Withhold: Leviticus 17:1-9

What modern scholars term ‘Holiness Code’, this collection of rules for living in holiness or ritual purity, share a sense of common ritual and morality, operating below the grand generalities of principle or ideal, providing clarity of rules and norms, and to do when rules and norms are broken.

So God told Moses to tell Aaron to tell the people, these rules about blood and sacrifice. Did we always have rules and restrictions? Did they all start in prehistory in the desert, or at Sinai, or in the temples? Likely the received text here dates in this form from second temple times, as the elite exiles back from Babylon tried to clean up the peasants’ sloppy habits, but worked out pragmatic ways. Who tells you what to do? What are your sources and authority for moral norms – social media?

The prohibition of any slaughter other than at the tent in the desert can be reread as requiring only kosher killing. I read it this year as a wildly communitarian ideal of sharing all your meat, like any First Nation. Those who selfishly shed blood for their own consumption are condemned and exiled. People have been killing outside the camp, then offering some leftovers. Bringing offerings to the tent is a visible sign of sharing – like tax-filing to declare income realized, to acknowledge the share owed the commonwealth.

No more, says the text, and implies that people have been straying after goat-demons who get a piece ‘beyond the pale’, as Azazel. Who you are, and whose you are, is about what you do with what you’ve got. I read this as a Glib Liberal Reading in Tory Times as condemnation of offshore tax shelters so popular among our own elites from the Prime Minister on down.

The restatement in verses 8 and 9 condemns anybody of the house of Israel or strangers who reside among them who doesn’t offer up sacrifice to the entrance of the tent of meeting – or temple, or church in our world. The punishment is to no longer be one of us, and to continue as one of them. This is a hard lesson for our inclusiveness and open ambiguity. In terms of my taxation application this year, we ask Canadians abroad to tax-file, as does the US – but resident non-citizens, sharing the benefits of our commonwealth, are expected to contribute to our public sector costs.

Should each contribute to the commonwealth according to their means, and benefit according to their needs? Can we simply meet the needs without demanding the sacrifice too? While we spend our inheritance from previous generations, rather than our own current income, or build up debts for coming generations, we can take a moral high road and ‘share with all’. That’s dishonest, whether for us as citizens of Ontario and Canada, or as members of Trinity and the United Church. This code in Leviticus, though, demands sacrifice as well as offering belonging.

Leviticus 17:1-9

The LORD spoke to Moses:

2 Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them: This is what the LORD has commanded.

3 If anyone of the house of Israel slaughters an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or slaughters it outside the camp,

4 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, to present it as an offering to the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD, he shall be held guilty of bloodshed; he has shed blood, and he shall be cut off from the people.

5 This is in order that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they offer in the open field, that they may bring them to the LORD, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and offer them as sacrifices of well-being to the LORD.

6 The priest shall dash the blood against the altar of the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and turn the fat into smoke as a pleasing odour to the LORD,

7 so that they may no longer offer their sacrifices for goat-demons, to whom they prostitute themselves. This shall be a statute for ever to them throughout their generations.

8 And say to them further: Anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them who offers a burnt-offering or sacrifice,

9 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, to sacrifice it to the LORD, shall be cut off from the people.

10 If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people.

11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement.

12 Therefore I have said to the people of Israel: No person among you shall eat blood, nor shall any alien who resides among you eat blood.

13 And anyone of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside among them, who hunts down an animal or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.

14 For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.

15 All persons, citizens or aliens, who eat what dies of itself or what has been torn by wild animals, shall wash their clothes, and bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the evening; then they shall be clean.

16 But if they do not wash themselves or bathe their body, they shall bear their guilt.