Hebrew Insights into Parashat Emor – Vayikra (Leviticus) 21 - 24
Parashat Emor ("tell, say, proclaim or speak") contains the well-known chapter 23, which lists and specifies YHVH's appointed times. Chapters 21 and 22, on one end of the Parasha, deal respectively with the priests' conduct of holiness, the sanctity of the offerings and the handling thereof. It is interesting to note the order; the sanctity of the priests ("they shall be holy to their Elohim", 21:6) is followed by the sanctity of the offerings (called "holy things", 22:3). The other end of the Parasha includes chapter 24, whose themes are the perpetual light ("ner ha'tamid") and the showbread ("lechem hapanim"). A brief account relating an episode during which YHVH's name was profaned *, as well as the resulting and immediate consequences, together with a series of instructions for penalizing measures applicable in similar cases, including cases of felony, seal off Parashat Emor.
It is in the midst of these issues, that the Holy Writ depicts the list of YHVH's appointed times. Verses 1 and 2 read as follows: “YHVH spoke again to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, YHVH's appointed times ["mo'adim"] which you shall proclaim as holy convocations [“mik'ra'ey kodesh”] - My appointed times are these…'" Here we encounter the important terms, “mo’adim” and “mikra'ey kodesh”, (singular: “mo'ed” and “mikra kodesh”). Mo’ed stems from the root y.a'a.d (yod, ayin, dalet), which means "appoint, design or designate." Thus, in Amos 3:3 we read: "Do two men walk together unless it has been designated, or appointed for them [to do so]?" The conjugation of the verb implies that someone else was responsible for their meeting.
“Mo'ed”, as we see in the text before us, is connected to a specific called-out and destined assembly, many times termed “e'dah” (originating in the same root), which gathers or convenes together. In 24:14 for example, the assembly, or “edah”, is told to stone an offender. In T’hilim (Psalms) 82:1…"Elohim takes His stand in His edah". The “appointed times”, therefore, relate to an appointed group of people, but there is still more…
“Tent of [appointed] meeting” is “Ohel Mo'ed”. A similar, though not identical term, is found in T’hilim (Psalms) 74:8 where we read, “They have burned Your sanctuary". The rendering there of "sanctuary", however, is “mo'adey El”, literally, "appointed times of Elohim," making evident that Place and Time in the Hebrew mind are not always demarcated by a clear boundary. Our text reveals the “three-stranded cord” (ref. Eccl. 4:12), of place, time and people, as it is held together by the sovereignty of the One who has appointed and chosen them, and who is responsible for bringing about their interactions one with the other. Finally, y.a.a.d is also to “establish a destiny”, and so we read in Romans 8:29-30: “Whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son… Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called…” (italics added). In the Hebrew translation of the Greek text, “predestined” and “foreknew” are both of the root “ya’ad”. Who are the ones whom He foreknew, predestined and called? As we have seen above (and will see later), the calling and appointing has been and are Yisrael’s, thus establishing again (in context with the above quote), that y.a.a.d refers not only to people and place, but also to an eternal destiny (past, present and future).
The “holy convocations”, as mentioned, are “mikra'ey kodesh”. The root k.r.a (kof, resh, alef) makes up the verb “to call”, even though the "convocation" - the assembling - is made up of people. The “mikra kodesh” is therefore designated by its calling. “Mikra”, like the term we just examined, is also related to place, as is illustrated by Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 4:5: "Then YHVH will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over mikra'eh'a ["her assemblies"] a cloud by day…." In addition, these “holy convocations” are also the special times that are synonymous with “mo’adim”. And so, once again, the “calling” proves to be the common paradigm or ‘ingredient’ shared by the People, their special places of gathering, and the appointed times during which they are to convene.
The first "appointed day" – the “Shabbat” - is also the prototype upon which all the others are established (ref. v. 3). It speaks of rest, trust, and faith directed toward the Heavenly Father (a topic we dealt with at length in Parashat Yitro – Exodus 18-20).
