Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
#30 K’doshim (Holy People) Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:1-20:27
(In leap years read separately from Parashah #29)
Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15; Yechezk’el (Ezekiel) 20:2-20
B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:33-37; 5:43-48; 15:1-11; 19:16-30; 22:33-40; Mark 7:1-23; 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-39; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13-26; Ya’akov (James) 2:1-9; 1 Kefa (1 Peter) 1:13-21
This third book of the Torah was translated by the Greeks as “Leuitikon”, and the Latin name “Leviticus” was adopted. In the Hebrew it is called “Vayikra (“and he called”) as this book is the core of the Tanakh and contains some of the most important passages in the Torah. At the center of Leviticus is Parahsha K’doshim. The first 19 verses of this parashah are known as the Holiness Code. It is considered by many to be equal with the Ten Commandments and in traditional Judaism is found worthy to be read aloud on Shabbat and Yom Kippur afternoons in order to teach us how to behave.
The Hebrew root of K’doshim is Kadosh, which we translate as “holy”. But the essence of this word encompasses the concept of spiritual separation between divine perfection and human imperfection. Other derivatives of Kadosh are: Kadosh- “holiness,” Kiddush: “sanctification” which is applied to making Shabbat and the Moadim (Festivals) holy over a cup of wine;
K’dushah: “holiness”, “sanctity,”, or “sanctification,” as read in many of the liturgical readings; Kadosh: “holy”; K’doshim: “holy beings”; Kiddushin: “betrothal” or formally engaged; Mikdash: a place of worship; and Kodesh Kodashim: the innermost section of the Temple; the Holy of Holies.
The parashah begins “Adonai said to Moshe, speak to the entire community of Israel; tell them “You people are to be holy because I, Adonai your G-d, am holy.” First we notice that G-d first says “speak” to the people and then He says “tell” them. In other words, this is a direct command to set ourselves apart in our behavior not only to G-d, but in our everyday interaction with man. If we are truly mad in the image of G-d , in his likeness as G-d himself states (Gen:1:26), then if we are to call ourselves “His people and set apart” we must present ourselves as a holy sacrifice on a daily basis. This is what is meant by witnessing. It is consistent living the Sh’ma that makes us K’doshim.
Israel ( true believers) were and are commanded to avoid the spiritual contamination that would result from religious and sexual practices enumerated in previous chapters, and also from those things that could contaminate our lives such as those we will discuss momentarily. Achieving an ethical and spiritual excellence that can enrich and influence other people is what it means to be holy. The way to Holiness for an individual is to emulate G-d’s attributes…” according to Martin Buber who was a great Jewish thinker and philosopher.
The Law of Holiness-Kadosh is addressed to the entire community of Israel. The objective here was to create a people that could be identified as set apart from the perspective of other peoples and nations. If just a few were addressed, they could be lost in the world. We are to remain a cohesive people for G-d, shining our light in a dark world.
We begin with revering our mothers and fathers and keeping Shabbat (Lev: 19:3). We can already see this paradigm is in direct opposition to secular humanism taught to our children from the moment they enter the public education system. The Chumash points out that this means not only are we to honor them through our acts, but it must be done respectfully. We have all had experience with non-cheerful doers and givers. Shabbat observance means more than keeping the Biblical Shabbat. It includes the seventh year sabbatical of fields and loans as well. Yet, today in Israel, there are rabbis who rule against keeping this mandate with a string of rationalizations and justifications attached to their decisions. Lev: 19:4 warns us against idolatrous practices. Many people read this in the most concretistic sense and never look beyond to the inclusion of placing anything before Torah study, reverence and fear, as well as obedience to G-d. This includes our time, resources, leisure activities, family, money or anything else that may fit that category.
Although Lev. 19:5 explains activities/offerings made at the Temple, they have a deep spiritual meaning attached to the mechanics of the act. Offerings can be disqualified by improper intentions at the time of giving them. It is not enough to give; we must do it out of love. We hear this teaching many times, but I guarantee that none of us have “arrived” when it comes to giving anything. How many of us say in our hearts, “O boy, we get to tithe this week or this month?” or “Yippee, we get to fast for 24 hours?”
Lev.19:9-33 give us some very basic laws/rulings that are some of the hardest to live. Again, obedience to G-d’s commands and laws requires an attitude of love and preparation before keeping them, as in purposefully providing for the poor, paying workers promptly, not gossiping, and being fair in judgment.
If we are integrating Torah into our hearts every day as Deuteronomy 6:4-11 mandates, we will learn to make “Torah” behavior our first nature and not an afterthought. This includes thinking before we speak or act. Any speech that violates Torah profanes the name of G-d. This violation can be as simple as speaking arrogantly or committing slander/gossip.
Verse 14 literally means that even though someone cannot hear a curse or be angered by it, it is forbidden to curse him. After all, does not G-d hear the curse? The blind is not just a physically blind person, but the spiritually blind also. We are not to give bad advice to the unsuspecting. The bottom line is honesty in all things and protecting the welfare of everyone as much as possible.
It is interesting in verse 19 that the statement is made all by itself, “Observe my regulations.” This is mentioned four times in this parashah.
Verse 15 is plain from even the literal meaning. We are to judge honestly in all things giving no preference to economic class. Also we are not to stand by when someone’s life is at stake. While we are to defend someone if at all possible to preserve their life, we are not to endanger ourselves either if we can prevent it (Choshen Mishpat 426:2; S’ma; Pis’chei Teshuvah). We must take this case by case and if we become endangered, ask G-d’s protection as we attempt to perform this mitzvah.
