Thursday, May 4, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashat E’mor – Vayikra (Leviticus) 21 – 24

Parashat Emor starts with (literal translation) “and spoke - va’yomer - YHVH to Moshe, ‘speak – emor -  to the priests, the sons of A’haron’” (21:1). In both instances, the verb used for “speak” is the same one, a.m.r (alef, mem, resh). 

The topics with which Moshe was commanded to address the cohanim/priests had to do with their sanctity. The first of these deals with defiling themselves with the dead (v.1), although in Hebrew the word “dead” is missing, and can only be inferred from the context. Perhaps this is a linguistic device intended to illustrate the defilement of death, and thus is omitted (even) from the text. The titles of the previous two Parashot, together with this one, form the sentence: “after the death of the holy ones, say/speak…,” the “speaking” has to do, once again, with the topic of death. Hence the opening of our Parasha seems to pick off from the beginning of Parashat Acharey Mot (Lev. 16:1-2), which deals with the aftermath of the death of A’haron’s sons, elaborating on the necessary conduct required by the priests.  

Parashat Emor also contains the well-known chapter 23, which lists and specifies YHVH's appointed times. Chapters 21 and 22 deal respectively, as we have just observed, with the priests' conduct of holiness, the sanctity of the offerings, and the handling thereof.  Thus, the sanctity of the priests ("they shall be holy to their Elohim", 21:6) is followed by the sanctity of the offerings (called "holy things", 22:3), which is followed by the sanctity of the appointed times (chapter 23).  The other end of the Parasha is made up of chapter 24, with its themes of the perpetual light ("ner ha'tamid" vs. 1-4), and the twelve loaves that were to be set on the gold table (vs. 5-9).  A brief account relating an episode during which YHVH's name was profaned, * as well as the resulting and immediate consequences, together with a series of instructions for penalties applicable in similar cases and a variety of offenses.

Before examining chapter 23 with its listing of the "mo'adim" (the appointed times), let us pause to look at a curious or even bizarre statement in 22:11. The topic at hand has to do with partaking, or even "drawing near" to the holy things which the people would dedicate to YHVH. It was incumbent upon the priests to decide who was fit for this duty, and who was not. So here is what verse 11 says in contrast to all the previous ones, with their strict qualifications in regards to these dedicated things: "But if the priest buys a person with his money, he [the bought person] may eat it [the dedicated/holy thing]; and one who is born in his house [the priest's] may eat his food [lit. "bread"]". The purchased individual would have been a slave, most likely a Canaanite one, while the "one who is born in the house", is again, a reference to one of the servants (cf. Gen. 17:12-13,23). Is this hinting at the tremendous undertaking by Elohim whose Son, the (High) Priest, "purchased with own blood" those who were "slaves to sin" from every "kindred and tongue and nation" and who are now able to partake of the "holy/dedicated" - kodesh? (Luke 22:19; Acts 20:28b; Romans 6:20; Rev. 7:9).

 Chapter 23 is situated in the center of the Parasha, with verses 1 and 2 stating the following: “YHVH spoke again to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, YHVH's appointed times ["mo'adim"] which you shall proclaim as holy convocations [“mik'ra'ey kodesh”] - My appointed times are these…'" Here we encounter the important terms, “mo’adim” and “mikra'ey kodesh” (singular: “mo'ed” and “mikra kodesh”). Mo’ed stems from the root y.a.d (yod, ayin, dalet), which is "appoint, design, or designate". Thus, we read in Amos 3:3 (literal translation): "Do two men walk together unless it has been designated, or appointed for them [to do so]?" The conjugation of the verb implies that someone else was responsible for their meeting. 

