs, or whether you are white, black, or multi-colored: as far as God is concerned, His laws are for everyone and it doesn’t matter where you are from or how you were raised. There is only one God, Adonai; there are only His rules and laws; like them or not, you are subject to them if you say you worship Him.

If you profess to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob then these laws are for you. Period.

Most, if not all, Christian religions teach differently, and any religion that says these Holy Days do not need to be observed or that any part of the Torah is not necessary, by definition that religion cannot be worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

If you are being told the Torah, the holy days in Leviticus 23, or that the Old Covenant is all just “Jewish” stuff, then you need to find out who you are worshiping, because it ain’t the God Moses worshiped!