Fox Byte 5775 #32-33: Behar (On the Mount); Bechukotai (In My Statutes)
אַחֲרֵי מוֹת / קְדֹשִׁים
What is this fascination with the possibility of life beyond this planet? Are we so insecure in our human existence that we cannot bear the thought of dwelling on the only inhabited territory in the entire universe? Or is it, perhaps, a deep-seated sense of being incomplete in ourselves? Whatever the reason, since the dawn of human existence we have sought for something, or Someone, beyond ourselves who shares our experience of sentience and can explain it to us.
For over a century the search for the Interstellar Other has found expression in science fiction. Novelists like H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke have made their marks on several generations of impressionable youth, yet the massive explosion of science fiction onto popular consciousness came not with books, but with movies. Clarke’s collaboration with Stanley Kubrick in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey took science fiction movies to a new level. It combined world-class writing with world-class filmmaking to proclaim to audiences that we are not alone, but in so doing left more questions than answers. Ten years later, Steven Spielberg sought to answer some of those questions in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, proposing that the Interstellar Others have been visiting earth for a long, long time, and asserting that humanity had reached a point where these advanced beings could take us into their confidence and educate us further. Movies produced over the next generation investigated different aspects of this question. Some, like M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 thriller, Signs, explored the dark possibility that alien visitors are not friendly. Signs clings to the hope that humanity can defend itself from alien intruders, and that the hostile encounter restores a sense of purpose we did not know we had lost. And then there is Knowing, a 2009 drama in which Dr John Koestler, played by Nicholas Cage, embarks on a search for the meaning behind clues predicting one global disaster after another. He learns at last that he can do nothing about the disasters; they themselves are clues all-knowing alien watchers have tracked through time to warn humanity about the imminent destruction of our planet in a massive solar flare. The aliens have no intention of letting the human race pass into extinction. Their clues guide people like Koestler in gathering children so the aliens can take them to a place of safety where humanity can begin again.
A recurring motif in these science fiction films is the search for meaning behind the evidence of alien presence. In 2001 the evidence is a mysterious monolith, and in Close Encounters it is the connection of unexplainable phenomena across the globe. In Signs it is the appearance of crop circles, and in Knowing it is the incomprehensible code of numbers and letters scratched by a child and left in a time capsule. The story tellers would have us believe that the answers to human existence are all there if we can only decipher the patterns.
The science fiction story tellers are correct in that an Interstellar Other has left patterns for us to decipher. What they have missed is that the Interstellar Other is the Holy One of Israel. His clues are in Torah, and His answers are in the rest of Scripture.
YHVH’s patterns begin at the very beginning, when He established the world in six days and rested on the seventh (Genesis 1:1-2:3). He not only rested on the Shabbat (Sabbath), but sanctified it, meaning He set it apart from all other days as something special. The Lord explained a little more about that many centuries later, when He gave His Ten Commandments to the people He had called out as His own:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 NASB)
The basic pattern is right there in front of us: 6+1=7. God worked for six days, then He stopped working on the seventh, setting that day aside as the day He chose to enjoy His creation. But He could not enjoy His work completely unless He had someone with whom to share it, and thus God decided to invite all of His creation to enter into that enjoyment with Him. Moreover, He determined to set aside a part of that creation, namely human beings, as His special companions. They would share with Him in the dominion over this creation, or at least over the earthly part, and in so doing would be not only companions, but hosts for God Himself. To ensure they knew exactly when He would be available for this intimate communion, YHVH set aside one special day that would be the starting point and focus of their lives.
We see this pattern expanded in the Torah portion Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23), which includes instructions on the Feasts of the Lord (Moedim) in Leviticus 23. Rabbi David Fohrman of AlephBeta Academy uncovers this pattern in a teaching on Emor, noting the recurring instances of 7 in several combinations. The year begins in the first month (Nisan) with an eight-day period of celebration: the memorial feast of Passover (Pesach), followed by the seven-day feast of Unleavened Bread (Matzot). The head of the year occurs in the seventh month (Tishrei), culminating in the seven-day feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), which ends with a holy convocation (High Sabbath) on the eighth day. Those are two examples of the recurring patterns. Another is Pentecost (Shavuot), which is calculated from the Feast of First Fruits, which occurs on the day after the weekly Shabbat that occurs in the Passover-Unleavened Bread celebration. The Lord’s instructions are to count seven Shabbats, or weeks, which is 49 days (7×7). Pentecost occurs on the 50th day.
We conclude from this that the number 7 is very important to God for some reason. With Shabbat He gives 6 days to mankind, but reserves the 7th for Himself. In the Feasts He specifies combinations of 7 for calculating and celebrating these appointed times. Then He sets apart combinations leading to the numbers 8 and 50 as markers in time which we are to see as something else: not only the conclusion of the various Feasts, but also the beginning of something new. What is new? The 8th and 50th days mark new divisions in time and new phases in our relationship with our Creator. Perhaps these new phases indicate higher levels of maturity and responsibility according to His expectations of us.
