Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Messiah? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Messiah? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? -- 1 Corinthians 14: 16-18
Picking up where the last Torah portion ended, parashah Tzav continues its sacrificial regulations. If you are like me, you honestly find these portions boring and struggle to glean the ever desirable Torah “nugget” of divine revelation in them. I mean, why do we need to know these things anyhow? There is no altar, temple, or tabernacle upon which to practice these rites. Modern Judaism teaches that prayer, charity, and repentance take the place of the sacrificial rites. However, all three of these things existed during and prior to the sacrifices. What makes the altar especially important? What grand purpose did God intend?
Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. -- Exodus 25:8
I believe there is a common theme of God desiring nearness to his children in the scriptures. In Eden, Adam and Eve were near to God and this was God’s intention. The Gospels likewise reflect this idea and allude to it in calling Yeshua “Emmanuel” translated “God With Us.” Our ancestors wrote about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. In the presence of Yeshua, demons cried out in terror but children were happy to approach him. Truly in Yeshua was and is God among his people.
For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form. -- Colossians 2:9
The altar represents God’s presence. To partake of the sacrifice was to be near to God. Through ritual and tradition, the children of Israel came near to God and God in turn came near to them. I cannot express enough how strong family narrative brings vital purpose and meaning, especially for children. Which is why we are commanded to repeat the story.
When you enter the land the Lord has promised to give you, you will continue to observe this ceremony. Then your children will ask, “What does this ceremony mean?” And you will reply, “It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he struck the Egyptians, he spared our families.” When Moses finished speaking, all the people bowed down to the ground and worshiped. -- Exodus 12: 25-27
I find it beautifully unique that Judaism embraced the blessings over bread and wine as a Sabbath tradition. Every week at my congregation the leader of Havdalah states, “We salt the bread because every offering was to be salted. We pray that our cup be overflowing.” Christianity also attempts to employ bread and wine in communion or the Eucharist. Paul uses the symbolism of the altar of Israel to allude to our membership in the congregation of the Lord. Just as the children of Israel participated in the nearness of God via the sacrifices we too can participate in the redemptive act of when God related nearness to us in the most important way: our humanity. Yeshua said of himself, “One greater than the temple is here.” It is my sincere prayer that we all experience God as we break holy bread and wine.
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” -- Luke 22: 19-20