Parashat Shmini

Righteous Fire

Let me ask you a searching question. Apart from the Lord, what is the defining feature you automatically think of when you think of Judaism? Is Torah the most important thing, theme and concept we are meant to hold and cherish? I think actually if we consider the space devoted to the Mishkan and the constant and ongoing offerings there, the structure and numbers of priests and their place/function in Israel as spiritual and communal leaders, the reality is that SACRIFICE is actually the core focus and defining feature of Judaism. I can understand WHY Torah became the focus after the destruction of the Temple, when we had to survive in diaspora and Judaism had to be reformatted to guard and protect the identity and cultural integrity of the demoralised and defeated nation that we were, but understanding why doesn’t mean it was right.

Sacrifice stands tall in Judaism as THE defining feature, it dominated the skyline literally in the Temple construction and was the visible (and smelly) hub of the camp all the way through the desert years. In fact, I will go so far as to say that sacrifice and not righteousness is the real beating heart of Judaism. Without a means to bring sacrifices, other forms of Judaism were left with a nagging awareness that the righteous standards of the commandments were not being met in daily life, yet having no practical means to solve this problem.

Without sacrifice (or a concept of mercy that is effectively meaningless because it is too vague or inclusive) the only response is to build a form of righteousness around the commandments that we still had and so righteousness becomes the core pillar of Judaism, meeting (or trying to) His righteous standards. But here is why I say Sacrifice and not Righteousness is the heart: we are not meant to have our own righteousness worked out on the basis of what we think the Lord wants, or what fits us, or whatever theology we’ve worked out, we are meant to have HIS righteousness alone. Unless righteousness is given to us, or as the Torah says, imputed to us by faith (Avraham), we shall never have it. That is why Yeshua says in Matthew 6:33, seek the Kingdom of God and HIS righteousness.

Acceptance before God is on the basis of sacrifice, not righteousness. We have to receive HIS righteousness by faith, but the restoration of relationship that must happen first before we can receive it only takes place through sacrifice, and that is why it is core to Judaism. It is also why sacrifice has to be ‘right’, according to God’s way and not our own, and also be offerings He has instructed us to bring (i.e. as if He brought them). And that acceptance is demonstrated according to this passage by fire. Fire falls and consumes the offering if it is correct. If it is not, then the fire consumes the offerers. This teaches us again a central idea in sacrifice that the judgement of God (fire) is averted by sacrifice, but if you choose to construct another system (Nadav and Avihu) then the judgement will fall on you. We deserve to have that fire fall on us due to our sins, but it is taken by the sacrifice in our place and the judgement of God consumes the sacrifice instead.

In Yeshua we have such a sacrifice that averts the judgement that leads to death, if you will accept it in faith. Then righteousness can be imputed to you, given to you free and it will be real because it is God’s own righteousness. Let’s see that Torah, rather than an end in itself, is actually the means TO an end: the instruction manual to a walk with God through sacrifice; Torah in itself points to the One who will always be that final and ultimate sacrifice: Yeshua Mashichanu.