Standstill In The Scripture?

Once again, I find it necessary to speak about the situation in the world – and to seek the answers in the Word. When the world started to realize that the initial outbreak of the Corona Virus was becoming a threat to the whole world, we were reading the Torah Portion VaYikra, as we entered the third book of Torah, VaYikra (Leviticus). If you, like me, believe that weekly Torah portions are divinely ordained, and that God speaks to His people – and to each one of us personally – through these portions of Scripture, then humanity’s entrance into Corona zone becomes even more significant when we realize that, at the same time, we enter VaYikra. What is so special about this book?

Remarkably, VaYikra (Leviticus) is placed in the very center of Torah: there are two books before, and two after. There is so much action before Leviticus—all the wonderful events and stories of Genesis and Exodus, all the great narratives that make such dramatic and colorful pictures in children Bibles. There is some action after this book, although the very tone, the musical key of the stories of the last two books, is completely different from the previous ones. However, there is still activity and action both in Numbers and in Deuteronomy.  But here, in VaYikra, there is almost no narrative, almost no action – everything stands still here. This seemed like a very appropriate reading for the season: we know, that at some point everything was at a standstill in the whole world. Does this standing still mean that we are opening, not just a new page, but a new book in our lives?

I think, when God first started to speak to Moshe in VaYikra, Moshe was confused, perplexed, even somewhat downcast. It’s not that he had never heard God’s voice before this—by the time we enter VaYikra, Moshe is already a great and accomplished leader who knows well the voice of the Lord and has done amazing things for and with Him: he had led the people out of Egypt, had received the Ten Commandments, had just completed building the Tabernacle, and I suppose, after all these momentous activities, he was ready to just go on.  I’m sure he expected the Lord to continue giving him some practical guidance and instructions: “Lord, what do you want me to do next? What do you want me to build for you?  Where do you want us to go?”  But there is no going or building in VaYikra. Instead, Adonai speaks of sacrifice.

Often times, we fail to stop when we should. At those times, God Himself has to stop us—and the book of Leviticus, VaYikra, is indeed such a stop. Yes, there will be more action and more events later, in Numbers and Deuteronomy, but for now, we have to stop, to listen silently to God and learn from Him—to sacrifice. To go through VaYikra is to go through sacrifice.

Do you know that in Hebrew, the root word, karav – the word that lehakreev, “to sacrifice”, and korban, “sacrifice”, are formed from – is the very same root that also forms the word lehitkarev, “to come near, to draw near, to come closer”. Yes, it is that simple: if you want lehitkarev leElohim, to come closer to God, you have to lehakreev, to go through korban, sacrifice—it is the same process, the same root, and only when we learn to sacrifice does true closeness, real intimacy with God, come. This new closeness with God is even greater than what we previously experienced. God stops us, because He wants us to draw nearer to Him; He wants us to lehakreev, and by so doing, to lehitkarev.

How does God stop us? Let us have a closer look at the way the Book of Leviticus connects with the preceding Torah reading – the final words of the Book of Exodus. The concluding verses of Exodus describe the completion of the Sanctuary – that wonderful portable temple built at the foot of Mount Sinai. This sanctuary was to accompany the Jewish people throughout their long journey in the wilderness, and was to be set up in the Land of Israel when they finally arrived there. The final chapters of the book of Exodus, in their entirety, describe the efforts of the people in building the Tabernacle. Finally, in the very last chapter, it is finished. And then—what happens next?

Then the cloud covered the tabernacle[1]. A thick cloud covered the newly built Sanctuary. Because of this cloud, Moshe himself was unable to enter the Sanctuary. Can you imagine? After all the effort which had gone into this building, it was covered by a cloud and seemed to be totally inaccessible and totally useless.

You might be thinking: what is she talking about? It was not just cloud—it was God’s glory, God’s presence that covered the Sanctuary! Of course, everyone knows now that it was God’s presence, not just a cloud! But think of that first moment when it happened – how could they know exactly what this cloud was?  Oh yes, I am certain that Moshe had faith, that he didn’t doubt or question God even at that moment, but I am also quite sure that there were many there who were grumbling, wondering why in the world they had spent so much time building the very thing that now seemed to be so useless, so inaccessible.

We always have this choice: to recognize the presence of God, the hand of God, the voice of God—or to see just a cloud, interfering with our plans, something that ‘just happened’ to come at a bad time and became an unfortunate obstacle in our worship.  In an amazing way, like everything in Torah, this choice is reflected by the very first word of the book – VaYikra. In the original Hebrew text, the word Vayikra has one specific feature: it’s written with a miniature aleph at the end. There are three sizes of the letters in Torah – regular, oversized and miniature – and every time we see a letter of a different size, we should look for a profound explanation.  So, why do we have this miniature aleph here?

Our sages have offered different explanations, mostly to do with humility: it is said that Moshe attained the highest level of humility, and it was expressed by the small aleph of Vayikra. There is, however, a deeper explanation, that I would like to share with you. The word “VaYikra” without the aleph would read “VaYiker”, which means, “and it happened”. There is a huge and truly ontological difference between the worldview based on Vayikra – “and He called”, and the worldview based on VaYiker – “and it happened”. Here we go back again to whether we simply see a cloud or see His very presence covering the Tabernacle. Our sages say that when the Red Sea split, all the seas in the world split at the same time—because the Lord always leaves us a choice to perceive His miracles as just some curious natural event.

Of course, I am not comparing Coronavirus to God’s glory in the Tabernacle. I am merely saying that, while we are here on this earth, everything, absolutely everything, can be seen as something that ‘just happened’, as opposed to something that He called into being. But faith knows that there is a little aleph beyond everything that ‘just happens’, and it is this aleph that makes all the difference. That is why Moshe, who was a man of faith, was able, not only to recognize God’s presence in what seemed to be just a cloud and to move on to the next book of his life, but also to move on through this book, through VaYikra – lehakreev, in order to lehitkarev.

 

[1] Ex. 40:35

This article is an excerpt  from the book I am currently working on. The book is dealing with the plagues in the Bible, I hope it will be published and available soon.  Meanwhile,  all my  other books, with the Hebrew insights into the Torah and  Jewish Background insights   into NT,  are  available on Amazonhttps://www.amazon.com/Julia-Blum/e/B00LUY0JN8?ref_=dbs_p_ebk_r00_abau_000000  or on my page on this blog :   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/     

Also, if  these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying  in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding  eTeacher courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com) .

 

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Philip de Klerk

    Thank you Julia for sharing this wonderful insight and encouragement from Scripture. I live in South Africa, and just as relevant here. Messiah in our hearts.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your kind words Philip. Blessings!

  2. Gladys Fox

    Thank you Julia . Thank you so much for your teachings . I learn very much from you.
    I live in the U.S. and recently read Isaiah chapter 19 . Even though it talked about Egypt; it was very much like what is beginning to happen and is happening in my country . It was very sobering and frightening . Thankfully there is hope at the end of that chapter! It is my belief that when more Christians begin to realize the importance of the Jewish people and return Yeshua’s Jewish identity to Him , things will be much better and more Jewish people will know that He is the True Messiah .

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much Gladys, I am always glad to hear from you. You are right, there are some really sobering and frightening portions of the Scripture relevant for all of us today. I am working on a small book about plagues these days, I hope it would be ready and published soon. It might be of interest to you.