Kedoshim (Holy Ones)
Leviticus 19:1–20:27; Amos 9:7–15; Matthew 5:43–48
“Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy [kedoshim] because I, the LORD your God, am holy [kedosh].’” (Leviticus 19:1–2)
Last week, on Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach, the regular Torah portion schedule was interrupted with a special Pesach (Passover) reading.
This week we return to the regular schedule with Kedoshim (Holy Ones), which begins with God’s command that Israel be holy because God is holy.
Since the Hebrew word Kedoshim is related to Kadosh, the word for holy, sanctified, or set apart, we understand from the opening verses that a person set aside for the service of God is holy because God is holy.
The Hebrew worship song Hineh Chayai (Here Is My Life) highlights the deep longing that God places in the hearts of sincere Believers to be holy and pleasing to Him:
Here is my life; I give it to You (Hineh Chayai, ani noten l’cha)
My heart, my soul (Libi, nafshi)
May Your will be done in me (Aseh bi et r’tzoncha)
Make me holy (Aseh oti kadosh)
Holy before Your eyes (Kadosh lifnei eneicha)
But what does true holiness really look like? Most people have their own preconceived notions of holiness based on preferences, upbringing, and even systems.
But this song’s line “Make me holy before Your eyes” spotlights the truth that it is God who makes us holy.
Furthermore, it is His standard of holiness that counts.
Although Paul cautions Believers to “be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone (Romans 12:17),” we must remember that not everyone has a handle on what is holy since it stems from a relationship with God and a knowledge of His Word.
Holiness: Set Apart for His Purposes
God has made us kadosh (holy or set apart) for His special purposes. Sometimes those special purposes might not be evident to others.
For instance, we can imagine that Esther may have experienced some criticism as she prepared to come before the Persian King, even though she was being obedient to her king and to her uncle who was caring for her like a father.
In the eyes of some Jews, she might have looked far from holy—consenting to marry an uncircumcised pagan King?! Unthinkable for a nice Jewish girl!
And, yet, God placed her in a royal position to save the Jewish People from destruction, and within those circumstances, she did her best to live up to those purposes.
As Messianic Jews, we are certainly not considered “holy” by our Orthodox Jewish brethren, but rather traitors to our people and our God.
Ultimately, what is important is not how people see us, but how God sees us. We are each individuals and God treats us as such. So let us allow God to make us holy—before His eyes.
Still, that doesn’t mean we are to do our own thing and define for ourselves what holiness looks like. Today’s Parasha reveals for us how to sanctify ourselves and relate to God’s holiness.
So the question remains: “How can we be holy?”
The key is in the words, “And you shall walk in His ways.” (Deuteronomy 28:9)
We are to emulate the actions and character of God. Just as He is merciful, we are to be merciful; as He is patient, kind, and forgiving so are we to be. Yeshua (Jesus) emphasized this guiding principle in His own life:
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19)
It naturally follows, then, that Yeshua instructed us to also imitate God: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
The original Hebrew word in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) that is often translated “perfect” is tamim, which actually means complete, sound, or blameless.
As the Psalmist David wrote, “I will be careful to lead a blameless life [derech tamim]—when will you come to me? I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart [tam l’babi].” (Psalm 101:2)
In the Hebrew, therefore, we see the true meaning of this word, which is so often translated “perfect.”
A blameless life (derech tamim) and blameless heart (lev tam) refer to purity. While God does not expect us to be perfect as we define it—to get everything right the first time and every time, He does want us to walk in His ways—along paths of purity and holiness with a pure heart.
This Torah portion reveals that such purity naturally embraces integrity and rejects deceptiveness.
“You shall not steal, do not lie, do not deceive one another.” (Leviticus 19:11)
“My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with Me; the one whose walk is blameless [b’derech tamim] will serve Me. No one who practices deceit will dwell in My house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in My presence.” (Psalm 101:6–7)
Of course, this includes holiness and integrity in commerce.
The people of God are not to follow the immoral or unjust codes of those who do not know God, but rather to deal honestly in all business affairs.
“Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:35–36)
As Believers, we should be especially careful not to deal deceitfully with others. To do so is damaging not only to our personal reputation, but also that of Adonai whom we represent. Such behavior is the opposite of holiness.
Most of us expect that religiously observant people will conduct themselves with a higher standard of morality and integrity than secular people who without God’s laws as a guide, but such is not always the case. As well, sometimes, people are con artists pretending to be “religious” in order to gain another’s trust.
Not too long ago, one of our ministry workers purchased a second-hand car in Israel without knowing much about the process. She unwisely trusted the man selling the car simply because he wore a kippah (head covering) and tzitzit (fringes), and identified himself as an observant Jew. His wife also wore a head covering, indicating her God-fearing nature.
The car, however, turned out to be a complete lemon! In the first month, the car needed a complete overhaul including a new motor and transmission, costing several thousand shekels in repairs, and it still died an untimely death on the side of the road shortly after. Despite all attempts to contact the man, he remained unavailable. His cell phone had been disconnected. He had dealt deceitfully with this woman, who is a single mother.
“Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.” (Leviticus 19:13)
Holiness Is Love in Action
This Torah portion also provides other actions that are in keeping with holiness such as keeping the Sabbath, reverencing God’s sanctuary, showing respect for the elderly, honoring one’s parents, providing for the poor, and not showing favoritism to the rich.
It forbids sexual immorality, injustice, and participation in any kind of sorcery, divination, magic or witchcraft. Although interest in the occult is on the rise, Scripture forbids it:
“Do not practice divination or seek omens.… Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them.” (Leviticus 19:26, 31)
This Torah portion also reveals that holiness is not limited to actions, but also concerns attitude. It condemns hatred, bearing grudges, and taking revenge.
“Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:17–18)
Of course, the last part of the above verse is one of the most well-known in the entire Bible.
Yeshua quoted that same verse when questioned as to which commandments were the most important in the entire Torah. He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and … love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30–31)
Holiness and Judgment in the Haftarah (Prophetic Portion)
It must be possible for us to be holy, since God would not demand from us something of which we are incapable; nor would He judge us when we fail.
In this week’s Haftarah (Prophetic portion), the prophet Amos gives a scathing warning to the people of Israel of the impending divine judgments due to immorality and deceptive business practices.
“Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth.” (Amos 9:8)
Israel was transgressing by mistreating the poor, imposing unjust taxes, and taking bribes. (Amos 5:11–12)
And yet, God is merciful and promises not to destroy Israel completely. (Amos 7:8)
He also promises to one day restore the fallen tabernacle of David:
“In that day I will restore David’s fallen shelter—I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins—and will rebuild it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear My name.” (Amos 9:11–12)
The Secret of Holiness
The people of Israel suffered a terrible punishment due to sin. Still, God promised to bring them back to inhabit the rebuilt cities:
“They will rebuild ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruits. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them.” (Amos 9:14–15)
This amazing prophecy has come to pass in our very generation and is proof that, despite our tendency to stray from the path of holiness, there is still hope for us in God, for His mercies are everlasting. That is why we are not consumed.
As followers of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) we should make every effort to live our lives with integrity, operating in justice, mercy, and love—holiness that is defined in this Parasha—so that we may bring glory to the Name of God.
This is obviously a crucial issue, since Hebrews reminds us, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
The secret to holiness is not in attending to our outward appearance, but in drawing closer to the LORD and seeking an intimate relationship with Him. That is how we discover who He is, as well as our true identity as the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:18).