“Mo'ed”, as we see in the text before us, is connected to a specific called-out and destined assembly, many times termed “e'dah” (originating in the same root), which gathers or convenes together. In 24:14 for example, the assembly, or “edah”, is told to stone an offender. In T’hilim (Psalms) 82:1, “Elohim takes His stand in His edah”.  The “appointed times”, therefore, relate to an appointed group of people. There are some who are of the opinion that the word for witness “ed” masculine, and “e’dah” (feminine) also originate from the same root. But there is more…

“Tent of [appointed] meeting” is “Ohel Mo'ed” (mentioned here in 24:3). A similar, though not an identical term is found in T’hilim (Psalms) 74:4 and 8, where we read, “Your enemies roar in the midst of Your meeting place… They have burned Your sanctuary". The renderings of “your meeting place” and "sanctuary" here are: “mo’ade’cha” and “mo'adey El”, literally "your appointed times” and appointed times of El”, making evident that Place and Time in the Hebrew mind are not always demarcated by a clear boundary. Our text reveals the “three-strand cord” of place, time, and people, as it is held together by the sovereignty of the One who has appointed and chosen them, and who is responsible for bringing about their interactions one with the other. Finally, y.a.d is also to “establish a destiny”, and so we read in Romans 8:29-30: “Whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son… Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called…” (italics added). In the Hebrew translation of the Greek text, “predestined” is rooted in “ya’ad”. Who are the ones whom He foreknew, predestined, and called? As we have seen above (and will see later), the calling and appointing have been and are Yisrael’s, thus establishing again (in context with the above quote), that y.a.d refers not only to people, time, and place but also to an eternal destiny (past, present, and future). “Eternity” or “forever” is sometimes designated by the word “ad” (ayin, dalet), such as in Tehilim 48:14 (‘ever”). “Mo’ed”, with a slight alteration, may be rendered as “m’ad” – from eternity or “from of old” or “ever”, which takes us all the way back to creation, as in B’resheet 1:14 the “seasons” (in the original text) are rendered “mo’adim”.

The “holy convocations”, as mentioned, are “mikra'ey kodesh”, with the singular being “mikra”. The root k.r.a (kof, resh, alef) makes up the verb “to call”, even though the "convocation" - the assembling - is made up of people. The calling, therefore, is what designates the “mikra kodesh”. In addition, these “holy convocations” are also the special times that are synonymous with “mo’adim”. And so, once again, the “calling” proves to be the common paradigm or ‘ingredient’ shared by the people, and the appointed times during which they are to convene. Another parallel of “mikra” to the root yod, ayin, dalet that we just reviewed, is that it too lends itself to ‘place’. In Yishayahu 4:5 we read, “Then YHVH will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night”. The “assemblies” mentioned here are rendered “mikra”.

The first "appointed day" – the “Shabbat” - is also the prototype upon which all the others are established (ref. 23:3). It speaks of rest, trust, and faith directed toward the Heavenly Father (a topic we dealt with at length in Parashat Yitro – Exodus 18-20).

The mo’ed, which starts the annual cycle, is to be celebrated on the first month of the biblical calendar (the month of Aviv). The 14th day of that month is designated as YHVH's Pesach (Passover), whereas the next seven days are called the Feast of Matzot (Unleavened Bread).  The root (pey, samech, chet), which we examined in Parashat Bo (Exodus 10-13:16, in 12:11), means to “pass or skip over”.  The lamb’s blood was smeared on the Hebrews’ doorposts, thus covering and protecting the sons of Yisrael from YHVH's arm, which dealt severely with the Egyptians.  It was by virtue of that blood that YHVH “passed” or “skipped over” the dwellings of the Israelites. The wider scope of the principle set in motion here is what was to be the atoning blood of the Lamb of Elohim, that covers and protects the redeemed from sin’s death sentence.

Next is the Feast of Matzot, or Chag HaMaztot (plural of “matza”, which is a thin, wafer-like cracker baked without yeast). “Chag” is feast, whose root, ch.u.g (chet, vav, gimmel), means “to circle” (e.g. Ps. 107:27), thus pointing to the cyclical nature and annual reoccurrence of YHVH’s feasts and appointed times.  As we have already seen in Parashat Bo, the root (mem, tzadi, hey) means “to drain or squeeze out” to the very last drop of water.  Yeast can only be activated in an accommodating environment (that is, in water).  Since yeast or leaven, is likened to the element that leavens or puffs up the whole lump (ref. Gal. 5:9), water may be compared to the environment which enhances it. The "old leaven" (1 Cor. 5:8) being sin, in the form of the deeds of darkness (Rom. 13:12), wickedness (1st Cor. 5:13), and more, is removed as the redeemed are constituted "holy matzot; for Messiah, our Pesach [lamb who]… has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7).  Notice that aside from “matza”, unleavened bread is also called “lechem oni”, translated as “bread of affliction” (Deut. 16:3). Yeshua, who is the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35), was born in the House of Bread (Beit-Lehem) and was in Beit Onya (Bethany) - House of Affliction (John 12:1) - six days before He gave His disciples the bread which represented His body (Luke 22:19).

