Holiness: What it Is & Isn’t

Parashat Kedoshim (Holy Ones)
Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:1-20:27
Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15 (Ashkenazi Jews) & Ezekiel 20:2-20 (Sephardic Jews)

Over the years of being a Jewish follower of the Messiah, I have often asked, “What was I chosen for?” and “What does it mean to live a holy life?” In this week’s reading, we find some very well-known words that invoke similar questions:

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy'.”
Leviticus 19:1-2

Verse one begins with the word “and” which means that something precedes it; it is a continuation of something. If we look at the Parashah from last week, "Achrei Mot", we can gain a better understanding of what God is communicating to us in these verses:

"Thus you are to keep (observe) My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves with them; I am the LORD your God."
Leviticus 18:30

God commanded the entire congregation of Israel to be holy. Why? Simply because God is holy. By extension, today, we followers of the living God — Jew and Gentile, alike — are also commanded to be holy. Each one of us is presented with a daily choice: choose God or the world. We cannot serve both — we either choose God and His ways, or the world and its ways.

What does it mean to be holy? In Hebrew, the command of holiness to the children of Israel in these passages is “קְדֹשִׁים” (kedoshim), which parallels the Hebrew word used for God's holiness, which is “קָדוֹשׁ” (kadosh). It can mean "lofty and exalted, righteous, holy and exalted in his ethics, to stick to the ways of the LORD, saint, sanctified and sacred."

In Leviticus 19:3–37 we find a detailed list (which I highly recommend you read) of the various areas in which God instructs us how to live holy lives. He instructs us in the way we are to treat our parents and one another, as well as a reminder of the importance of the Sabbath day, the institution of marriage, family, agriculture, and other areas of our lives.

When one reads the various areas mentioned here, one can see that God desires holiness in every aspect of our lives. This explains the reason that in Leviticus 20:26, God repeats this instruction with a small, yet very important, addition:

Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.

To be holy essentially means "to be set apart". That brings me to a very interesting verse which is found in Amos 9:7a:

“Are you not as the sons of Cushites to Me, You sons of Israel?” declares the LORD. “Have I not brought up Israel from the land of Egypt,”

Various commentaries say that the text that mentions the “sons of Cushites” refers to different tribes in what is today Ethiopia and Sudan, which were considered as slaves. In reference to the text, we can see once again that God brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt in order for Israel to serve God as their Master.

I opened this commentary with two questions: “What was I chosen for?” and “What does it mean to live a holy life?”. As I wrote, I believe the answer is clear; I was chosen by God to be redeemed to do His will on earth. I was called by God to live a life separated unto Him in order for others to know Him and understand His call on their lives.

However, as I write these words, I also want to emphasize some things that I believe I am not called for. The fact that I was chosen by God for redemption does not give me the right to be arrogant and look down at others. To live a life that is holy and separate for Him does not mean that I replace God and that I now decide what is holy and what is not. It does not mean that I impose on others to live in accordance with my own standards of life rather than God’s. In short, God is and will always be God; I am not holy in my own right, but rather stand in His holiness.

I am aware that these words may be challenging to some, and I believe that this is a good thing if it leads us to repentance and to a better understanding of that which we were really called for. This world is in desperateneed of hope and light in the midst of the great darkness we are living in; this world is in desperate need of men and women who truly understand that they were redeemed by His grace to do His will and to stand on the fulness of His truth.

Shabbat Shalom,

Check out previous blogs on this parashah!

Did you know? — Lone Soldier

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One Comment on “Holiness: What it Is & Isn’t”

  1. And the Messiah of Israel, Yahoshua in his own Fathers Word tells us to be prefect even as our Heavenly Father is perfect . Mat 5:48

    Our God knows that it is far from us to become perfect in and of ourselves. But by submitting properly to his Spirit all things are possible. That is why he came into the world, in order to make the law honorable. If only we will desire to fear his name and to submit to his will he will surely complete the work that he has begun in us by the day of Messiah Yahoshua.

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