The mo’ed which starts the annual cycle, is to be celebrated on the first month of the biblical calendar (the month of Aviv). The 14th day of that month is designated as YHVH's Pesach (Passover), whereas the next seven days are called the Feast of Matzot (Unleavened Bread). The root p.s.ch (pey, samech, chet), which we examined in Parashat Bo (Exodus 10-13:16), means to “pass or skip over.” The lamb’s blood was smeared on the Hebrews’ doorposts, thus covering and protecting the sons of Yisrael from YHVH's arm, which dealt severely with the Egyptians. It was by virtue of that blood that YHVH “passed” or “skipped over” the dwellings of the Israelites. The wider scope of the principle set in motion here is the atoning blood of the Lamb of Elohim, that covers and protects the redeemed from sin’s death sentence.
Next is the Feast of Matzot, or Chag HaMaztot (plural of “matza”, which is a thin, wafer-like cracker baked without yeast). “Chag” is feast, whose root, ch.g.g (chet, gimmel, gimmel), means “to circle” (e.g. Ps. 107:27), thus pointing to the cyclical nature and annual reoccurrence of YHVH’s feasts and appointed times. As we have already seen in Parashat Bo, the root m.tz.h (mem, tzadi, hey) means “to drain or squeeze out” to the very last drop of water. Yeast can only be activated in an accommodating environment (that is, in water). Since yeast, or leaven, is likened to the sin, which leavens, or puffs up the whole lump (Gal. 5:9), water may be compared to the environment which enhances it. The "old leaven" (1st Cor. 5:8) being sin, in the form of the deeds of darkness (Rom. 13:12), wickedness (1st Cor. 5:13) and more, is removed as the redeemed are constituted "holy matzot; for Messiah, our Passover… has been sacrificed" (1st Cor. 5:7). Notice that aside from “matza”, unleavened bread is also called “lechem oni”, translated “bread of affliction” (Duet. 16:3). Yeshua, who is the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35), was born in the House of Bread (Beit-Lehem) and interestingly was in Beit Onya (Bethany) - House of Affliction (John 12:1) - six days before He gave His disciples the bread (“matza”) representing His body (Luke 22:19).
"Then YHVH spoke to Moses saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, When you enter the land… and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf [omer] of the first of your harvest to the priest. And He shall wave the sheaf before YHVH for you to be accepted; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it’" (9-11 literal translation). The first harvest takes place very early in the spring. From Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 16:9 we learn that the picking is "from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing [barley] grain." Because “omer” is also a measurement (one tenth of an epha), there is no question as to the amount of the "first of the harvest." Thus, the priest was to wave those first sheaves before YHVH, "for your acceptance" - lir'tzon'chem (root r.tz.h - resh, tzadi, hey - meaning "satisfy, favor"), after the Shabbat. Yeshua fulfilled this perfectly. Following His resurrection, which occurred after the Shabbat, He immediately went up to His Father (ref. John 20:17) to offer Himself on our behalf, thus rendering us acceptable. It was from this day that seven weeks were to be counted, making the 50th day a “mo'ed” which is tied intrinsically to the Counting of the Omer.
The land and its fruitfulness, or lack thereof, was to reflect Yisrael's relationship with YHVH, as it is "a Land for which YHVH your God cares; the eyes of YHVH your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year" (Duet. 11:12). The Cycle of the Feasts "from the beginning even to the end of the year" is partly designed for this purpose. Thus, if the rains come in their due season, watering the ground which responds to the seed (ref. Hos. 2:21,22), it is an indication that the Nation of Yisrael is walking with their Elohim, "who keeps for us the appointed weeks for the harvest" (Jer. 5:24). In that case, all is well and the Counting of the Omer can begin. Conversely, the consequence of disobedience and sin is drought (Lev. 26:14, 20, 26, for example), which means that there is no barley, no sheaves and nothing to count. That, in turn, will affect the next mo'ed, which is Shavu'ot. The mo'adim, the Land and the relationship with the Almighty are all linked together, making the life of the Hebrew person inseparable from his Elohim, his Torah, his land and community. The omer affects the celebration of Shavu’ot. It also signifies total dependency on YHVH, and speaks of His control over the natural and spiritual causes.
