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Rumination #29: How can we be holy, as He is holy?

To the biblical mind, "being" cannot be distinct from "doing." In Hebrew, unlike English and other European languages, there is less emphasis on being and more emphasis on doing. We could read the multitude of verses that command us to "be holy" as saying something like: "do these holy things." Despite the wrong-headed theology that says that G-d proves our depravity by commanding the impossible, the Almighty never commands us to do something that He does not enable us to do. Read that again. When the Creator tells His people to be holy as He is holy, He is commanding us to act like Him. There is only one way to act like Him - and it is to do the things that He commands us to do. This is Peter's marvelous commentary on Leviticus 19:2:

...but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy." And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear...
1Peter 1:15-17

Notice Peter's emphasis on doing? The only way we can reflect the glory of the Infinite One, is to engage in the acts of chesed [loving kindness] that He commands us to do. The only way we can do those things, is if we study them in order to do them. The commandments are not merely ethereal axioms, full of sentimentality. "Love your neighbor as yourself" only means something if you know the verses and the commandments that accompany that phrase. People reading Messiah Yeshua's words in Matthew 22:37-40 cannot understand their meaning if they refuse to read the context of Yeshua's words. The context is not a "New Testament" thing… it is an Torah thing. Without the Torah, the "New Testament" has no place in the Scriptures. It is only the context of the Torah that can define the holy writings of the first disciples of Yeshua. If those writings are independent of the Torah, they must be the writings of another religion – apart from the Bible.

Do you want to be holy as He is holy? Obey Him. Without the Torah, you cannot even begin to know how. Dig in and learn. Dig in, and do.

Parashat Achrei Mot - 'After the Death' (Leviticus 16:1-18:30)

Parashat Achrei Mot is named for a phrase in first verse:

Vayeda HaShem el-Moshe achrei mot sh'nei b'nei Aharon b'karvatam lifnei HaShem vayamutu.

Now HaShem spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before HaShem, and died.

Leviticus 16:1

This parasha picks up where Leviticus 10 left off - with the death of Aaron's sons Avihu and Nadav. They were struck down because their zeal was no substitute for the fear of G-d. They had a "form of godliness" but denied His holiness and His power. Remember beloved, G-d can be very dangerous. All the intervening chapters have been about what is needed to approach the Living G-d - one must be tahor [pure]. No wonder Isaiah, when He saw HaShem, high and lifted up, declared,

Woe is me, for I am undone. I am a man of tamei [unclean] lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of tamei lips; for my eyes have seen the King, HaShem Tz'va-ot.
Isaiah 6:5

In this portion, immediately after reminding us of Avihu and Nadav's death, we are presented with the instructions regarding Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. It seems that this entire portion is about "death" - just as it is named. It isn't. It is about "after the death." Remember that the entire system described in this book is about life. Life is precious in G-d's sight - and what is precious is guarded. Like the cherubim with flaming swords that guard the way to the priceless Tree of Life - so does death highlight life in this Scripture portion. The life that is in "the blood" is highlighted. The lives taken in the Yom Kippur service, to atone for the priests, the Mish'kan [Tabernacle], and the people are highlighted. In the case of Avihu and Nadav's death, we are shown not only the danger, but the infinite value of the dwelling Presence of the Almighty - and the danger of approaching His holiness unprepared or in an improper manner.

Therefore, it is not odd at all to begin the instructions about Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Almighty's calendar, with a reminder of what happened to Avihu and Nadav. Details matter. It is as if to say, "Pay attention - this is most serious."

If you read verse 34 you will see that these instructions about Yom Kippur are called an "everlasting statute." Like so many of the instructions of G-d, He makes the point that they are not temporary in nature - and certainly not dispensational. Clearly, when we read passages like this we must do one of three things:

  1. Tear them out of our Bibles.
  2. Explain them away through allegories because our theology can't deal with them.
  3. Accept that they are the unchanged Word of our wise G-d.

So how do we deal with these passages regarding a sacrificial system that seems so far removed from us? First, commit to #3 above. Next, understand that the Mish'kan and the later Temple were earthly types of the Heavenly reality. As well, the Levitical priests that ministered in those sacrifices are types of a heavenly reality. But, both the Mish'kan and the priests were also real. And then note that G-d says that this will provide a cleansing from their sins - and as important, will maintain the Mish'kan and Temple in a pure state so He can dwell among His people Israel. There are some who doubt this and point to the book of Hebrews as proof. My question in that case is, did G-d not speak the truth to Israel? Of course He did.

