20230506 Parashat Emor – Double Standard or Higher Calling


Torah Portion Leviticus 21:1-8
Haftarah Ezekiel 44:15-23
Brit Chadashah Matthew 26:59-66

The thirty-first reading from the Torah is called Emor, a title that comes from the first verse of the reading, which says,

Leviticus 21:1 Then Adonai said to Moses, “Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: A kohen is not to allow himself to become unclean for the dead among his people,

Emor begins with special laws of sanctity, propriety and purity for the priesthood. Leviticus 23 provides an overview of the biblical calendar, a listing of the LORD’s appointed times.

My Dad was a WWII Marine who served in the Pacific Theater. He was not highly educated, nor particularly emotional, but he loved his family and had a simple, homespun philosophy of life. I can remember complaining on several occasions how something had happened in my life that didn’t seem fair. He would say “Son, that’s life, and life’s not fair”. His outlook on life was influenced by what he considered an inequitable distribution of the family estate.

This week’s Parsha is about discrimination and unfairness in Torah! I said discrimination and unfairness in God’s instructions to His people. Have I got your attention yet?

Do you realize that there are portions of the Torah that you could never obey? There are parts of the Torah that even Yeshua didn’t follow. Before you start throwing rotten vegetables let me explain. Not all of the Torah applies to all of Bnei Israel. There are sections that apply to women only. Some portions are instructions regarding lepers. Then there are portions that involve only the Levites and even further, the kohanim (priests). Chapter 21 details the requirements for the kohanim in keeping themselves ritually clean.

A priest is not to defile himself by coming near or touching a corpse. The exception is that he may come near a dead body, meaning preparing the body for burial, if the deceased was a close relative. This would include a father, mother, brother, a virgin sister, a son or daughter.
A priest was prohibited from attending a funeral for any family member outside the ones mentioned above. The Kohen Gadol, or High Priest had further restrictions. The High Priest could not come near any corpse, not even his parents.

The priests were restricted to whom they could marry. Ok, so some of the prohibitions made sense. A priest was not to marry a lady of the night or a divorcee.

The High Priest could only marry a virgin. Although, this was probably moot since a High Priest was normally an older priest and would have already been married.

Any descendants of Aaron who were not totally whole could not serve in the priesthood. If they were crippled, blind, deaf, impotent, or disfigured they could not offer sacrifices to God in the office of a priest. They could eat of the sacrifices though.

If you were born into the Levitical tribe and were actually a priest, I think it would be easy for a priest to feel like these restrictions were unfair. The guys in the other tribes can marry anyone they want to, even women from outside Israel if she agreed to abandon idolatry and to worship Adonai. It just wasn’t fair.

And why can’t a priest go to the funeral of his first cousin. After all, they grew up together and had all sorts of adventures together. It’s only right that he should be able to attend the burial of good friend and cousin.

This is an example of what is called distinction theology. A higher standard of holiness and special laws maintained by the priesthood are good examples of distinction theology – the theological perspective that knowledges not all of the Torah’s laws apply to everyone equally.

Why were the priests held to a higher standard of holiness or separation than the other members of Bnei Israel? It was because of their calling. They had a special calling on their lives because they were born into the family of Aaron. These were the men who prepared the sacrifices of the people and brought them to the altar of God. They put the sacrifices into the fire on the altar. The meat and fat was consumed, sending a plume of smoke up to the heavens. God called it a pleasing aroma. That was about as close as one could get to God without being the High Priest and entering the Holy of Holies each year at Yom Kippur. Because of that closeness, God required that the priests live by a much higher level of Holiness than their countrymen. They were to maintain that special separation from the profane or common things of life. The priests were God’s representatives on earth.

This separation and call to holiness is important to us today as Believers. God had called Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Exodus 19:6 So as for you, you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you are to speak to Bnei-Yisrael.”

By extension, any of us here today who are born again Believers in Yeshua HaMashiach, Jesus, the Messiah are to be part of that nation of priests. It doesn’t matter if you are a Messianic Jew or a Gentile grafted into the spiritual family of Abraham. We are all called to a higher purpose.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

There are other scriptures that bring out our calling.

Isaiah 61:6 But you will be called the kohanim of Adonai, They will speak of you as the ministers of our God.

Revelation 1:6 and made us a kingdom, kohanim to His God and Father

Let me ask you. What are the roles, duties, or purposes of a kingdom of priests?