Verse 16: Gossip mongering is a great sin whether or not the information is true. This is why Sha’ul says our tongues are the rudder of our bodies. We must take great care not only to refrain from gossiping, but from standing by while others gossip. The importance of this command is emphasized with the follow up warning not to stand aside while someone else’s blood is shed( Rambam, Hil.De’os).
Verse 17: We are not to hate our brothers in our hearts; we must confront them in a non-embarrassing way if at all possible. It is very easy to harbor bad feelings toward someone simply because we don’t want anyone not to like us. But here we are commanded not to keep bad feelings to ourselves. This only stimulates the growth of the sin of hate. We cannot be holy if we hate from within. It follows then that we are not to bear a grudge or take vengeance upon someone. That is G-d’s privilege. Finally, in this verse we see the second command that G-d considers second only to the Sh’ma. Aviva said this command to love our neighbor as ourselves is the fundamental rule of the Torah. The Sages based a variety of rules on this verse. They mandated the least painful death in capital punishment cases (Kesubos 37b, Sanhedrin 45a).Furthermore, a husband may not put his wife into situations that might make her distasteful to him (Kiddushin 41a; Niddah 17a).It is our nature to want good for others but “best” for ourselves. This command admonishes us to wish the very best for our fellow travelers. We can see here that Yahshua took from many of the teachings of the Sages such as Hillel. This serves as another proof that He was Jewish and knew of such teachings. The people could relate to these teachings because of his use of such information. (Of course they did not know He “wrote the Book”!)
Verse 19: “Observe my regulations” This one stands alone. I think it was for added emphasis. I submit that G-d knew people would have a real hard time accepting this one so he set it apart… and then mentioned it three other times in this parashah.
A separate paragraph is made in this verse to include not mixing several types of things. The essence here is that we are to be a separate people. It is interesting that in the Chumash, Rashi states there is no known reason for this command. Fortunately, we have more insight now and can see that when we mix anything whether animals, crops, faith within marriages, the purity is lost. There is always a compromise. Two types of crops draw from the strength of the soil in conflicting ways. Grafted trees must always have the “non-productive” part cut off to prevent sapping the part we want to grow from its energy. Two types of cloth are not as strong as 100% of an original. Marriages cannot succeed when there are two faith systems. One partner will renounce or compromise their faith, or arguments and separation will follow.
Other laws listed include non-Jewish slave women owned by two partners (19:20-22), eating fruit from the trees on the fourth year (19:23-26), the prohibition against eating anything with blood (19:26) and the prohibition against practicing divination or fortune-telling. We are not to base our decisions on superstitions such as the belief that black cats crossing our paths will cause bad luck. The prohibition against trimming hair and beards like the heathen and tattoos or other self- mutilating behaviors are outlined in (19:27-28).Verse 29 prohibits immorality in the land by its people. In verse 30 we see the Torah speaks frequently about the Sabbath and idolatry. Ramban states that both are reckoned as equal to all the Torah commandments. Idol worship is a clear denial of G-d. Sabbath desecration also is a denial that G-d created for 6 days and rested on the seventh- the eternal reminder that G-d is the Creator. Finally verse 32 we are commanded to respect our elderly, even if they are not learned. I submit to you that we could learn so much of our past and avoid many of the pitfalls we face if only we listened to our elderly carefully and with a discerning heart and mind or course.
Once again at the end of this parashah G-d reiterates in verse 20:26,” you people are to be holy for me, because I, Adonai, am holy; and I have set you apart from the other peoples, so that you can belong to me.” It is forbidden to follow the customs and practices of the nations (people) among whom we find ourselves. We are not automatically different from anyone else. Torah makes us different… if we follow it.
Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15.
This short passage seems to pick up the thread of the end of K’doshim, namely that we will be exiled for forsaking Torah and mitzvoth, for not becoming the holy people that we can be, that we must be. However, the prophecy ends on a positive note, that there will come a time when we will be restored to our Land, and the land will be abundantly bountiful, and the people will have repented their ways and we will never again be uprooted from the Land.
B’rit Chadasha: 1 Peter 1:13-21
“Therefore, get your minds ready for work, keep yourselves under control, and fix your hopes fully on the gift you will receive when Yahshua the Messiah is revealed. As people who obey G-d, do not let yourselves be shaped by the evil desires you used to have when you were still ignorant. On the contrary, following the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in your entire way of life; since the Tanakh says
“You are to be holy because I am holy.” Also if you are addressing as Father the one who judges impartially according to each person’s actions, you should live out your temporary stay on earth in fear. You should be aware that the ransom paid to free you from the worthless way of life which your fathers passed on to you did not consist of anything perishable like silver or gold; on the contrary, it was the costly, bloody sacrificial death of the Messiah, as of a lamb without defect or spot. G-d knew him before the founding of the universe, but revealed him in the acharit-hayamim [end of days] for your sakes. Through him you trust in G-d, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory; so that your trust and hope are in G-d.”
We are to diligently, day by day study Torah, separate ourselves from our earthly desires and old ways much as a husk is torn from the corn so that our fruit may be revealed. If we are not to embarrass our fellow man, how much more are we not to “embarrass” our G-d with secular behavior? Only by integrating Torah into our being can we hope to accomplish such behavior. If we casually study, we will casually act. As Forrest Gump says “Stupid is as stupid does”, Israel is as Israel does. If we are to be holy and separate as we are commanded, we must continually work our way through fear, and love of G-d and study of Torah until we finally reach the Kodesh Kodashim; the Holy of Holies.
Rabbi Tamah-Davis Hart