The Shuvah Project #22 — The Holy Priesthood

New to The Shuvah Project? Find out what it is and why it’s necessary. 

Make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for glory and beauty.

-Exodus 28:2

Section One (Parsha Debrief):

This week’s parsha (Exodus 27:20-30:10) contained: directions regarding the Menorah; details about the priestly garments; including, the ephod, the breastplate, the robe, the head-covering, the breeches; instructions regarding the priestly consecration; sacrifices; and instructions regarding the altar of incense.

In the Midweek Reading Guide, we invited readers to once again step back from all the details and try to see the forest for the trees. In doing so, we asked whether the garment, consecration ceremony, and the sacrifice chunks of Text might help us understand something deeper regarding the role of the priests.

Here are a few things that stood out in the design of the garments and the commands with them:

  • make holy garments, for glory and beauty (Exodus 28:2).
  • carry the names of Israel’s sons before the Lord as a reminder (Exodus 28:12).
  • carry the names of Israel’s sons over his (i.e. Aaron) heart as a continual reminder before the Lord (Exodus 28:29-30).
  • engrave a head-plate with “Holy To YHWH” to always be on Aaron’s forehead so that Israel may find acceptance before the Lord (Exodus 28:36-38).
  • consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve Me as priests (Exodus 29:44).
  • once a year Aaron is to make atonement (Exodus 30:10).

It seems like some concepts emerge from these six bullet points. 

  1. holiness
  2. carrying Israel before the Lord
  3. atonement

So, let’s unpack these ideas.

HOLINESS:

There are a few Hebrew words for holy — qadowsh and qodesh, and their root qadash

While they are often translated in many ways (e.g. consecrated, sanctified, dedicated, and hallowed), at their core they all mean set apart or to make separate.

What’s interesting is how often these words show up in our Torah portion. Qadowsh shows up once. Qodesh shows up seventeen times.  Qadash shows up thirteen times. That’s 31 uses — that’s a lot of holiness. Let’s not forget that two of the three sections of the Tabernacle are named in regard to their holiness. The holy, where any, but only priests serve to keep the Menorah lit, incense burning and showbread shown. Followed by the Holy of Holies where only Moses and Aaron, the high priest, can go. One caveat, Aaron enters once a year on Yom Kippur.

It’s as if the priests are set apart from something for a purpose. But, what purpose?

ATONEMENT:

Rabbi Haim Sabato notes that the authors of the Talmud pick up on the juxtaposition between the details concerning the sacrifices and those concerning the priestly garments. He puts it this way,

Just as sacrifices atone, so do the priestly garments. The tunic atones for bloodshed, the breeches for immorality, the turban for those who are arrogant, and the sash for improper thoughts of the heart. The breastplate atones for miscarriages of justice, the ephod for idolatry, the robe for slander, and the headplate for acts of those who are brazen-face.

-Rabbi Haim Sabato, Rest for the Dove

CARRYING ISRAEL BEFORE THE LORD:

The Rabbis of the Talmud also recognized two garments were uniquely connected compared to the others. They are the breastplate and the head-plate. What’s so unique?

Well, these are the only two garments that Text describes with the word tamiyd, meaning constantly/continually/always. That is, only the breastplate and the head-plate are directly mentioned as needing to be constantly worn by Aaron. The Talmudic authors argue over how literal this notion is, but that argument doesn’t deter us from understanding the basis for the connection.

We’ll turn to Rabbi Haim Sabato who unpacks this connection wonderfully by quoting the Talmud.

According to Rabbi Yehuda, the word tamiyd comes to teach us “that [the High Priest] should never divert his attention from [the head-plate].”

-Haim Sabato in Rest for the Dove, quoting Talmud

A similar idea is brought up regarding the breastplate. Remember, the breastplate is designed so that Aaron may constantly carry the judgement of the Children of Israel over his heart before God (Exodus 28:30).

[When taken together,] (t)his teaches us that just as the headplate serves to remind the High Priest to keep his thoughts single-mindedly turned toward the Divine Presence, the breastplate tells him to constantly focus his heart and emotions toward all Israel.