The patterns of 7 and 50 continue in the concluding chapters of Leviticus, first in the portion Behar (On the Mount) (Leviticus 25:1-26:2), and then in Bechukotai (In My Statutes) (Leviticus 26:3-27:34). Behar introduces the Shemitah (Sabbath Year) and the Yovel (Jubilee). Rabbi Fohrman’s recent teaching on Behar and Bechukotai helps us understand why our Creator established these larger patterns to teach us more about His intended relationship with His people. Just as the week is divided into periods of six days and the Shabbat, years are divided into six years of regular work, followed by a seventh year of rest for the land. The Shemitah is the “year of the release”, or “year of remission”. At the end of the Shemitah debts are forgiven, indentured servants and slaves go free, and the land enjoys a Sabbath rest free from cultivation. The principle is explained in detail in Leviticus 25:1-7, with amplification in other passages of the Torah (Exodus 23:10-12; Deuteronomy 15:1-6, 31:9-13).
The Shemitah is the building block of calculations for the Yovel: Israel is to count 7 periods of 7 years (Shemitahs), totaling 49 years, and then on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) blow trumpets to proclaim the 50th year as the Yovel. The text governing the Yovel is Leviticus 25:8-22, with specific provisions in the remainder of Leviticus 25 and in Leviticus 27 regarding the impact of the Yovel on various property transactions – including transactions regarding human servitude. The key point of these provisions is that the land and people of Israel belong to God and Him alone. If there is any need to encumber the land or people for any reason, that encumbrance is only temporary. Just as debts are discharged in the Shemitah, in the Yovel control reverts to the original owners, whether it is land going back to the original tribe and family, or individuals going out in freedom from those to whom they were obligated as employers or masters. What we may ultimately conclude is that in some future Yovel, God’s people will be released from everything that has encumbered us, allowing us to go back to Him.
This brings us to another critical aspect of the Yovel: it can only be counted when all Twelve Tribes of Israel are in the land. That, at least, is the interpretation Jewish sages have drawn from Leviticus 25:10:
You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. (Leviticus 25:10 NASB)
This verse “implies that the Jubilee is only sanctified when ‘all who live on it’ – meaning, all who are meant to be living there – are in the Land of Israel. Furthermore, the Jubilee is only observed when every tribe is living in the specific part of the land which . . . it was allotted when the Land of Israel was divided.” (“When is the next Jubilee year?”, Baruch S. Davidson, Chabad.org). And here we have a problem: since the Assyrian Conquest of the Ephraimite tribes of Northern Israel in 722-721 BCE, the Twelve Tribes have not been living in the land. Jewish authorities continued to calculate the Yovel after the Assyrian Conquest in the understanding that remnants of all the tribes remained in the land under the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Judah. Calculations continued through and beyond the Babylonian exile of Judah until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Since then there has been no observance of the Yovel, and different methods of calculating it.
This is consistent with what the Lord explained through Moses in Bechukotai. Most of Leviticus 26 concerns the results of obedience or disobedience to YHVH’s commandments. Very simply, obedience brings great blessing, but disobedience brings escalating curses. The key passage is this:
If also after these things you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. I will also break down your pride of power; I will also make your sky like iron and your earth like bronze. Your strength will be spent uselessly, for your land will not yield its produce and the trees of the land will not yield their fruit. If then, you act with hostility against Me and are unwilling to obey Me, I will increase the plague on you seven times according to your sins. I will let loose among you the beasts of the field, which will bereave you of your children and destroy your cattle and reduce your number so that your roads lie deserted. And if by these things you are not turned to Me, but act with hostility against Me, then I will act with hostility against you; and I, even I, will strike you seven times for your sins. I will also bring upon you a sword which will execute vengeance for the covenant; and when you gather together into your cities, I will send pestilence among you, so that you shall be delivered into enemy hands. When I break your staff of bread, ten women will bake your bread in one oven, and they will bring back your bread in rationed amounts, so that you will eat and not be satisfied. Yet if in spite of this you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me, then I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins. (Leviticus 26:18-28 NASB, emphasis added)
Notice that the pattern of 7 continues even in judgment. There is a school of thought which ties this sevenfold judgment to the exile of the tribes of Israel, particularly the Ten Tribes of the House of Ephraim, or House of Israel. They never did repent and return to the Lord. Thus the sentence of punishment continued to compound until the Lord had to drive them out of the land and scatter them into the nations. Even then these dispersed descendants of Ephraim did not repent and seek to obey the Lord’s commandments. Thus the seven-fold sentence fell. The original sentence, as the Lord explained to Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 4), was 390 years of exile for Ephraim and 40 years for Judah, during which the land would enjoy its Sabbaths (Shemitah). With the multiplication of the sentence, instead of 390 years, Ephraim would be cut off from the land for seven times 390, a total of 2,730 years. If the exile commenced in 721 BCE, then adding 2,730 to that date would bring us to the year 2009. If this calculation is correct, Ephraim’s exile should be over, or nearing its end. And perhaps it is.
