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(Lev 6:1(8) - 8:38)

Vayikra/Leviticus 6:11   Everything that touches them will become holy.


Everything about this text hinges upon the meanings of the two verbs involved. The first, , is the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , "to touch, reach, come to, arrive at" (Davidson); in simplest terms: "he will touch". The second, , is the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , "to be holy, sacred, consecrated" (Davidson); in similar terms: "he will be holy". Gunther Plaut suggests that this 'touch' need only be of the lightest; "the quality of 'holiness' is transmitted by contact - as an electrical charge passes from one conductor to another." And therein lies the rub. Unable, perhaps, to contemplate the apparent consequences - that everything that touched a sacrifice became holy and therefore dedicated to The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem either as a sacrifice or in service as a priest - the commentators started interpreting this text in two alternative ways from the earliest times.

What Is ...

Targum Onkelos: An early (1st-2nd Century CE) translation/paraphrase of the Torah into Aramaic; attributed to a Roman convert to Judaism, Onkelos; used in Babylonian synagogues during the Talmudic era
Targum Onkelos changes , 'touch' to , the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , "to draw near or approach". , is often used for cult activities: bringing an offering into the sanctuary, bringing the blood near the altar, bringing the pieces of the sacrifice to the altar. This moves the act of 'touching' from a possibly accidental human action to an intentional cultic action being performed by someone who is themselves already holy or consecrated in HaShem's service. This position underlies the opinion of the Who Is ...

The Rashbam: Rabbi Samuel ben Asher (1085-1174 CE), a grandson of Rashi; lived in Northern France; worked from the plain meaning of the Hebrew text even when this contradicted established rabbinic interpretaton
Rashbam, who says that "anyone who is to touch them must first become holy, that is, ritually pure" and Baruch Levine, who comments: "anyone who is to touch these must be in a holy state".

The second approach appears in the Mishnah, where the Sages say that, "A wafer which touched another wafer, or a piece of meat which touched another piece of meat - not the whole of the wafer of the whole of the piece of meat is prohibited. Prohibited is only the place which absorbed" (m. Zevachim 11:8). This introduces the idea of absorption: a 'touch' only counts if the holiness of the holy item has been absorbed by the non-holy item or person. Rabbi Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch explains: "by coming into contact, the substance of the holy thing has penetrated into the other, so that the other must now be treated as holy. That assumes penetration and not just surface contact." The Who Is ...

Gersonides: Rabbi Levi ben Gershom, Gersonides or Ralbag (1288-1344 CE); famous rabbi, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer/astrologer; born at Bagnols in Languedock, France; wrote a commentary on the Torah and a parallel to Maimonides' Guide For The Perplexed
Ralbag says this is "because it has absorbed something from them and thus contains some of the same holiness." Like moisture coming into contact with, say, a bag of flour, the flour only becomes damp if the moisture has penetrated through the bag; so unless the 'touch' is sufficient for the holiness of a dedicated item to penetrate the other item or person, the other does not become holy.

Some scholars have developed the theory of contagious holiness, by which holiness spreads from one item to another just by touch, in the same way that a highly infectious disease might spread by skin contact from one person to another. On this basis, the text that describes the consecration of the altar - "the altar shall become most holy; whatever touches the altar shall become consecrated" (Shemot 29:37 NJPS) - means that anything that deliberately or accidentally touches or rests upon the altar must join the sacrifices on the altar. If while taking one wafer out of a box to offer it as the memorial portion on the altar, the priest fumbles and the rest of the box fall onto the altar, they cannot then be eaten by the priests, but must be burned on the altar. If the priest manages to catch the first two or three wafers after they dropped on the altar and pops them back in the box with the rest, they still all need to be burned because those two or three became holy on contact and then made the rest of the box holy too.

The Bible itself addresses this issue. HaShem instructs the prophet Haggai to "seek a ruling from the priests, as follows: If a man is carrying sacrificial flesh in a fold of his garment, and with that fold touches bread, stew, wine, oil, or any other food, will the latter become holy? In reply, the priests said, 'No.' Haggai went on, 'If someone defiled by a corpse touches any of these, will it be defiled?' And the priests responded, 'Yes'" (Haggai 2:11-13, NJPS). According to the priests in early post-exile times, holiness is not contagious, but defilement is. Making something holy requires an explicit act of consecration. In the same way as we consecrate Shabbat by making kiddish, declaring it to be holy time, so an offering becomes holy by the explicit act of bringing it near, declaring it to be holy and giving it over to those appointed to handle holy things.