 "Then YHVH spoke to Moses saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘when you enter the land… and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf [omer which is a specific measurement] of the BEGINNING/re’sheet of your harvest to the priest. And He shall wave the sheaf before YHVH for you to be accepted; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it’" (23:9-11 literal translation, emphasis added). The first harvest (of barley) takes place very early in the spring. From Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 16:9 we learn that the picking is "from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing [barley] grain".  Because “omer” is also a measurement (one-tenth of an epha), there is no question as to the amount of the "first of the harvest".  Thus, the priest was to wave those first (beginning-resheeet) sheaves before YHVH, "for your acceptance" - lir'tzon'chem (root – resh, tzadi, hey – meaning, “satisfy, favor”), after the Shabbat. This was totally fulfilled by Yeshua, who was in the beginning (ref. Gen. 1;1; John 1:1-2), and is declared to be the beginning and the end (ref. Col. 1:18; 1John 2:13-14; Rev. 1:8, 3:14, 21;6, 22:13).  Following His resurrection, which occurred after the Shabbat, He immediately went up to His Father (ref. John 20:17) to offer Himself on our behalf, thus rendering us acceptable. After that first barley harvest was cut, one was to wait for the day after the Shabbat and count seven weeks, making the 50th day a “mo'ed” which is tied intrinsically to the Counting of the Omer.

The land and its fruitfulness, or lack thereof, was to reflect Yisrael's relationship with YHVH, as it is "a Land for which YHVH your Elohim cares; the eyes of YHVH your Elohim are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year" (Deut. 11:12). The Cycle of the Feasts "from the beginning even to the end of the year" is partly designed for this purpose.  Thus, if the rains come in their due season, watering the ground which responds to the seed (ref. Hos. 2:21, 22), it can indicate that the Nation of Yisrael is walking with their Elohim, "who keeps for us the appointed weeks for the harvest" (Jer. 5:24).  In that case, all is well and the Counting of the Omer can begin. Conversely, the consequence of disobedience and sin is drought (Lev. 26:18-20, 26, for example), which means that there is no barley, no sheaves, and nothing to count.  That, in turn, will affect the next mo'ed, which is Shavu'ot. The mo'adim, the Land, and the relationship with the Almighty are all intertwined, making the life of the Hebrew person inseparable from his Elohim, his Torah, his land, and his community. The omer, therefore, affects the celebration of Shavu’ot. It also signifies total dependency on YHVH and speaks of His control over the natural and spiritual causes, their conditions, and their aftermath.

On Shavu'ot the focus is on "a new grain offering to YHVH" (23:16), also termed "first fruits of the wheat harvest” (Ex. 34:22) called bikkurim, which is derived from the word “b'chor” – “firstborn”. Note that in the Hebrew Bible this word does not appear in connection with the waving of the first barley sheaves (v. 10), where, as we noticed above, “resheet” (that is, “beginning” or "first", stemming from “rosh” – “head”) is used.  Interestingly, Yisrael is declared "holy to YHVH”, and like Yeshua is also called “the first - resheet - of His harvest" (Jer. 2:3).  Hence, both of these special times (the Counting of the Omer and Shavu'ot) are a reminder to Yisrael that as YHVH's firstborn (Ex. 4:22), they too belong to Him. The Feast of First Fruit (Bikkurim/Shavu’ot, see Ex. 34:22; Num. 28:26) has also been fulfilled by Messiah when He sent the Spirit of Holiness so that we may be the “bikkurim” – the “first fruit” who were “brought forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). Shavu’ot’s two loaves that are baked with leaven (which are to be waved, 23:17,20), signify that YHVH’s two peoples, unlike His Son, can be still plagued by the power of sin, but conversely, with the ‘leaven’ of the animating presence of the Kingdom and the Spirit too (ref. Mat 13:33; Romans 11:16).