On Shavu'ot the focus is on "a new grain offering to YHVH" (v. 16), also termed "first fruits of the wheat harvest” (Ex. 34:22) and called bikkurim, deriving from the word “b'chor” – “firstborn”. Note that this word does not appear in connection with the waving of the first barley sheaves (v. 10), where “reshit” (that is, "first" stemming from “rosh” – “head”) is used instead. Yisrael is declared "holy to YHVH, the first - "reshit" - of His harvest" (Jer. 2:3). Hence, both of these special times (the Counting of the Omer and Shavu'ot) are a reminder to Yisrael that as YVHV's firstborn (Ex. 4:22), they too belong to Him. This Feast of First Fruit has also been fulfilled by Messiah, who is the first fruit, the “bikkurim” (ref. 1st Cor. 15:20,23), as are also all those that were “brought forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18).
Intertwined in this mo'adim ‘inventory’ is an important insertion, which lends another dimension to the feasts and to the life of the sons and daughters of Yisrael. It reads as follows: "When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien" (v. 22 italics added). The reason given for this injunction, albeit a very short one summarizes it all: "For I am YHVH your Elohim". We found a similar injunction in last week’s portion (Kdoshim), in 19:9-10, which was preceded by the declaration: "You shall be holy for I YHVH your Elohim am Holy" (19:2). YHVH’s holiness is expressed by His heart’s inclinations, His character and deeds, and it is this kind of holiness which He desires to bestow upon His people.
From the first month through the third - we now move to the seventh, which is replete with mo'adim, starting with the first day. )Rosh Chodesh - "head of the month", the usual term for the first day of the month, is not used here.) The "first day" of the seventh month is to be a “shabbaton”, a Shabbat-like day, and also a “mikra kodesh” - a "holy convocation". It is to be a “zich'ron tru'ah”, that is, a day dedicated to remembering and to making a “sound or a blast.” “T'ruah” is a generic noun; it is not used exclusively regarding this day of remembrance, thereby shrouding this mo’ed with some obscurity. The raising of human voices, or the blowing of a shofar (ram’s horn), or a silver trumpet can all produce the “t’ruah” sound. The combination of 'jarring' the communal memory and the emphasis on sound could possibly have to do with preparing the People for the tenth day of the month, the most solemn of all the feast days, “Yom HaKippurim,” literally "Day of the Atonements." The sound of the alarm is intended, therefore, to help the People of Israel recall the greatness of their Elohim, His deeds and commandments, as well as their own responses and shortcomings. In other words, it is a call to self-examination leading to repentance. Since “tru'a” signifies a number of different calls and alarms (e.g. Num. 10:5, 6,9) “…blessed is the people who knows [understands, discerns] tru'a [the specific sound and its intent]; O YHVH they walk in the light of your countenance!" (Ps. 89:15).
The Day of Atonement is a mikra kodesh, "on exactly the tenth day" (v. 27) to commence on the previous evening (according to verse 32); and "it is to be a Shabbat Shabbaton" - a Shabbat of Shabbats. What else singles out this day? In addition to a total cessation of labor, it is also to be a time of "affliction of the soul". To “afflict" is here “(ve)ee'ni'tem,” the root being a.n.h (ayin, noon, hey), shared by the adjectives “humility” or “self-denial”. Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 58 clarifies for us the kind of affliction YHVH is referring to: "Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to afflict/humble [ah'not] himself? Is it for bowing one's head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to YHVH? Is this not the fast, which I choose: to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor [ah’ni, the same root] into the house…?" (v. 5-7 emphases added). Thus, he who truly afflicts himself is not necessarily engaged only in ceremonial acts, but, rather, empathizes with the afflicted and comes to their aid. Lastly, a quick glance back to Pesach will remind us of the "bread of affliction" - lechem oni - literally "bread of affliction or humility", which is another name for the “matza,” as we already noted above. Lechem Oni, therefore, is a fitting title for He who is the "Bread of Life", the Pesach's Matza, who is also described in Z’char’yah (Zechariah) 9:9 as "humble - ah'ni - and mounted on a donkey".