We can see Levine's question, "Does mean 'will become holy' - as a result of contact with sanctified substances and objects - or 'must be in a holy state' - before being allowed to come into contact with sacred substances and objects?" in the two approaches to the gospel today: that of John Calvin and Jacob Arminius. Are those who hear the gospel and respond already - essentially - in a holy state because of G-d's election, so that they can come into contact with the holiness of G-d in Messiah and respond in G-d-given faith? Or are those who hear impacted - or, to use the words of Rabbi Hirsch, penetrated - by the holiness of the gospel and so become holy as they respond to it, finding the faith as they open themselves to the quickening work of the Spirit and absorb His new life?

Taking that a step further, do believers engage in an act of consecration at the moment they accept Yeshua, surrendering themselves to His mercy, grace and kingship? Or is it simply an inevitable consequence of His timing and effectual call? He presses the button, as it were, and they become believers. Who then is the agent and the object of consecration? Does a person consecrate themselves, saying the words of repentance, being baptised and receiving the Spirit, following Peter's mandate: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38, ESV), or are they consecrated beforehand by G-d's foreknowledge and plan, "vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory -- even us whom He has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles" (Romans 9:23-24, ESV)?

As a last step in the process, we need to ask also about falling away, that is, those who choose to abandon their faith and disown Yeshua. Does this too require a specific act of de-consecration, or is it something that just happens? Is it a matter of the people with whom we associate, allowing their views and attitudes to penetrate us so that we absorb their disbelief and so become profane or unholy - not so much a moment of decision as a drawn-out process of becoming defiled? Do we need to watch and be vigilant to prevent ourselves from becoming defiled, like the sacrifices above, simply by touching, by listening, by failing to speak up? The Scriptures do make it very clear that once an item has become defiled, it can not be restored to a condition of holiness. In the case of people, quite sharply: "For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of G-d and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of G-d to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt" (Hebrews 6:4-6, ESV).

We can be encouraged that as we 'touch' people, by our words, our actions, our dress and modesty, our care for one another and our reverence of the L-rd, something of His holiness in us will rub off on them, whether they like it or not and whether they know it or not. Holiness can be contagious and other people will be changed simply by being in contact with the kingdom in us. Whether that is enough for them to recognise and acknowledge Yeshua is not for us to know; our calling is simply to be there and to allow G-d's holiness to be seen. Over time and by G-d's grace many folk have been completely turned around by the patient and non-verbal witness of believers, who simply touched everyone they met with a smile, gracious and gentle words and a non-judgmental attitude of concern and interest.

We can similarly be warned about the way we allow others to 'touch' us and the precautions that we need to take to prevent the thoughts and actions of the world to penetrate our lives. Just as we wash out hands before preparing or eating food, so we can adopt spiritual hygiene practices to prevent our lives being contaminated by toxins, pollutants, bacteria and virii from the world. Rav Sha'ul instructed the Ephesians in the use of the spiritual armour that G-d provides for all believers. This is not offensive but defensive; it is to protect our heads and our hearts from the attack of the enemy, that "having done all" we might "stand firm" (Ephesians 6:13). Search the Scriptures for spiritual alcohol gel; for verses and phrases that you can use for cleansing your skin surface after contact with those whose lives are chaotic and not aligned with the order of G-d's kingdom. Don't allow yourself to carry words and attitudes from one encounter to the next, perpetuating the world's standards, attitudes and hurts, but remember always to clear down and be ready to "shine as lights in the world" (Philippians 2:15, ESV.

Further Study: Matthew 5:43-48; Titus 2:11-13; 1 Peter 4:7-11

Application: What verses can you use as spiritual hand gel today? Ask the Heavenly Pharmacist to show you the salves and medicants that can not only keep you clean and holy, but offer the fragrance of Yeshua to the people you meet.

17:38 18Mar18 CB: This made me think. I remembered how C.S. Lewis married Joy so her son could go to school in England. Then he fell in love with her and married her again in a real covenant from his heart. I think this can be so also, in our relationship with The Lord. We come forward to be saved, but then, we fall deeply in love with Him. I look forward to the Great Marraige Supper of The Lamb.

Buy your own copy of the Drash Book for Leviticus/Vayikra now at Amazon US or Amazon UK.

© Jonathan Allen, 2018



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