D'varim/Deuteronomy 12:13 Guard yourselves lest you offer up your burnt-offerings in any place that you see
This text comes from a series of verses that are concerned to ensure the centrality of the Tabernacle and the Temple as the one place of sacrifice and worship toHaShem within the ancient Israelite cult. Time and again the Torah emphasises that offerings should only be brought to one place, the place that HaShem has chosen, the place where HaShem's name resides. Although this verse only specifically mentions - your burnt offerings - Jeffrey Tigay points out that "this stands here for all types of offerings. After the list given earlier, 'your burnt offerings and other sacrifices, your tithes and contributions, your votive and freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and flocks' (D'varim 12:6, JPS) the text regularly refers to the offerings only by partial lists (e.g. verses 17, 26-27)."
RabbiHirsch comments that "this is the actual prohibition to which the punishment of - being cut off - had already been assigned "If anyone of the house of Israel or of the strangers who reside among them offers a burnt offering or a sacrifice, and does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to offer it to the L-RD, that person shall be cut off from his people" (Vayikra 17:8-9, JPS). In accordance with the rule: R. Abin's dictum in R. Eleazar's name, vis.: Wherever 'take heed', 'lest', or 'not' is stated, it is nought but a negative command (b. Zevachim 106a)" Rashi comments simply that the words "guard yourselves" are there "to put a negative commandment on the matter". Referencing the positive command given two verses earlier - "you must bring everything that I command you to the site where the L-RD your G-d will choose to establish His name" (v. 11, JPS) - the early rabbis explain that "where the Torah gives both a positive and a negative commandment concerning what is essentially one action, it gives additional force to the commandments" (Sifrei 70). Chizkuni amplifies this by adding "that the Torah is forceful because otherwise the Israelites might cease coming to Jerusalem or pilgrimage festivals and this might cause the people to worship idols (as in the passage 'So [King Jereboam] took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, "You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt." And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one' (1 Kings 12:28-30, ESV)".
The second part of the verse also generates some comments. Rashi expands on the words, "in any place that you see": "which will enter your heart". In other words, sacrifices may not be brought just any old where that people like or takes their fancy. This speaks not just of conformity - bringing sacrifices only at the Temple in Jerusalem - but also of intentionality: the giver of a sacrifice is to do so in the right place, in the right way and at the right time; following the correct procedure becomes part of the sacrifice. If you lived in the north of Israel, up beyond the Galil, then travelling all the way south to Jerusalem to make the offering certainly added to the sacrifice! However, Rashi was aware that on at least one notable occasion, a spectacular sacrifice was given by someone who was not a priest and, at G-d's own command, was not in Jerusalem, so he adds: "but you may bring offerings [elsewhere] by the word of a prophet, for example Elijah at Mt. Carmel". One of Rashi's super-commentators makes this explicit: "you may not bring offerings where you decide, but where a proven prophet sanctions" (Sifsei Chachamim1). TheBaal HaTurim points out that the final letters of the five Hebrew words translated "in any place that you see" can be re-arranged to spell the word , the Carmel, while the gematria of the word "in any" - 52 - is equal to that of , Elijah. The Tur sees this as a prophetic allusion to the fact that Elijah would one day bring a burnt-offering sacrifice on Mt. Carmel (see 1 Kings 18:17-40).
Ever since the two sons of Aharon - Nadav and Avihu - had died when they brought , strange fire, before the L-rd at the Tabernacle in the wilderness, Judaism has been concerned that G-d should only be approached and worshipped in the "right" way. One of the tractates of the Talmud is named Avodah Zarah, Strange or Foreign Worship, and deals with the issues of idolatry, contamination and living a holy life in the middle of a culture of idolatry. While its major concerns cover the use of physical items that may have been used in of affected by pagan rituals and ensuring that Jews did not encourage, enable, inadvertently participate in or be rendered unclean by such events, something that seems very foreign to a modern culture and a post-modern Christianity driven by such verses as "Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no G-d but one" (1 Corinthians 8:4, ESV), its central concern - that of appropriate worship in an appropriate context - remains relevant to all believers and worshippers of the One True G-d today.
Are we casual in our worship and proclamation of G-d? How do we present ourselves both to each other and before G-d when we gather for worship, prayer or study? Modesty and dress is obviously part of the answer; while even as little as a generation ago, everyone would put on their suits - their "Sunday best" - for church or chapel, this does not mean that we should be out of time with our culture, simply that modesty and decency should be observed so that the focus for all may be on G-d and not on man. Rav Sha'ul wrote, "Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments" (1 Timothy 2:8-9, NASB). There is an appropriate way to dress and behave so that we get excited about G-d rather than about each other. Men are particularly easily distracted so women do bear a particular responsibility, but both genders should refrain from dressing inadequately so that they display their underwear!
The place and time of worship should also be considered: not necessarily a particular building, since although the book of Acts shows early church often participating in formal times of worship at the Temple, they certainly didn't always meet there - frequently meeting in homes for meals and fellowship. Rather, we should consider the holiness of what we bring and the time before G-d. Rav Sha'ul again: "When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation" (1 Corinthians 14:26, NASB) or in a less charismatic environment: "be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the L-rd with your heart" (Ephesians 5:18-19, ESV).
The purpose of our offerings of praise and worship - our spiritual worship - must be first to offer G-d a sacrifice of our time and ourselves that is acceptable to Him, but secondly also to encourage each other both in worship and in our walk as believers in Yeshua. The writer to the Hebrews said, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV). How can we encourage each other to be holy in our conduct and speech, to acknowledge the L-rd in all things, in sharing the good news that we have and know to be true? By being intentional rather than casual in all our kingdom transactions, by bringing our offerings into the sanctuary - G-d's presence - and by creating holy space everywhere we go by our words and attitudes.
1. - Sifsei Chachamim is a commentary on Rashi's commentary on the Torah, written by Rabbi Shabtai Bass in Amsterdam in 1680. It brings together many sources of explanation and comment to Rashi, as well as giving reasons for many of the verses and statements that Rashi makes.
Further Study: D'varim 14:22-26; 1 Corinthians 10:19-21; 1 Peter 3:3-4; Colossians 3:16-17
Are you intentional about bringing G-d into everything that you do and
being aware of His presence? This week, try to move away from the casual
and be more deliberate about making sure that you walk in Messiah at all
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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© Jonathan Allen, 2012
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.