-Rabbi Haim Sabato, Rest for the Dove

The figure below puts all this together nicely.

priestsrole

It seems like there’s a role to intercede on behalf of others. It seems like there’s a role to navigate atonement. And, it seems there’s a role to put the holiness of God on display.

Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):

This is a good time to remind readers that although M.D. Goulder’s calendar makes the case for a specific sequence of connections… it does not limit the Text from being much more intertwined and connected outside of those weekly sections.

For example, I find it hard to ignore how Jesus’ statement in the Luke Text (6:1-5) connects to Exodus 31:12-17 (part of next week’s parsha). Moreover, it’s difficult to dismiss how the connected Matthew Text (9:18-22) leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for us to find Numbers 15.

Needless to say, the Text is beautifully and divinely designed so that we may continue to unravel it’s mysteries.

Let’s pull on some of those threads 😉

In the Matthew Text, the tassels affixed to Jesus’ garment (described in Numbers 15) save and heal a woman afflicted with bleeding. Recall our Torah portion is all about the importance of garments, and just like the priestly garments, the tassels themselves are a way to remember to “obey all My commands and be holy to your God (Numbers 15:40).”  Come on! The tassels focus attention on God and set Israel apart!

In the Luke Text, there’s a discussion about what’s lawful on the Sabbath, and it references the priestly role regarding service in The Holy. Remember, The Holy is set apart for priests just like the showbread in it. Also, remember, God is pretty adamant about Sabbath being set apart. Here’s the thing, what Jesus invites with His actions isn’t easy to observe or follow. In Numbers 15, there’s a story about a man gathering wood on the Sabbath. God tells Moses to put the man to death. In next week’s Torah portion God tells Moses to tell the Israelites, “You must observe My Sabbaths… so that you will know that I am Yahweh who sets you apart (Exodus 31:12).” God follows that by saying, “Whoever profanes it must be put to death (Exodus 31:13).”

The question that follows then… is Jesus breaking the Sabbath law? And with it, what does it mean Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath?

To which I offer the Creation story.

The Tabernacle brings us back to Creation. Exodus 31:17 brings us back to Creation.

And, Luke 6:1 brings us back to Creation.

How so? The Greek for grainfield only shows up three times in the Septuagint. The first two times are in Genesis 1:29.

God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree whose fruit contains seed. This food will be for you…

-Genesis 1:29

In the Exodus Sabbath conversation God says, “I am Lord set apart.” In the Luke Sabbath conversation Jesus says, I am “Lord also of Sabbath.”

Maybe when read together in context to Genesis 1:29 we finally get the full picture — our God set apart Sabbath as a day for us to trust He already gave us everything we need!

Section Three (missing the mark):

This is a good time to return to what it means to be Worth Imitating

The Talmud refers to the High Priest as both “an emissary of the Compassionate One” as well as “our emissary”. [The High Priest] is an agent of God, and the agent of the entire People of Israel for their sacrifices and service.

-Haim Sabato, Rest for the Dove

Management scholarship has documented the dangers that come with being an agent of the People. For example, front-line employees that deal with clients daily can, over time, become overly sympathetic the the clients wants and desires. The literature refers to this as coopting, because the employee’s goals become aligned with the client rather than the organization. Coopting goals is dangerous and it’s something to be avoided in most cases.

Those dangers are just as real and present for pastors. 

Because, at some point you lose your ability to witness when you look too much like the people and the rest of the world.

Maybe that’s why the priest’s outfit is set apart. Maybe that’s why the priestly service is set apart.

Section Four (real-world applications):

Now, here’s the kicker… in The Space Between Us, we’ve already communicated that Israel (Exodus 19:5-6) and modern-day followers of Jesus (1 Peter 2:9) are supposed to be a royal priesthood and a holy nation

This is Israel…

israelrole

This is us…

ourrole

We, like the Priests, must constantly direct our minds toward the Divine Presence, and our hearts toward the Children of God.

So, it’s worth asking — are we?


Next Week’s Readings: Exodus 30:11-34:35; Luke 6:6-11


2 thoughts on “The Shuvah Project #22 — The Holy Priesthood

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