Vayikra/Leviticus 8:1 Take Aharon and his sons with him ...
With the start of chapter 8, the narrative in the book of Vayikra resumes, to recount the ordination of Aharon as the Cohen Gadol, High Priest, in accordance with the instructions G-d has given Moshe. At this point, Rashi makes the comment: "this section of the Torah was said seven days before the erection of the Mishkan, for there is no earlier and later in the Torah." In other words, Rashi is saying that the events in the Torah are not presented in chronological sequence. This position is strongly denied by the Ramban: "Why should we invert the words of the Living G-d! Rather, the correct interpretation is ..."
The source of the dissent is found at the end of the previous book of the Torah: "Now it came about in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was erected" (Shemot 40:17, NASB), followed by the detailed steps of erection and placement, "Thus Moshe finished the work" (v.32, NASB), andHaShem gave His sign of approval: "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Adonai filled the tabernacle" (v.34, NASB) in just the same was that HaShem took up residence hundreds of years later in the Temple built by Solomon. (2 Chronicles 7:1-2). The essence of the dispute is that the earlier narrative places the presence of G-d filling the Mishkan on the day that Moshe erected it, whereas the latter narrative (see 9:23 in the next portion, Shemini) leaves the descent of the cloud until after the seven days of Aharon's inauguration.
Rashi solves the problem by time-shifting this section of the text back to before Shemot chapter 40, and thus concluding that the Torah does not always present things in the order that they actually happened. By his reckoning, these instructions were given seven days before the erection of the tabernacle so that the instructions preceded any of the enactment. Ramban tackles the issue by proposing that the tabernacle was actually erected seven days earlier, on the 23rd Adar, followed by these instructions, but that the formal "opening" of the tabernacle was on the 1st Nissan when Aharon had been inaugurated - in other words that the tabernacle could not fully function without the Cohen Gadol to serve in it, so that although it was erected and being used for the inauguration it was not formally operational until the seven days had passed.
What are Rashi and the Ramban doing here? Are they completely mad to be arguing so heatedly over such an issue? Does it really matter? At the same time that these two rabbis are debating this, Christian theologians were having exactly the same arguments resolving the gospel narratives and trying to establish a clear chronology of the life and ministry of Yeshua. Although the particular subject material is different, the process and the motivation for it is exactly the same: to show that apparent inconsistencies can have reasonable explanations and so to prove or demonstrate the integrity of the Scripture. Faith must have reason and balance on its side; we are not called to believe nonsense!
Does it really matter that Matthew and Luke often tell different stories about Yeshua, or the same stories in a different order? To a critic who is looking to avoid taking the claims of Yeshua seriously, the differences provide an excuse for discrediting the gospels and so being able to ignore them. To those with an open mind, those same differences confirm the validity and integrity of the texts by demonstrating them to be largely independent and eye-witness accounts; their differences show that the authors did not collude or plan together at the time of writing and neither has the church orchestrated a massive conspiracy afterwards to fabricate the gospel narratives.
And what is that to us? Simply that we too must be engaged in being sure of our faith, not just relying on the work of professional theologians and apologeticists. As Rav Sha'ul told Timothy, "Study to show yourself approved before G-d, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV). We must be like the Bereans who "were very willing to receive G-d's message, and every day they carefully examined the Scriptures to see if what Sha'ul said was true" (Acts 17:11, GWT).
Further Study: Psalm 1:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:14-15
Application: If you wonder sometimes about the ordering and content of the Bible, then take heart: you are not alone, many others have so wondered. Be encouraged to keep reading and studying, to apply your mind to the matter and ask G-d to confirm the truth of His word and show you resources that will enable your faith to be built up and informed.
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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