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Weekly D'rash and Parsha Shemini

This week our Torah portion is about the installation of the priesthood and the seriousness of walking in holiness before God. It is appropriate for this time of year because we are in the midst of the very important time period that we refer to as "counting the omer." This is the period between the offering of the early firstfruits and the offering of the latter firstfruits. According to Leviticus 23:16, we count 50 days from the early spring harvest offering to the latter spring harvest offering. Shavuot is the latter spring harvest offering. The early spring harvest offering comes the day after the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:15). According to the Sadducees who controlled the Temple and the priesthood in the days of Yeshua, the early spring firstfruits offering was always on the day after the weekly Shabbat during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. After the destruction of the Temple, the day after the Sabbath was understood as the second day of Passover which is how the Jewish community understands it today. Beginning on this day, and for 50 days following, a special grain offering was offered. An omer was a measure of grain. Today "counting the omer" refers to this 50 day period. It is a time of anticipation and reflection culminating on Shavuot. According to Jewish tradition, it was on Shavuot that Moses received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Therefore today, Jewish people understand this to be a time of reenacting the exodus from Egypt (Passover) and moving forward to Mt. Sinai (Shavuot). We read in the Bible that during this period the Jewish people were learning what it meant to have God as their King instead of Pharaoh. They were learning much about walking in the way of the Lord. When they arrived at Sinai, they had to be consecrated and prepared to meet with God at the mountain. For Messiah followers, this is a holy period as well. Not only do we remember the move from Egypt to Sinai, but we also remember the second Exodus when Yeshua brought us from darkness to light. We remember the 50 day period from the resurrection of Yeshua on the day of firstfruits to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Shavuot. Our Haftarah portion contains the promise to David that his dynasty would last forever. Yeshua is the King of Israel who redeemed us from bondage. After the resurrection, Yeshua spent 40 days teaching his disciples. On day 40, he ascended to right hand of the Father; and then on day 50 the Messianic King poured out the Ruach HaKodesh. Our Torah and Haftarah passages for this week remind us that our freedom from slavery was not a free-for-all! It means freedom to be a slave to God. During this 50 day period this year, part of our observance of counting the omer is to read all fifteen books of the prophets. I think it will serve as a motivator to take seriously the commands of God to give him honor and reverence, as well as demonstrate our reverence for God by treating others in need with dignity and care. Thus, in addition to our reading, we are all going to engage in at least two acts of hesed (loyal love) toward others. Through both word and deed, we are going to make this 50 day period one of significance and communal spiritual growth. May this 50 day experience be a meaningful journey. Howard

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