Torah Portion for week 30: Leviticus 19 – 20
Kedoshim (Holy ones)
What does it mean to be truly holy? Does it even matter? Is it just a religious word that we hear once in a while, or can we as people truly have a desire to live a holy life? These are all very important questions that every person asks or thinks about at some point in his or her life. The big question is “How can we find the truth to this crucial matter?” For the nation of Israel, the issue of holiness was brought up by God himself in the book of Leviticus. We read the following statement in this week’s portion: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy”’” (Lev 19:1-2).
We see that God is very much concerned that Israel, as a chosen nation, live out their calling given many years before to Abraham that in him “. . . all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3). The God of Israel desires to see his people live their faith in deeds and in action, and goes into much detail in these chapters to explain what a holy nation should be like. God addresses issues of social justice, idolatry, family order, care for the poor and the aliens of the land, behavior between people, forbidden sexual relations, basic commandments for healthy daily life, and even healthy hygiene. Besides the obvious reasons of keeping Israel healthy in spirit, soul, and body, God is teaching Israel that they must change their mindset of the past four hundred years when they lived as slaves to pagan Egypt, and become a nation that, now linked with the holy name of God, is fulfilling their role to become a light to the nations.
But why is it that we don’t read in the following chapters that Israel lived happily ever after? As the centuries go by, Scripture teaches us that even the nation of Israel (God’s chosen people) struggles to live a holy life and is eventually judged and exiled from her own promised land. But why? Why does Israel struggle to remain holy? Jeremiah 17:9 explains why: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart! Israel was indeed free outwardly from bondage and slavery to Egypt, but in order to stand as a sign for mankind, the nation’s story comes to show us that the slavery of the heart to sin is the true issue to be dealt with.
Knowing how deceitful our heart is, you would think people would admit their sins and lack of holiness quite easily. But no, the heart is “desperately sick.” As an example of how complicated it can get, you might be surprised to hear that today, in many religious circles, Jews believe that they have no sin and that Israel has no need for redemption from sin since they are God’s chosen people; therefore no atonement for sin is needed! So how can one truly live a holy life? In Jeremiah 31 the solution is given – a new covenant will give a new heart! This covenant was given through the life, death, and resurrection of Messiah Yeshua! He is able to give you a new heart that will desire to be holy for God.
For many Jews who come across the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-35, it is a life changing experience to realize that a new covenant was needed in order to deal with the heart. As Jews and Gentiles who have found faith in the promised Messiah, we can testify boldly that our redemption from sin and its power over us came when Messiah changed our hearts and filled us with his Holy Spirit. You see, being holy is not about us trying to please God and make him feel better; it is about letting his Holy Spirit fill our entire being and drive us to a life of holiness that is beyond our own power or ability. With Yeshua the Messiah, God’s commandments are no longer “Do this” or “Don’t do that.” God’s Spirit within us promises that with a new heart free from bondage to sin, “You will do this” or “You won’t do that” out of true desire – And that is what true holiness is all about in God’s eyes. “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Lev 20:26).