This is where we come to some understanding of this “code of the sevens”, but to do so we must understand what the Lord intended with His division of Israel into Two Houses. Throughout His Word we learn that He wants two things to happen regarding His Law (Torah): first, that His people know it (Psalm 119:9-16; II Timothy 3:16-17); and second, that His people live it out by the Spirit, not by the letter (Deuteronomy 10:12-22; II Corinthians 3:1-11). That is the message behind Messiah Yeshua’s interview with a certain young man:
And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. (Matthew 19:16-22 NASB; see also Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-30)
This passage has been a puzzle for many Christians. Eternal life is the product of God’s grace; it cannot be earned by keeping commandments. It is something acquired by God’s free gift, purchased on our behalf by Messiah Yeshua as the Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world (John 1:29-31; Ephesians 2:8-10). Why, then, does Yeshua say that keeping the commandments brings eternal life? And why these particular commandments? Yeshua explains elsewhere that the commandments of God fall into two categories: Love God, and Love Others (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34). Why does He tell this young man that he would inherit eternal life if he kept these six commandments regarding how to treat other people? And in His list of commandments, why does He leave out the four commandments regarding how to love God (Exodus 20:1-11; Deuteronomy 5:1-15)?
Perhaps it is because this young man was doing well in his attitude toward God, but had a serious issue with the motivation behind his treatment of others. Perhaps he was only “keeping the rules” because that was the way things were done in his society, and in that way he could gain respect and honor, and by so doing he could attain success, meaning a nice, comfortable life. Or perhaps he had never stopped to think why he was honoring his parents, or telling only the truth, or remaining sexually pure. Whatever the reason, it would seem that he was bound up in the traditions of men which prevented him from grasping the loving intent behind YHVH’s commandments. As Yeshua and the Apostle Paul explain elsewhere, that is a major setback in accomplishing the purposes for which our Creator put us on this earth (Mark 7:1-21; I Corinthians 13:1-13).
And here we get to a solution for this Christian puzzle: if we can keep the commandments of the Lord in spirit and in truth just as He intended, then we shall indeed have eternal life. Why? Because we will have His Spirit operating in us to ensure we are able to do so.
And this gets back to why the Holy One of Israel divided His people. We know by now that the Jewish people are the House of Judah, and that much of the House of Ephraim has been hidden in the various Christian traditions. Jews, like this young man who talked with Yeshua, have done well keeping the commandments, but seem to have missed the heart transformation which is only possible by the work of Messiah. Christians have done well embracing the heart transformation, and have operated in love to bring blessing to the entire world, but have missed the full measure of life and blessing derived from following all of the commandments which it is possible to keep in this age when there is no Temple and functioning priesthood. In other words, Jews have excelled at the commandments about loving God, while Christians have done better at the commandments about loving others. Jews keep Shabbat and the Feasts, and can identify the “code of the sevens”, but their understanding is incomplete as long as Messiah Yeshua is not in their calculations. Christians understand much about Messiah Yeshua, but because they disregard Shabbat and the Feasts, they have no basis of reckoning for the seasons of the Lord, and consistently miss the mark when it comes to discerning the end of this age and our destiny in the next age.
This analysis is, of course, a gross generalization. There are nuances in both the Jewish and Christian communities that cannot be addressed in the space of this article. Yet it is clear enough that the division of God’s people has produced two lines of development that have matured, both for good and for ill, and are ready for harvest. If we are at the end of this age, we should be seeing these two lines begin to merge.
In fact, they are. Ephraimites are emerging from the church in the growing Messianic/Hebrew Roots Movement, recognizing this as the appointed moment when God’s people return to Him on His terms, just as Jeremiah prophesied long ago:
O Lord, my strength and my stronghold, and my refuge in the day of distress, to You the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, “Our fathers have inherited nothing but falsehood, futility and things of no profit.” Can man make gods for himself? Yet they are not gods! Therefore behold, I am going to make them know—this time I will make them know My power and My might; and they shall know that My name is the Lord [YHVH].” (Jeremiah 16:19-21 NASB)
Judah has been looking for this Ephraimite emergence, and some have recognized that the Messianic/Hebrew Roots Movement is a key to the promised restoration of all Israel. This process has barely begun, and there are many rough spots we must cross before the full restoration takes place. Yet the two parts of God’s people are now beginning to recognize one another and to share the pieces of the “Divine Code” they have separately held over the centuries. We can be certain that the process will come to a successful conclusion, for God Himself has promised it. It is the Covenant He made with our ancestors, which He promised would remain in effect forever, even though we ourselves did not remember it.
Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 26:44-45 NASB)
חְַזַק חְַזַק וְנִתְחַזֵק
Chazak Chazak v’nitchazek
Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!
 Rabbi Fohrman’s method of Counting the Omer, as this counting of the time between the Feast of First Fruits and Shavuot is called, differs from the method presented here. His method of counting follows the tradition of the Pharisees, which begins the count on the first day of Unleavened Bread, which is a High Sabbath. He explains the difference in the counting methods in his most recent teaching on Emor, which is available here: https://www.alephbeta.org/course/lecture/emor-an-epic-view-of-jewish-holidays.