“The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting.” (Leviticus 1:1)
Last week, we finished the book of Exodus.
This Shabbat, we begin studying the Book of Leviticus. In Hebrew, Leviticus is called Vayikra after its opening word וַיִּקְרָא, which means and He called.
This Shabbat is the last of the Four Parashiot that have special Torah readings in preparation for Pesach (Passover), which is only two short weeks away!
It is called Shabbat HaChodesh (החודש שבת Sabbath [of the] month), and a special reading is added from Exodus 12:1–20, which details the laws of Pesach (Passover).
This Sabbath also marks the first of the month (Rosh Chodesh) head of the month of Nissan, which God ordained as the first month of the Biblical calendar.
Nissan was made the first month of the year because it is the month in which the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt, the house of bondage.
In actuality, then, it is a new year. So in addition to wishing one another a Happy New Year in the seventh month of Tishrei for Jewish people (or January 1st for those who follow the Gregorian calendar), we can wish people Happy New Year again today!
“God said to Moshe and Aharon in the Land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.’” (Exodus 12:1–2)
The Lunar Calendar
In adopting a lunar-based calendar, Israel made a clean break from Egypt’s solar calendar, which honored the pagan worship of the “sun god.”
One of the first issues that God had the people of Israel deal with just before leaving Egypt regarded the marking of time.
Why did God choose that moment to set the Biblical New Year?
The reason is that only a free person has need of a calendar by which to order his life. A slave rises, works, sleeps and orders his entire existence according to his or her master’s whims. Thus, God was saying to His people, “Now you are a free nation and have your own calendar!”
In traditional Judaism, it is believed that just as the month of Nissan ushered in our redemption from bondage in Egypt, so too will the Messiah return this month to bring our eternal redemption.
“In Nisan they were redeemed, and in Nisan they are destined to be redeemed in the future.” (Rosh ha-Shanah 11a; Mechilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochay 12:42; Tanchuma, Bo 9)
How true that is. Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) suffered for us in the month of Nissan. So, too, may we reckon all time beginning at the point of our redemption from sin and death. Nissan is truly a new beginning for Jew and Gentile.
And earlier today (Friday, March 20) this new beginning of the Jewish year has been marked in a big way with a supermoon (a moon that is aligned with the sun and at its closest approach to the earth) that totally eclipsed the sun at 7:41 a.m. UTC (Coordinated Universal Time or 9:41 a.m. in Jerusalem).
That eclipse took place in the North Pole, which has to be the ultimate symbol of the wilderness. Of course, the wilderness is significant in Judaism because the Torah was given in the wilderness and not in the Land of Israel.
Judaism teaches that the wilderness represents the world, with all its struggles. Although the Torah was entrusted to the Jewish People, it is not only for the Jewish People. God sent the Torah in the wilderness to bring light to all who are in darkness and strength to all who reach out to the God of Israel, the Creator of the Universe.
Of course, this solar eclipse, which is so exceedingly rare that it has never before happened in human history, comes in the midst of a Blood Moon Tetrad that has already marked significant events in Israel, and persecution of Christians living in the Muslim world.
The next Blood Moon occurs on Passover, which is just weeks away. Many followers of Yeshua connect these celestial events to His soon return.
“The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:31)
The Relevance of Offerings
“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock. If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD.” (Leviticus 1:2–3)
The Torah portion, Vayikra, deals with the laws of korbanot (קָרְבָּנוֹת offerings), including the korban olah (קָרְבַּן עוֹלָה) or burnt offerings.
The Hebrew noun olah means goes up because the priest would burn the offerings on the wood on the altar, the aroma would go up to be accepted by the Lord.
The Hebrew word korbanot comes from the root word k-r-v (קרב), which means to be close (karov). The offerings, once accepted by God, restore closeness and intimacy between Him and His people.
It is our iniquities and sins that separate us from God and prevent us from establishing or maintaining a close relationship with Him.
“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2)
Although some New Covenant Believers consider the laws in Leviticus to be irrelevant and obsolete, we need to study them in order to grasp this concept of blood sacrifice to atone for sin. That core concept in God’s plan for redemption helps us rightly understand the sacrificial death of Yeshua the Messiah.
Attempting to understand Yeshua’s death on the Roman execution stake without comprehending these blood sacrifices is like trying to build a house without a foundation. The home may last for a time but will not withstand the fierce storms without that solid base.
Likewise, we must have a solid foundation in the Word of God to rightly understand the Word of God, as well as successfully navigate through the storms of life.
For some people, a guilty conscience over past sins causes them to be alienated from God, despite having received forgiveness. The blood of Yeshua, however, was shed to restore us to right relationship with God and to completely cleanse us of any trace of a guilty conscience:
“How much more will the blood of Messiah who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14)
Despite this, some followers of Yeshua still struggle with guilt and condemnation, even though the Word of God promises that those who are in the Messiah are free:
“There is therefore no condemnation to those in Yeshua the Messiah who do not walk in the flesh.” (Romans 8:1)
This doesn’t mean that we do not have to make restitution to those we wronged. Yeshua clearly taught that we are to seek out those we have wronged and get right with them before coming to the altar with any offering. (Matthew 5:23–26; Leviticus 5:16).
Once restitution has been made, then we can apply the blood of Yeshua to the doorposts of our hearts (just as the Israelites applied the blood of the lamb to the doorposts of their homes in Egypt) to be set free from the wages of sin, which is death.
“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22)
The pure waters refer to the mikvah, the ritual water immersion, which is symbolic of our new spiritual birth.