Parasha Kedoshim (Holy People) Lev.19: 1- 20:27 ;1Sam 20: 18-42 ; Matt. 4:43-48
The Lord spoke to Moses: “Speak to all the community of Israel. Say: ‘Be holy, for I am holy; I, the Lord your God.”
The Hebrew word “kadosh,” meaning “holy” Speaks of someone or something that is holy is set apart, distinctive, different. The Priests were set apart from the rest of the nation and had no share in the land because they didn’t work as labourers in the field and anyway, the Lord was their great prize and inheritance. Their whole sphere of focus was the Tabernacle and later the Temple, the place where the manifold presence of God, the Shekinah glory resided. So the priests lived at the very epicentre of the Divine Presence, and, therefore, as God’s ministers they kept themselves pure without defilement because they were the “Kedoshim”, the holy ones, who dwelt in the secret place of the Most High and abided under the shadow of the Almighty (Ps.91). This was not something to be taken lightly as Aaron’s two eldest sons discovered to the cost of their lives.
Until now, holiness was a special feature that separated a priest from the remaining nation of Israel although earlier, in Ex. 19 at the giving of the Torah the children of Israel were told that at some future stage they would also be included as a priesthood. God told them: “You shall be to Me a Kingdom of Priests and a holy nation” (Ex.19:6). Now, in this week’s parasha, Kedoshim, God was explicit. “The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev.9:1-2). Here, it speaks about holiness defined for the entire nation.
Now we, as those who have been grafted into the Vine and are adopted as the Commonwealth of Israel, every Jewish and Gentile believer, are commanded to be holy: distinctive, set apart, held to a higher standard. It is not an optional extra or something that is noble but not necessary. It is an essential feature of our walk with God that permeates throughout the NT and holds profound implications for every believer regarding our present and future destinies.
Until now, the Book of Leviticus is centred around the theme of sacrifices, purity, the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and the Priesthood. Things are focused around a holy place, holy offerings, and a holy people, specifically Aaron and his descendants who God chose to be the custodians of the Mishkan. Now, suddenly in the beginning of chapter 19 we see a radical paradigm shift where the focus is broadened to include all the Israelite people. This is the first and the only instance in Leviticus that such an inclusive command is found. And here the entire nation is commanded to be holy. But this was not God’s original intention. Initially it was to have been the firstborns who were saved from the last of the Ten Plagues; they were selected to serve the Lord as His special ministers. It was only after the sin of the Golden Calf that the change was made to restrict this ministry to the Levites.
Holiness is defined here in this parasha in many ways that is linked to righteousness such as descriptions as to how the nation should make its clothes and plants its fields; how justice should be administered, how workers are paid and business conducted. The vulnerable: the deaf, the blind, the elderly, and the stranger were to be given special protection.
However, all of this is meaningless without context or framework that is embedded in a holy relationship with the living God. This is exactly what Yeshua was criticising the religious hierarchy about who had a form of religion which they scrupulously adhered to but denied the power thereof, as Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:5 – such people “…hold to a form of godliness although they have denied its power; avoid such people as these. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!”
But, now the Israelite people are called to be holy in relationship with God and as such, every individual held a greater accountability. And in this sense, it is no different for us as believers. We read that Peter urged the congregations to “13 … brace your minds for action. Keep your balance. And set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. 14 Like obedient children, do not be shaped by the cravings you had formerly in your ignorance. 15 Instead, just like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in everything you do. 16 For it is written,
“Kedoshim you shall be, for I am kadosh. 17 If you call on Him as Father—the One who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds—then live out the time of sojourning in reverent fear.”
And he continues: “22 Now that you have purified your souls in obedience to the truth leading to sincere brotherly love, love one another fervently from a pure heart.”
Yeshua said: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” and the Book of Hebrews confirms this: ““Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).
There are many believers walking this earth who are spiritually blind and some of the them are leaders, shepherds leading their flocks to eternal destruction – the blind leading the blind.
To be holy is to be set apart from this world. Even though we are in this world we are not of this world. So to “Be holy” means, to have the courage to be different. That is the root meaning of kadosh in Hebrew. It means something distinctive and set apart. “Be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.”