1. Witnesses. Primarily, they were to act as witnesses to the nations of the one, true living God (Isaiah 43:10). It meant that they were given access to God’s presence in the tabernacle. There, they performed the duties of atonement through sacrifice, worship, and prayer.

2. Intercession. God desires order in His house. In Exodus 28 He meticulously begins laying out His instructions concerning the duties and expectations He would require of His priests. How did the job description of a priest begin?

The very first priestly task instituted by God was to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people. The early priests prepared and brought the sacrifices of the people to God to atone for their sins. They were a go-between, connecting the people with a most holy God.

Today we are also called to be witnesses. Yeshua gave his disciples their marching orders just minutes before He ascended.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Ruach ha-Kodesh has come upon you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and through all Judah, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Ten days after His ascension, Yeshua dispatched the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit to fill and equip these 120 faithful followers who had gathered in an upper room to pray. The effect was immediate and evident. Peter, the one who had denied he ever knew the Master was transformed. With the other disciples around him praising God in many of the known languages of the world, Peter delivered a rousing salvation message that was accepted by 3000 men.

Yeshua had met previously with the eleven disciples up north in the Galilee.

Mark 16:15-18 He told them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Good News to every creature.

(16) He who believes and is immersed shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned.

(17) These signs will accompany those who believe: in My name they will drive out demons; they will speak new languages;

(18) they will handle snakes; and if they drink anything deadly, it will not harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.”

You have heard me quote these verses many times. It doesn’t get any clearer than that. We are to be God’s representatives on earth, just like the early priests.

That is a pretty high calling if you ask me. And because of that high calling, we have what you could call a double standard. Each and every one of us are called by the creator of this universe to uphold a much higher standard of morality and ethics than those in the world.

There can be no lapse in our dedication to purity. The early priests were tasked with another task of teaching the people to discern between what was tahor (clean), tamei (unclean). Tragically, the priesthood failed to teach the people, and as a result, Israel slipped into apostacy. Malachi speaks to this.

Malachi 2:7-8 For a kohen’s lips should guard knowledge, and instruction must be sought from his mouth. For he is a messenger of Adonai-Tzva’ot.

(8) But you have turned from the way. You caused many to stumble in Torah by the instruction, You corrupted the covenant of the Levites,”—says Adonai-Tzva’ot.

Are we diligent in teaching our children and others the requirements of holiness laid out in Torah and in Yeshua’s teaching? Are we diligent in searching the scriptures ourselves in order to actually know what the Bible teaches?

It is not enough to sit here in this building and listen to me deliver a sermon and then teach for an hour and a half in the Torah class. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to get into the scriptures and see for ourselves what the word of the Lord says. Notice, I said in the scriptures. I did not say to consult Rabbi Google. The internet is a minefield of disinformation and outright heresy. Can you find good things online, certainly, but make sure it corresponds to scripture. Read what the Bible says. Meditate on it. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you insight.

In James 1:5 we read these words:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all without hesitation and without reproach; and it will be given to him.

In today’s world we are constantly bombarded with all manner of lies, half-truths, inuendoes and any other trick of the enemy to get you offtrack. That is why it is incumbent that we stay grounded in the word.

How often do you actually sit down and read your Bible? Do you have a regular study time? For me, it is early morning just when the sun is coming up. My bible in one hand and a hot cup of coffee in the other…It doesn’t get much better than that.

Seriously, we each have to do what works for us individually. I can’t study at night. So I do it in the morning when my mind is fresh. Do what works for you, but do it. God has called you to be his priest, so He also calls you to put in that extra work.

Is that a double standard? It sure is.

Luke 12:48 From everyone given much, much will be required; and from the one for whom more is provided, all the more they will ask of him.

This statement of Yeshua has become somewhat of an idiom in Western culture and is found, paraphrased, in Uncle Ben’s words of wisdom to Peter Parker in Spider-man: “With great power comes great responsibility.” The idea of “to whom much is given, much will be required” is that we are held responsible for what we have. If we are blessed with talents, wealth, knowledge, time, and the like, it is expected that we use these well to glorify God and benefit others.

We have been given so much. We have been given the privilege of being priests and kings in God’s creation. We have been give the gift of eternal life through the sacrifice of Yeshua our Redeemer. And for that we are called to a higher level of holiness. It is a double standard for a higher calling.