The Heart of the Scroll

“And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, ‘Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’” (Lev. 19:1-2).

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. דַּבֵּר אֶל-כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם–קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ:

כִּי קָדוֹשׁ, אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם

At the very heart of the Torah (the center of the scroll), the rabbis say, is the portion called קְדֹשִׁים/Kedoshim, or holy ones. Speaking to all the congregation of the children of Israel, כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, this portion is concerned with how we live life in the human community, together.

The usual practice for naming the weekly portion is to take the first key word in the portion, typically from among the first words. קְדֹשִׁים/Kedoshim is unusual, as it is the fourteenth word of the portion. Why would this be? It has to do with who the Lord is addressing, again, כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, “all of the congregation of the children of Israel.” The message of this portion is not an exclusive message to Moses, Aaron, the elders, or the prophets and kings to come; but to all in covenant relationship with the Lord. Making קְדֹשִׁים/Kedoshim the name of the portion would include all that came before it.

The prominent rabbinic commentator, Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhak, teaches that קָדוֹשׁ, holy, is separation from sin. It is not that sin is absent from our surroundings, but those sanctified by the Lord God do not partake of sin, or respond to sin in a sinful manner. We will, as we all know well, cause, experience, or step into the midst of ungodly situations, that is part of human life; but how we respond once we recognize it is of great importance.

Holiness, then, is not lived in isolation, alone in a cave; but in everyday life, with all kinds of people.

In Leviticus 20:26, the Lord says again, “you shall be holy.” This results from the transformation of life by the power of God, according to His Word, and its application to life in faith. How can we do this?

Again קְדֹשִׁים/Kedoshim, holy ones, is the fourteenth word in the verse above. For many reasons, fourteen is connected to perfection, deliverance, and grace. Relating to a complete cycle of weekly time as found in Genesis 1 and the date of Passover found in Exodus 12:6 (another message to all Israel), it is viewed as a double portion (7+7) of wholeness/peace (שָׁלוֺם/shalom), and yet it also relates to the number five, representing grace (1+4=5).

Our walk with the Lord begins with an exodus, a deliverance from bondage to sin, by His grace (Eph. 2:8-10). The Lord’s deliverance ushers in wholeness and peace before Him, enabling us to live a life in set-apart relationship with Him. We are then called to live out the grace received, not only with the covenant community around us, but also the broader human community.

What does this do?

Because we are His we will: consider the poor; we will not steal; lie or deceive one another; we will not withhold wages; curse the deaf; place a stumbling block before the blind; we will use correct weights and measures; we will love our neighbor; we will love the stranger because we were once strangers in Egypt; we will show respect; and we will guard what He has called holy. The covenant Lord is active in the world, and we are His witnesses.

As we read this portion called קְדֹשִׁים/Kedoshim, we cannot help but hear echoes of the Decalogue, which unfold into instruction regarding faith-obedience and family purity, community relationship, and covenant faithfulness. The Decalogue itself opens with a reminder of God’s grace, and then defines for a freed nation of slaves what freedom from oppression should look like.

This portion opens with a call to holiness in Leviticus 19:2, and it ends with a call to holiness in Leviticus 20:26. In these verses we are dealing with קְדֹשִׁים, holy ones or set-apart ones – a condition defined by distinction, a result of grace received.

Our position in Messiah Yeshua is that of קְדֹשִׁים, holy ones, or set-apart people. It is important, in faith to Messiah, that we recognize a change in status, and therefore identity: from sinner to saint, from slave to free. This change in identity, is not based upon how we think or feel about it; but rather, on the completed work of Messiah on the cross.

Once delivered from sin and death, to life and faith, we must be taught how we are to live. The holy ones of God, קְדֹשִׁים, have been set-apart, made holy to God to be about their Father’s business, discipling the people of God as we move toward eternal promise.

The “heart of the Torah” is calling for His people to be holy or goodly in distinction, and it is announced within the context of community. In this portion the Lord emphasizes loving action toward the poor, the stranger, the neighbor, and care as concerns different seasons of human life and nature. We find the means of obedience in community, but it is a community that recognizes distinction. This is made clear: there are poor, there are strangers, there are blind and elderly, rich and poor, those who buy and those who sell – life distinctions. The community, as a whole, כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, “all of the congregation of the children of Israel,” is called to be holy – but it is not called to be wholly uniform.

As the apostle Peter wrote, “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (I Pet. 1:15-16). In your conduct, by loving those who deserve your love, and those who, according to human reckoning, do not, be holy, as He is holy (Lev. 19:18, 34).

How? Living as joint heirs with Messiah, living out, by His grace, His perfection and peace, while sharing the grace we have received in the complex arena that is human life.

Still wrestling with this? We all are; but we thank our Abba/Father for His grace, mercy, love, repentance and forgiveness through the blood of the Lamb that today we can labor to believe Him (Jn. 6:29) today more fully than we did yesterday.

Be well. Shalom.

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