The Sages have said that a “mamzer talmid chacham,” a Torah scholar of illegitimate birth, is greater than an “am ha’aretz Kohen Gadol,” an ignorant High Priest. What are they saying? To walk in obedience and reverence to the Word of God whatever one’s status in this world may be, is far greater than one who simply masquerades as a religious person however high their status may be.
What in practice does this mean? A decisive clue is provided by another key word used throughout Tanach in relation to the priest is the Hebrew verb “Badal” meaning to divide, set apart, separate, distinguish. That is what we as priests of God are called to do – to distinguish between the sacred and the secular (Lev.10:10) and to distinguish between the unclean and the clean” (Lev.11:47). This is what God does for His people: “You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and I have distinguished you [va-avdil] from other peoples to be Mine.” (Lev.20:26)
If we were to translate this into NT terms we see it as both a command and a warning that by living a holy life unto God He has equipped us with Divine discernment to filter through everything that is fake and preserve us from Satan’s myriad of deceptions in these end times. These are perilous times where Yeshua warned that many would be deceived (because of compromising biblical standards) and where the “love of many will grow cold.”
There is one other place in which the Hebrew word “badal “ is a key word, in the story of creation in Gen.1. where it occurs 5 times. God separates light and dark, day and night, upper and lower waters and for the next three days places in each domain appropriate objects or life-forms. God fashions order out of chaos and as His last act of creation, He makes man after His “image and likeness.” Genesis teaches us that God breathed (“neshima”) into Adam and Eve a soul (“neshama”), that breath being the very essence of God.
Since God made each of us within the depths of His fathomless love, it follows that if we seek wholeheartedly to participate in His life we will therefore, seek to be holy and fulfil the command to “…be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. It has been said that the pursuit of holiness is based on the vision of creation as God’s work of love that will surround every life we touch – our neighbour and the stranger – as in the image of God, and because of this we are commanded to love our neighbour and the stranger as ourself. (Lev. 19:18)
The first command , to “Love your neighbour as yourself,” is often described as the “golden rule” and Yeshua beautifully defines and illustrates this in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37)
The second command (to love the stranger in our midst ) is even more radical. Most nations throughout history have harmed the stranger rather than loved them, particularly when it has related to the Jewish people, as Yom ha Shoah that we commemorated a few days ago well illustrates. This xenophobia (violent prejudice against other people groups) has replaced God’s command for us to be filled with xenophilia ( a love for them) because as the Scripture portion reminds us, “…we were once strangers in Egypt.” The Jewish people like no other nation know what it feels like to be a persecuted minority and therefore, in all people we have least excuse to turn our backs. So we must be careful, particularly in these days we are living in to make negative blanket statements about other people groups. Listen to what Paul had to say about this in the first chapter of Titus: “ 12 Even one of the Cretans’ own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” — 13 and it’s true! For this reason, you must be severe when you rebuke those who have followed this false teaching, so that they will come to be sound in their trust 14 and no longer pay attention to Judaistic myths or to the commands of people who reject the truth.”
To better understand the underlying concept, we need to go back to Gen.1: 26-27 where God said: “Let Us make man in Our image, in Our likeness.” So God created man in His own image: in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
What is extraordinary is not that a human being could be in the image of God since this is exactly how the kings of Mesopotamia and the Pharaohs of Egypt were viewed. They considered themselves to be living images of the gods from whom they derived their authority.
The revolutionary statement clearly revealed here in this parasha is that every human being regardless of class, colour, culture, or creed, is created in the image of God rather than an elite few.
If we fail to love one another in godly unity as commanded in Scripture without prejudice of nationality, social status, culture or educational background what hope is there for us when it relates to unbelievers?
May God give us His grace and strength to fulfil His command to love one another as He has loved us and continues to love us steadfastly, unconditionally, with an everlasting love eternally drawing us closer to Himself. Without this we are left bereft, empty vessels, without substance and of all people the most pitiable.
Raphael ben Levi