This week’s parasha in Israel is Kedoshim, קְדֹשִׁים Holy (you shall be), Leviticus 19:19:1 – 20:27.1 The haftarah for this week’s parasha depends on the tradition one follows, for Ashkenazim, it is Amos 9:7-15 and for Sephardim, it is Ezekiel 20:2-20. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 10:11-21. Also remember that for those of you in the Diaspora (outside of Israel), this week’s parasha is Achrei Mot, as the Diaspora is currently a week behind Israel.
As I began to think about this week’s study, my thoughts took me outside of the traditional readings to Yaacov’s (James’) letter to the Messianic believers “in the Diaspora” (James 1:1) where he wrote,
Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (1:27)
Next, I moved to a book that I am finding most interesting and challenging, Jewish Law as Rebellion by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo. In one of his discussions on following Halacha (Jewish law) on “being religious,” he states,
Sure, living an observant life and conducting myself in a manner that is consistent with Halacha is certainly a crucial component of Judaism, but it is not what makes me religious. To be religious is to allow God entry into my thoughts, my deeds, what I see and feel. It is to have a constant, intense awareness of living in His presence, seeing His fingerprints everywhere, and living up to that awareness.2
If I might be allowed the freedom to combine these two thoughts into a working plan,
Pure and undefiled religion involves keeping oneself unstained by the world. The way to keep oneself unstained is to allow God entry into our thoughts, our deeds and what we see and feel. It is to have a constant, intense awareness of living in His presence, seeing His fingerprints everywhere, and living up to that awareness.
This week’s parasha relates the attitude needed to perform this working plan, and that is being aware that HaShem has commanded us to “be kedoshim [holy], for I, ADONAI your God, am holy.” Before anyone suggests that this command is only for Israel, consider the following. Remember last week, concerning the injunction not to consume blood, the command was to both the native-born as well as the outsider living in the land; in this instance it is not important whether one understands the outsider to be a convert or simply a foreigner who chose to live within Israel like Israel lived in Egypt, (cf. Leviticus 17:8, 10, 13, and 15). Then in this week’s parasha, we read,
If an outsider dwells with you in your land, you should do him no wrong. The outsider dwelling among you shall be to you as the native-born among you. You should love him as yourself—for you dwelled as outsiders in the land of Egypt. I am ADONAI your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)
The inference here, as far as I am concerned, is that if an outsider (stranger) desired to dwell within Israel, Israel was responsible to treat them respectfully, administering the same laws to them as to their native-born brothers and sisters. The flip side of this coin, however, is that the outsider or stranger was responsible to keep the same laws as their hosts. Therefore, Israel and those who choose to come alongside her are to be holy as ADONAI the God of Israel is holy. Equally, this is not just an attitude or command that is to be observed in Israel. Kefa (Peter) writes to those who are outsiders, living abroad in the Diaspora (cf. 1 Peter 1:1) that where ever they live they are to be
…just like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in everything you do. For it is written, “Kedoshim you shall be, for I am kadosh.” (I Peter 1:15-16; cf. Leviticus 19:2 & 20:7)
Before leaving Kefa and the idea of holiness, let’s look at a practical aspect of holiness. In the very next verse, Kefa tells his readers (and us today)
If you call on Him (the God of Israel) as Father—the One who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds—then live out the time of sojourning in reverent fear. (I Peter 1:17)
Kefa acknowledges that HaShem “judges impartially according to each one’s deeds” and thus His judgment should motivate us to live accordingly, “holy as He is holy.” A practical aspect of living holy is the aspect of judging impartially. In this week’s parasha we read
You are to do no injustice in judgment. You are not to be partial toward the poor nor show favoritism toward the great, but you are to judge your neighbor with fairness. (Leviticus 19:15)
The Torah and the Prophets speak much about our responsibility to care for the poor and the needy. Returning to Yaacov’s letter, in chapter two he warns his readers not to show favoritism based upon one’s socio-economic condition, specifically not favoring the well-to-do over the impoverished (cf. James 2:1-4). Often, there is a tendency to look down upon the well-to-do, the rich in this life, chiding them for their wealth and expecting them to do more to alleviate the plight of the impoverished. And while it is true that to whom much is given, much is required, (cf. Luke 12:48), it would appear that just as we should not look down upon the poor because they are poor, we should not look begrudgingly on the rich because they are rich. As HaShem is impartial towards all people, we too should be impartial, treating all men and women with respect and honor regardless of their station or our own. It is said in Shabbat 127b, “One who judges another favorably is himself judged favorably,” and the inference is by both one’s fellow man as well as by HaShem.
In conclusion, holiness is not a condition for just a select few, i.e., those pious ones in ministry who set themselves aside to be separate from the profanity of the world. Holiness is a way of life for which we should all strive; we are to be like HaShem. Furthermore, holiness is not simply a spiritual attitude, a state of ethereal perfection. It is living a God-focused, God expected, God-exemplified life daily as we interact with others. As Rabbi Cardozo said it is allowing “God entry into my thoughts, my deeds, what I see and feel. It is to have a constant, intense awareness of living in His presence, seeing His fingerprints everywhere, and living up to that awareness.”
1 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
2 Nathan Lopes Cardozo. Jewish Law as Rebellion, A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage. Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2018, p 180.