Parashat Emor (Say)
Vayikra (Leviticus) 21:1–24:3
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15–31
As I reflect upon this week’s reading and the higher call by which the Priests had to live, I have been thinking about the cost of living in accordance with God’s call. He calls us to a higher standard of living in holiness, and while that can be challenging, the truth is that with the earthly cost comes great heavenly reward.
Our Parasha opens with a command to the priests:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them…”
It then continues on to describe the specific commands God gave to the priests, which we may find to be much more strict than those given to the entire congregation of Israel. Indeed, they were stricter because of a few reasons:
- They were called to a higher level of holiness because they were closer to God’s holiness.
- The priests represent the people before God on one side, and God before the people on the other.
- They were to set an example of leadership, as people looked up to them and, therefore, were called to higher standards.
- They were to reflect the highest Priest, Yeshua, who was to come.
At the end of these instructions, we find three key verses that show why the priests' job was so important, not just for God, but also because of the people they served:
And you shall keep My commandments and do them; I am the LORD. And you shall not desecrate My holy name, but I will be sanctified among the sons of Israel; I am the LORD who sanctifies you, who brought you out from the land of Egypt, to be your God; I am the LORD.
While those verses speak specifically to Aaron and the priests of that time, I believe that the call to holiness was for the entire congregation of Israel, whom God redeemed in order to manifest His Glory and Name, so that all the nations of the earth will know that He is the one and only true God.
In our Haftara portion from Ezekiel 44:15-31, we read of the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who, unlike the other Levites who turned away from God and led the people of Israel astray, (Ezekiel 44:10-13) were tasked to lead the people and to enter God’s sanctuary:
“But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge for My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to serve Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer Me the fat and the blood,” declares the Lord GOD. “They shall enter My sanctuary; they shall come near to My table to serve Me and guard the charge I give them.”
As I write this, I wonder about the earthly price that they had to pay. Is it possible that they were rejected and subjected to false accusations by the other Levites, and maybe even the people of Israel? Is it possible that they were mocked, looked down upon, and laughed at simply for living according to the higher standards to which God called them?
I believe that they most likely did pay a heavy price, yet, as we see from the verses from Ezekiel 44:15–16, the reward was that they were able to come near God and serve Him. That’s an amazing privilege!
I would like to encourage each of us, followers of the Messiah, to live by a higher standard, regardless of the cost. After all, this is what God has called us to. As Rav Sha’ul (the Apostle Paul) reminds us:
For God did not call us to impurity, but in holiness. Consequently, the one who rejects this is not rejecting man, but God, who gives His Ruach ha-Kodesh to you.
1 Thessalonians 4:7–8
Let me close by encouraging you that our work in the LORD is not in vain:
Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be firm, immovable, always excelling in the work of the LORD, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the LORD.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Choosing to focus our lives on God’s call is not easy, nor is it cheap — it will cost us everything. But it is absolutely worth it in the end.
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