Intertwined with this mo'adim ‘inventory’ is an important insertion, which lends another dimension to the feasts and to the life of the sons and daughters of Yisrael. It reads as follows: “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien” (23:22 italics added). The reason given for this injunction, albeit a very short one summarizes it all: "For I am YHVH your Elohim". We found a similar injunction in last week’s portion (Kdoshim), in 19:9-10, which was preceded by the declaration: "You shall be holy for I YHVH your Elohim am Holy" (19:2). YHVH’s heart of compassion, His generous character, and merciful deeds express His holiness. He desires to bestow upon His people this kind of holiness, while they, in turn, are to live accordingly.

From the first month through the third - we now move to the seventh, which is replete with mo'adim, starting with the first day. (Rosh Chodesh - "head of the month", the usual term for the first day of the month, is not used here.) The "first day" of the seventh month is to be a “shabbaton”, a Shabbat-like day, and also a “mikra kodesh” - a "holy convocation" (23:24). It is to be a “zich'ron tru'ah”, that is, a day dedicated to remembering the “sound or a blast” (that was first heard on Mount Sinai, Ex. 19:16). Yet, “t'ruah” is a generic noun, thereby shrouding this mo’ed with some obscurity. The raising of human voices, the blowing of a shofar (ram’s horn), or a silver trumpet can all produce the “t’ruah” sound. The combination of 'jarring' the communal memory and the emphasis on sound may also be in preparation for the tenth day of the month, the most solemn of all the feast days, “Yom HaKippurim”, literally "Day of the Atonements" (v. 27).  The sound of the alarm is intended, therefore, to help the People of Yisrael recall the greatness of their Elohim, His deeds and commandments, as well as their own responses and shortcomings. In other words, it is a call to self-examination leading to repentance. Since “tru'a” signifies a number of different calls and alarms (e.g. Num. 10:5, 6,9,10), “…blessed is the people who knows [understands, discerns] the “tru'a” [the specific sound and its intent]; O YHVH they walk in the light of your countenance!" (Ps. 89:15).

The Day of Atonement is a mikra kodesh, "on exactly the tenth day" (23:27) to commence on the previous evening (according to verse 32); and "it is to be a Shabbat Shabbaton" - a Shabbat of Shabbats.  What else singles out this day? In addition to a total cessation of labor, it is also to be a time of "affliction of the soul". To “afflict" here is “(ve)ee'ni'tem,” the root being a.n.h (ayin, noon, hey),  and is shared by the adjectives “humility” or “self-denial”. Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 58 clarifies for us the kind of affliction YHVH is referring to: "Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to afflict/humble [ah'not] himself? Is it for bowing one's head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to YHVH? Is this not the fast, which I choose: to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor [ah’ni, the same root] into the house…?"  (vs. 5-7 emphases added). Thus, he who truly afflicts himself is not necessarily engaged only in ceremonial acts, but, rather, empathizes with the afflicted and comes to their aid. Lastly, a quick glance back to Pesach will remind us of the "bread of affliction" - lechem oni - literally "bread of affliction or humility", which is another name for the “matza”, as we already noted above. Lechem Oni, therefore, is a fitting title for He who is the "Bread of Life", the Pesach's Matza, and who is also described in Z’char’yah (Zechariah) 9:9 as "humble - ah'ni - and mounted on a donkey".

The other aspect of the Day of Atonement, the “kippurim” or “kapara” of the root k.f.r (kaf, pey/fey, resh), with its primal meaning "to cover", we have examined a number of times (particularly in Parashat Noach – in Gen. 6:14). The ultimate sin-covering and subsequent forgiveness were epitomized in the life and atoning death of Yeshua, who became the final sacrifice and ransom for all (ref. 1 Tim.2:6).

