For the week of February 12, 2005 / 3 Adar 5765
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 25:1 - 27:19
Haftarah: 1 Melachim / 1 Kings 5:26 - 6:13
Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. (Shemot / Exodus 25:8,9)
One of the central themes of the Torah is its sacrificial system, including the regulations governing the sacrifices themselves and everything that goes with them. I might be right in thinking that most people who read the Scriptures on a regular basis have little to no understanding of the sacrificial system.
I believe that this is largely due to the cultural distance most of us have to such concepts. Not only do most of us have no experience with these kinds of sacrifices, more and more people today have little or no understanding of agriculture.
It is perhaps the fact that most of us have been raised in cities far away from farms and farming that has created one of the biggest cultural gaps between our day and biblical culture. The people of Bible days had more in common with our great-grandparents than they do with us. It wasn't that long ago that most of the world lived in rural settings and had a least some meaningful experience with agriculture.
That means we need to put more effort into trying to understand what the biblical sacrificial system was all about. For not only are we confronted with foreign spiritual concepts, the whole context in which the sacrificial system was established is foreign to us.
When the community of Israel was set up in the wilderness, the location of religious ceremony was literally placed in the center. The rituals prescribed by God became part of the daily, weekly, monthly, and annual cycles of life. There was very little of Israel's culture that was unaffected by their religious ceremonies, and there was little of their ceremonies that was not associated with a sacrifice of some kind.
At its most basic level, the rituals caused the people to acknowledge God in the midst of everything else in life. It would be next to impossible to live a day without being reminded of the God who delivered them from bondage in Egypt. Whether it was an act of worship just because of who God is, the opportunity to thank him for a particular thing he did for the community or for an individual, dealing with a misdeed against a fellow human being, issues of public health, or most other things, God would become the focus of their thinking and doing.
We have been spending the past few weeks looking at the theme of freedom through the experience of the people of Israel - first in their deliverance from Egypt, and now as they begin their wilderness experience. We have seen how freedom is both an event and a process. Just as God dramatically and decisively delivered the people of Israel from slavery, so he desires to free us from our own bondage. But this freedom is just the beginning. Just as Israel was to go through years of preparation before they entered the Promised Land, so we too, once we have been set free, begin a life of preparation for what God has in store for us one day.
The centrality of the religious ceremonies within the culture of ancient Israel reminds us how worship of God is essential to true freedom. To be free from oppressive forces is just the beginning. If we don't then live life according to reality, we will remain lost wandering in the fog of confusion. Worship of God helps us to understand the true order in the universe, including what our place in that universe really is.
It is important to note – and it is underscored by this week's portion – that when we consider the worship of God – God never intended that we worship him any way we see fit. We need to worship him according to his revelation. It is through the Scriptures that we can understand who it is we are worshipping and how we are to worship him. This is what we will continue to look at in the weeks ahead.
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