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B'Midbar/Numbers 28:19 ... two bulls, sons of the herd, one ram and seven year-old male lambs ...
This set of offerings is the major part - with their grain offerings - of the - musaf - or additional offering that is made on the first day of the festival of unleavened bread, the fifteenth day of Aviv, the first month of the religious year, now called Nissan. The text tells us, "You shall present these besides the burnt offering of the morning, which is a for continual burnt offering" (B'Midbar 28:23, NASB). These offerings are typical of those prescribed in chapters 28 and 29 of B'Midbar for the festivals in the Jewish calendar from the weekly shabbat and monthly new-moon offerings to the three - pilgrimage festivals - Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot and the autumn holy days. Although Ezekiel's specification of the offerings in the rebuilt temple are slightly different - "And during the seven days of the feast [the prince, ] shall provide as a burnt offering to the L-RD seven bulls and seven rams without blemish on every day of the seven days, and a male goat daily for a sin offering" (Ezekiel 45:23, NASB) - it is clear that these are significant occasions and particular lists of sacrifices. What is going on?
Rashi, quoting from R'Moshe HaDarshan (an 11th century Rosh Yeshiva in Narbonne, Provence), explains that these offerings symbolise the patriarchs: "Bulls: corresponding to Abraham, as it says, 'Then Abraham ran to the cattle' (B'resheet 18:7); rams, corresponding to the ram of Yitzkhak (B'resheet 22:13); lambs, corresponding to Ya'akov, 'Ya'akov segregated the lambs' (B'resheet 30:40)1." In this and other pictures of the offerings, Rashi and other commentators see a memorial of things, people or events of the past. They have become a way of remembering the past, of bringing to mind what G-d has done in the past by reviewing and rehearsing the events, of anchoring faith for the present in G-d's consistency and faithfulness in His earlier actions and miracles. Hirsch comments: "On the fifteenth, the nation links itself together to a - a feast or festival, from a root meaning a circle dance - to a festive circle around G-d and His Sanctuary, with the matzot in our hands for seven days, we acknowledge how it is G-d and G-d alone whom we have to thank for the freedom and independence we enjoy, and that we entered the upraising and free-making service of G-d out of the depressing and down-casting spirit of service of Pharaoh."
When the Israelites crossed over the Jordan river to enter the land of Canaan, the Promised Land that G-d had sworn to give to our people as our inheritance, Joshua was told to "Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and command them, saying, 'Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests' feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you, and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight'" (Joshua 4:2-3, NASB). Moshe had previously been told to tear down and smash any standing stones and pillars that were found in the Land, because they were memorials to the idols and false gods that the pagan nations worshipped. Joshua now tells the people: "Cross again to the ark of the L-RD your G-d into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel. Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?' then you shall say to them, 'Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the L-RD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.' So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever" (vv. 5-7, NASB). These twelve stones are to be set up as a permanent reminder of whatHaShem has done that day, the miracle of the Jordan river parting to let our people cross into the Land. It is significant that when the prophet Elijah faced the prophets of Ba'al on Mt. Carmel, "Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the L-RD had come, saying, 'Israel shall be your name.' So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the L-RD, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed" (1 Kings 18:31-32, NASB), just as the breastplate that the Cohen Gadol wore into the presence of G-d was decorated with stones: "and the stones were corresponding to the names of the sons of Israel; they were twelve, corresponding to their names, engraved with the engravings of a signet, each with its name for the twelve tribes" (Shemot 39:14, NASB). In the latter case, the stones were not in case G-d should, G-d forbid, have a senior moment and forget who the Israelites were, but as a token memorial so that not only did the High Priest represent the people before G-d, but a token of each of the tribes was taken into G-d's presence with the Cohen Gadol every time he wore his ceremonial uniform and went into the Holy of Holies.
