Recently we have been reading the book of Esther, where toward the end, when the story comes to its satisfactory conclusion, it says: "And Mordecai wrote these things and sent letters to all the Jews, near and far, who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, to establish among them that they should celebrate yearly the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar, as the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor" (Esther 9:20-22 emphasis added).
Aside from the physical-geographical connotation, the terms "near" and "far" have, of course, spiritual, generational, and genetic implications. In Scripture there are significant inclusions of the ones who are far off with those who are near. When Moses sums up the historic landmarks of the wilderness journey, he says the following regarding the covenant that YHVH made with His people: "Therefore keep the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do. All of you stand today before YHVH your Elohim: your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones and your wives…that you may enter into covenant with YHVH your Elohim, and into His oath, which YHVH your Elohim makes with you today, that He may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be Elohim to you, just as He has spoken to you, and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before YHVH our Elohim, as well as with him who is not here with us today" (Deuteronomy 29:9-15 emphasis added).
When Daniel "understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of YHVH through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. Then [he] set [his] face toward YHVH Elohim to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes," and repented for his people saying, among other things: "O YHVH, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, as it is this day -- to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those near and those far off in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of the unfaithfulness which they have committed against You" (Daniel 9:2-3, 7 emphasis added).
"Far" or "far off" in the above contexts seem to denote those who are not necessarily cut off, or have been removed. Rather, although further away in space, time, or ideology, they are still links of the one chain. However, receiving and accepting these ones who have been far off, is at times contrary to natural human inclinations. And so we hear what the inhabitants of Jerusalem had to say to the rest of their estranged countrymen: "Get far away from YHVH; this land has been given to us as a possession" (Ezekiel 11:16 emphasis added). This attitude is echoed in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, whose elder brother refuses to accept the one who has for a long time been far off.
YHVH, knowing and recognizing our weaknesses has made an all- encompassing provision to bring about a radical change. Hence it is written: "And you He made alive, who were dead [that is, we who were as far as far can be] in trespasses and sins... But Elohim, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Messiah (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Messiah Yeshua" (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-6).
And so, addressing the ones who have been brought "near," so much so that one couldn't get any nearer or closer, he goes on to say: "Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh -- who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands -- that at that time you were without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without Elohim in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation" (2:11-14 emphases added).
Only by virtue of being brought near, by the blood of Yeshua, to the Elohim of our forefathers have we now been received back to the "commonwealth of Israel," spiritually and physically!
This week we read in Parashat Sh'mini (Leviticus 9-11) about the tragic and baffling episode of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, who perished right inside the tabernacle: "…fire went out from YHVH and devoured them, and they died before YHVH," because "each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane [or better "strange"] fire before YHVH" (Leviticus 10:1-2). The verse that precedes this description gives an altogether different description: "And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the people. Then the glory of YHVH appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before YHVH and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces" (Leviticus 9:23-24). It would appear that Nadab and Abihu witnessed YHVH's fire and His glory and the impression that this made on the people, and thought it expedient to take advantage of the moment and continue the momentum. However, going back to Ephesians 2, where we noted that by grace we have been saved, we also read: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of Elohim, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which Elohim prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10 emphasis added).
Nadab and Abihu dared exercise their own works, not those prepared and ordered by YHVH, works "which He had not commanded them" (Leviticus 10:1), and the consequences were very grave, with the only explanation given for their calamity being: "By those who are near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified" (Leviticus 10:3 emphasis added). The responsibility of those who are near YHVH is to "sanctify" (literal translation) Him, so that "all the people," including those who are far away, may glorify Him. "Hear, you who are afar off, what I have done; And you who are near, acknowledge My might" (Isaiah 33:13). It seems that this verse should be read in a different order: "You who are near, acknowledge My might," so that those "who are afar off" will be able to hear "what I have done." It may not surprise you that the word for sacrifice – "korban" – shares its root with "karov" – "near." The sacrifice has been offered so that now we may "come near" and receive our inheritance. By "regarding YHVH as holy" and "acknowledging His might," we are participating in the process of bringing in the ones who are far off, so that they too may draw near to YHVH that He may be glorified. In Zechariah, shortly after declaring: "Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of YHVH" (Zechariah 6:12), a clear promise is made: “Even those from afar shall come and build the temple of YHVH” (Zechariah 6:15 emphasis added).