The other aspect of the Day of Atonement, the “kippurim or kapara”, of the root k.f.r (kaf, fey, resh), with its primal meaning, "to cover", we have examined a number of times (particularly in Parashat Noach – Gen. 6:9-11). The ultimate sin-covering and forgiveness was epitomized in the life and atoning death of Yeshua, who became the final sacrifice and ransom for all (ref. 1 Tim.2:6).
We are still in the seventh month. On the 15th day, the Feast of Succot - Booths or Tabernacles - is to be celebrated for eight days. The first day and the last are to be holy convocations, on which no work is to be preformed. This feast is to be kept "when you have gathered in the crops of the land" (vs. 39), and is therefore another one of those special times, during which the Israelites are reminded of the connection that the Land and its produce bear to their relationship with their Elohim. They are also enjoined to dwell in “succot” (“booths”) …"for seven days…so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt" (v. 42, 43). This is the only mo'ed with an eighth day, which, aside from being a mikra kodesh, is also described as an “atzeret”, translated "solemn assembly" (v. 36). The root a.tz.r (ayin, tzadi, resh) means, "restrain, hold back, refrain," as well as "to rule, possess and to check". "Solemn", in reference to the "assembly," is no doubt a development from the idea of "restraint", denoting the importance of the day.
“Succa” (singular for “succot”) stems from the root s.ch.ch. (sah'mech, kaf, kaf ), meaning to “cover, protect or a (temporary) shelter”. Its primal root is to “weave together" (for example, "You have woven me - tesukeni - in my mother's womb," Ps. 139:13). "Succa" is also a "thicket." Besides being translated as a literal shelter for men and animals, this word is used figuratively; especially known is the “fallen succa - dynasty - of David", which YHVH promises to restore (Amos 9:11, Acts 15:16). The "mercy seat" - kaporet - in the Holy of Holies was covered by the wings of the Cherubim, which are described as “covering the mercy seat with their wings” (Ex. 25:20). "Covering", in this instance, utilizes “soche'chim” which shares the same root as “succa”.
While Succot, as mentioned (like Pesach), brings together several aspects and reasons for the mo'adim, it also points to future events. As we noted previously, Succot is the only feast with an eighth day. A full (and prophetically complete) unit of days is always comprised by seven days. The eighth day, therefore, signifies a new beginning. The restoration of David's “dynasty,” or “house,” when compared to a succa, clearly indicates that the Feast of Succot is yet to have an even greater fulfillment. On the day that…"the Branch of YHVH will be beautiful and glorious… there will be a succa to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain", is an exciting future promise found in Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 4:2, 6.
Shabbat, by commemorating the Creator’s work and His redemption of the Hebrews from bondage and their everlasting covenant, lays the foundation for the mo'adim; whereas the mo'adim illustrate the various phases of the life and path of faith. At the same time Shabbat, being the epitome of rest and cessation of all self-effort, is also a foreshadowing of the coming Kingdom. Thus it represents, as well as stands for the destination of the Believer's path, and hence it is twofold; while a foundation, it is also a tangible image of the goal. In this way, the Shabbat may be compared to Messiah Yeshua, in that He too is the foundation, the Root, as well as the Branch - both a Beginning and an ultimate Destination.
* The word used there for “profaned” is “yikov”(root k.v.v, kof, vet, vet) and means
“to bore a hole”. Thus, as we saw last week when examining the verb ch.l.l,
which also means to “profane or desecrate”, such an act constitutes ‘hollowing
out’ or ‘making empty’ (implying meaninglessness) that which is of greatest
import, seriousness, and sacredness.
Some of the word definitions were gleaned from:
The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, ed. Francis Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980.
Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, ed. Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, New York.1999.