For the week of May 13, 2006 / 15 Iyar 5766
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31


First Things First

You must not eat any bread, or roasted or new grain, until the very day you bring this offering to your God. (Vayikra / Leviticus 23:14).

A central feature of the culture of ancient Israel - as well as that of many cultures of those days - was sacrifices and offerings. There were sacrifices and offerings of various kinds, including animal, monetary, grain and other produce, and drink. These things were offered for various purposes, including worship, thanksgiving, forgiveness, and ceremonial cleansing. Sacrifices and offerings were performed for different occasions. There were daily offerings as well as those for holidays, while others were required as a result of misdeeds or an individual's own desire.

I suspect that most people reading or listening to this message would have a difficult time relating to sacrifices and offerings, since few cultures practise such things today. Most of the time when we hear references to sacrifice, it is not in any spiritual sense, but rather that of someone giving of themselves beyond what is normally required or expected. This kind of behavior is commendable, but it is not the same as what we find in the Bible.

Understanding sacrifices and offerings in the biblical context is essential if we want to fully appreciate the Bible's overall teaching.

We live in a day in which we are driven by necessity combined with a desire for convenience and pleasure. The pace of life demands we organize our lives. Most of us use alarm clocks to ensure we get to work or school on time and then through the day we follow a more or less strict and predicable routine as we attempt to squeeze as much productivity or, if we can afford it, pleasure, out of our day.

Whether we do so consciously or not, most of us have some sense of priority as to how we work through a day. It could be our commitment to coffee, the need to catch the bus on time, getting home to watch our favorite TV program, or our spending time with the people we love most. Other priorities might include sleep, exercise, and food.

The culture of sacrifices and offerings we find in the Bible challenged the people to set their life priorities on the basis of their relationship to God, rather than according to the challenges of everyday life.

This is so well illustrated through a particular ceremony referred to in this week's Torah portion. Soon after the beginning of Passover, a special ceremony was performed which featured the waving of a sheaf (Hebrew: omer, pronounced h-mer) of new grain before the Lord. The people were not allowed to partake of the harvest until after this offering was complete.

Ceremonies such as this one, reminded the people to put first things first. Since all things come from God, it is essential to take the time to acknowledge his provision in our lives. To fail to do so works against our relationship with our Creator and cuts us off from the reality of life. Our rush to satisfy our needs and desires without taking sufficient time for God only results in furthering the chaotic pace of life and the lack of fulfillment and purpose so commonplace today.

It is as we put God first in our lives that everything else will find its rightful place.

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