We are still in the seventh month. On the 15th day, the Feast of Succot - Booths or Tabernacles - is to be celebrated for seven days. The first day is to be a holy convocation, on which no work is to be performed. This feast is to be kept "when you have gathered in the crops of the land" (23:39) and is, therefore, another one of those special times, during which the Israelites are reminded of the connection that the Land and its produce bear to their relationship with Elohim. They are also enjoined to dwell in “succot” (“booths”) “…for seven days… so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt" (vs. 42, 43). After this mo'ed there is an eighth day, which aside from being a mikra kodesh, is also described as an “atzeret”, translated "solemn assembly" (v. 36). The root (ayin, tzadi, resh) means, "to restrain, hold back, refrain", as well as "to rule, possess, and to check".  "Solemn", in reference to the "assembly", is no doubt an expansion of "restraint", denoting the importance of the day.

Succa” (singular for “succot”) stems from the root (sah'mech, kaf, kaf), meaning to “cover, protect or a (temporary) shelter”.  Its primal root is to “weave together" (for example, "You have woven me - tesukeni - in my mother's womb," Ps. 139:13). "Succa" is also a "thicket". Besides being translated as a literal shelter for men and animals, this word is used figuratively; especially known is the “fallen (literally, "falling") succa - dynasty - of David", which YHVH promises to restore (Amos 9:11, Acts 15:16). The "mercy seat" - kaporet - in the Holy of Holies was covered by the wings of the Cherubim, which are described as “covering the mercy seat with their wings” (Ex. 25:20). The term "covering" in this instance utilizes “so’che'chim”, sharing the same root as “succa”.

While Succot brings together several aspects and reasons for all the other mo'adim, it also points to future events (hence Shmini Atzeret). Succot is the only feast that is followed by an eighth day (a day that stands on its own). A full (and prophetically complete) unit of days is always comprised of seven days. The eighth day, therefore, signifies a new beginning. The restoration of David's “dynasty”, or “house”, when compared to a succa clearly indicates that the Feast of Succot is yet to have an even greater fulfillment. On the day that, “the Branch of YHVH will be beautiful and glorious… there will be a succa to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain", is an exciting future promise found in Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 4:2, 6. Being placed at the end of the cycle of the feasts, the solemn eighth-day points to that which is even beyond the feasts’ cycle… 

Shabbat, by commemorating the Creator’s work and His redemption of the Hebrews from bondage and their everlasting covenant, lays the foundation for the mo'adim; whereas the mo'adim illustrate the various phases of the life and path of faith.  At the same time, Shabbat, the epitome of rest and cessation of all self-effort, is also a foreshadowing of the coming Kingdom. Thus, it represents, as well as stands for, the destination of the Believer's path, and hence is twofold; a foundation, but also a tangible image of the goal. In this way, the Shabbat may be compared to Messiah Yeshua, in that He too is the foundation, the Root, as well as the Branch - both a Beginning and an ultimate Destination (ref. Revelation 22:16).


* The word used there for “profaned” is “yikov” (root k.v.v, kof, vet, vet) and means “to bore a hole”. Thus, as we saw last week when examining the verb ch.l.l (also used in this Parasha in chapters 21-22), which also means to “profane or desecrate”, such an act constitutes ‘hollowing out’ or ‘making empty’ (implying meaninglessness) of that which is of greatest import, seriousness, and sacredness.

Some of the word definitions were gleaned from:

The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, ed. Francis Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980.                                             

Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, ed. Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, New York.1999.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. ... PICKING IT UP WHERE YOU SAY, "“mo’ade’cha” and “mo'adey El”, literally "your appointed times” and “appointed times of El”, making evident that Place and Time in the Hebrew mind are not always demarcated by a clear boundary. Our text reveals the “three-strand cord” of place, time, and people, as it is held together by the sovereignty of the One who has appointed and chosen them, and who is responsible for bringing about their interactions one with the other. Finally, y.a.d is also to “establish a destiny”, and so we read in Romans 8:29-30: “Whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son… Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called…” (italics added). In the Hebrew translation of the Greek text, “predestined” is rooted in “ya’ad”. Who are the ones whom He foreknew, predestined, and called? As we have seen above (and will see later), the calling and appointing have been and are Yisrael’s, thus establishing again (in context with the above quote), that y.a.d refers not only to people, time, and place but also to an eternal destiny (past, present, and future).

    That almost reads like some kind of futuristic movie in which the protagonist/s is/are required to find out who he/she was in the eternal past and to re-enact in exact detail the very reason and purpose why he/she is even here to start with. Or as Paul says,

    "3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

    11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory."