Parsha: Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1 – 20:27)

by Glenn Harris | January 01 1970

You Are to be Holy

K’dosheem קְדֹשִׁים (“Holy ones”) Leviticus 19:1-20:27

Our parasha this Shabbat is entitled K’dosheem which means “holy ones” and covers Leviticus chapters nineteen and twenty. It opens with these words,

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.’”

These chapters define more narrowly and specifically what it means to be a holy people. Some of the Ten Commandments are reiterated, but the demands go much farther. Anyone having the mindset to do just the very minimal in order to get by will find these chapters a challenge, to be sure. A man might appear outwardly to be living within the boundaries of the Torah, but inwardly fall way short of the principles here.

For example, the outward command to honor one’s parents, to not steal, to not use the name of God in a profane or deceptive manner is one thing. But we are commanded in chapter 19 not to hate our brother in our heart, and not to hold a grudge –things which are defined within a man’s interior world.

We are commanded to show kindness to strangers, to provide for the poor and to show respect to the elderly, by rising in their presence. Being God’s holy people involves much more than “do this” and “don’t do that”. What kind of people are we?

For example, a man might read the commandment: When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field… Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien” and yet harvest his hundred acres to within six inches of the edge and proceed to tell himself that he has fulfilled the demands of the Torah. But God is not fooled. He may have met the technical demands, but he missed the heart – the very intent of the command.

What does a holy nation look like? First of all, it is made up of holy individuals. In these chapters holiness includes reverence for God, reverence for one’s parents, faithful observance of the Sabbath and compassion towards the poor. Holiness excludes stealing, swindling, lying, using God’s name for false oaths, oppressing others (including withholding a person’s wages who has done work for you), mockery of those with disabilities, or taking advantage of others’ disabilities. A holy people are not to pay out bribes nor accept bribes, are not to pervert the judicial process, nor slander others nor devise ways to harm others. Holiness forbids prostitution, it forbids occult practices, it forbids illicit sexual practices and yes, it even forbids holding grudges.

Holiness also means recognizing God-ordained distinctions: men are men and women are women, and we are not to blur that distinction, either in our manner of dress or in sexual union. For that matter, we are not to interbreed different animals, nor plant two different kinds of crops in the same field, nor wear clothes made of mixed fabrics. God was teaching Israel, and I believe is teaching us, the principal of separation – holiness. The created order is God’s created order, and holiness demands we respect what He has done and not suppose we can do better.

The parasha ends with these words: 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. If holiness seems demanding, it is only because God has our well-being in mind. He knows that without holiness we will never live to see Him, and without holiness our lives and even society itself will quickly disintegrate. The Lord loves us too much to let that happen without a warning. The challenge to us is to take honest inventory of our lives. Is it patently obvious to the rest of the world that we are set apart, or are we fitting in very nicely in this fallen world.

The haftarah reading for this Shabbat is Amos 9:7-15, which speaks of God passing judgment on the Jewish people and sending us into exile, but also promising to restore us and return us to our land – a very timely word, considering that a week from Thursday will be Yom HaAtzma’ut – Israel’s Independence Day. This year we are celebrating 60 years since the re-birth of the ancient nation on its original soil. In ancient times many peoples gloated at Israel’s failure. Even today, many people (sadly, including some who identify as Christian) have it in their heads that God is through with the Jewish people and with Israel as a nation. I wonder how they will feel on the day they stand before the God of Israel. For now, I wonder how they reconcile their views with these words,

I will bring back My exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them.”

Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Kedoshim קְדֹשִׁים. Other transliterations: K’doshim, or Qedoshim