Parents and grandparents are blessed today with something that previous generations of 100 or more years ago could not have: being able to take, keep and show many pictures of their children and grandchildren. Go into almost any modern home and you will see proudly displayed frames with pictures of "the first step", "graduation", "first dance" - all milestone events in a child's life, captured and preserved in full colour for posterity. Compare that with the few black-and-white or sepia pictures from 1850 to the 1930s, often formal posed shots, with a significant price attached. Then consider what came before; only drawings and sketches, laboriously done by the hand of an artist, be that professional or amateur. Those of us who can trace their ancestry back to, say, Stuart or Tudor times, have no idea at all what our forebears looked like, with perhaps the exception of a note in someone's diary or family tradition about isolated characteristics such as hair colour or temper! Today many people struggle to connect with previous generations; we have no way to remember them, to know what they thought and felt, how they lived their lives and worked out their faith, if any; there is no handle to access the past. Jewish tradition is rich with opportunities to connect not just with the past four or five generations, but to connect with our people three and a half thousand years ago as we rehearse each year the Exodus from Egypt, standing at Sinai to receive the Torah, G-d's provision during our years in the wilderness and other formational events in our history. Although we do not know what individual people looked like - after all, the comment that Moshe's face shone after he had been with the L-rd doesn't tell us much - we do have a detailed record of the life events that they experienced and can read quite a few of their emotions between the lines of the narratives.
More critically for us as believers in Messiah Yeshua, how do we remember and connect with Him? How do we link into His words and teaching so that He is a reality in our lives, not just the blond-haired, blue-eyed, sandal-wearing man in the sparkling white robe and blue scarf that can be seen in thousands of churches around the world? Our own sense tell us that those pictures must be wrong - Yeshua would almost certainly have had the characteristic Mediterranean dark if not black hair, dark brown eyes and olive skin colour and after days on the road, his cloak would certainly have lost that freshly laundered look, if it had ever been white rather than natural flax or linen colour. The Gospels are completely silent about Yeshua's physical appearance; not a hint escapes through the evangelists writing - we know absolutely nothing unique or particular about His physical appearance. This is, of course, absolutely in keeping with the commandment: "You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the L-RD your G-d" (Vayikra 26:1, NASB), but it frustrates our human desire to connect with someone we want to know and love.
G-d has of course provided the answer. Two answers in fact. Firstly, we remember Yeshua in the way that He told us to remember Him: "And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me'" (Luke 22:19, NASB). As we celebrate communion, by sharing the L-rd's Table - however and whenever this is done in our particular tradition - we remember who He is and what He has done for us; we anchor our faith in a practical act of remembrance. Secondly, we remember Yeshua in each other, loving and sharing with each other as He did the first disciples. By this too we fulfill His words: "By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (John 15:8, NASB). Whether we are Jews, also celebrating the feasts a reminder of G-d's continued faithfulness and covenant with our people, or Gentiles grafted into the family of Abraham by faith, our connection to Yeshua becomes alive by our rehearsal and enactment of His words at that last Pesach seder before He gave Himself for us: the Lamb of G-d who takes away the sin of the world.
1 - Other symbolic representations of the patriarchs are known; at least two are tied to the pilgrimage festivals. In one of these schemes, Abraham corresponds to Pesach because he said "Knead and make cakes" (B'resheet 18:6) meaning Pesach matzot; Yitzkhak corresponds to Shavuot, for the sound of the ram's horn when the Torah was given came from the the horn of the ram which was given in his place; Ya'akov corresponds to Sukkot for the Torah tells as that, "And for his livestock he made shelters (sukkot)" (B'resheet 33:17). An alternative arrangement still has Abraham representing Pesach for excelled in the trait of kindness and the Exodus from Egypt was a unique example of G-d's kindness; Ya'akov represents Shavuot because he is described as "abiding in the tents" (B'resheet 25:27), naturally the study tents; Yitzkhak who was consecrated as an offering, then corresponds to Sukkot which the festival on which most offerings are brought (Be'er BaSadeh).
Further Study: 1 Samuel 7:12-13; 1 Corinthians 4:17
Application: If you are tempted to despair that you can't connect with Yeshua, that He is just too remote for you to know, why not revisit His words and find comfort in remembering Him as He instructed. You're not attending a funeral but a glorious celebration of freedom and intimacy as we eat from His hands and share His cup. Sing, shout, dance, whoop for joy, for our redemption has arrived!
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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