The instructions regarding the sacrifices, and specifically Yom Kippur are not false instructions. Those instructions really did bring cleansing and forgiveness - but as the writer of Hebrews notes: it was not the blood of bulls and goats that take away sin. No, these instructions, when applied in faith in G-d's unchanging nature, affected cleansing regarding the Mish'kan and the Temple. There is a difference between "cleansing/forgiveness" and "taking away." The difference is temporal versus eternal. Eternal forgiveness comes through the blood of the ultimate sacrifice: Yeshua. However, even though these instructions pertain to a temporal building and mortal priests,  they are still about Messiah. They always are.

Parashat Kedoshim - 'Holy ones' (Leviticus 19:1-20:27)

Parashat Kedoshim is named for a word in the second verse:

Vayedaber HaShem el-Moshe lemor:
Daber el-kol-adat b'nei-Yisrael v'amarta alehem kedoshim tihyu ki kadosh ani HaShem elokeichem:

And HaShem spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: 'You shall be holy [ones], for I HaShem your G-d am holy.'"
Leviticus 19:1-2

Let's look at that stunning command again:

...You shall be holy [ones], for I HaShem your G-d am holy.
Leviticus 19:2

There is a profound misunderstanding of the biblical word "holy" among some believers. Because G-d Himself is holy, we often equate holiness with sinlessness.  Although G-d is most certainly sinless, "holy" does not mean to be sinless in and of itself. Holiness is not a moral state, but it is to be and to act "other than."

Much of the Torah contains instructions for determining k'dosh from chol [holy from common]. These instructions were designed to teach us to be able to tell the difference. It is no wonder then, that a people who out of hand dismiss a huge part of G-d's Holy Word do not understand what the word "holy" means.

G-d is distinct and separate from man, and He wants His people to resemble Him in what we do. It is interesting that Peter quotes this command in 1Peter 1:15-16:

...He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'
1Peter 1:15-16

Where is the "it is written" reference that Peter is quoting from? There are three places where G-d tells His people that He wants them to act holy. The three passages are all in the book of Leviticus:

Notice the context:

What do all of these three places have in common? Well, to be fair most modern commentators would say, "nothing" - since the only parts of G-d's instructions they believe are valid for us today have to do with things that don't look too "Jewish." The moment you mention "Sabbaths" (the plural is speaking of the weekly Sabbath and the yearly Sabbath "feasts" outlined in Leviticus 23), or diet, many "Christians" start looking for the theological exits. How odd, because if you begin to understand the word "holy" [kadosh] you will begin to understand why some Bible things look "Jewish."

The word kadosh [holy] is a word that denotes someone or something not looking or acting "the same." G-d is other-than mankind. He is separate and distinct. This is what theologians like to call G-d's transcendence. In our study of Scripture we discover that the reason for the Mish'kan [Tabernacle] was so that G-d could dwell with man. This dwelling with man theologians refer to this as G-d's immanence. There is a very real problem that the Mish'kan illustrates: How can a holy G-d dwell among common men? The answer is repeated throughout the Torah: to approach G-d (in His holiness), men and women must leave the common behind.

When G-d commands us to be holy, He is telling us to act like He does. This week's parasha is a primary source for the Master's "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew 5-7.   G-d's people are to look and act differently from the rest of the world. Now, for some of us that is not too difficult (I am often seen as "odd"), but it is not enough to merely be different from the world - it is to be different in the way that G-d Himself has defined. G-d declared that He was holy - He wants His people not only to be different than those around them - He wants them to resemble Him.

Now, back to those Bible things that "look Jewish" - maybe 1,900 years of "church" anti-Semitism has clouded our minds. If in your mind, G-d's standards of holiness look "Jewish" maybe you are confused about exactly Who your Master is. Is he the Sabbath-breaking, Pharisee-kicking, Temple-destroying, blond-haired, blue-eyed "messiah" in many people's minds - or is He the Torah-observant, spotless Lamb of G-d Who will one day rule the world from His throne in his capitol city Jerusalem?

As for looking "Jewish" by what I wear, what I eat, where I go, what I do, and when I worship, then so be it. Those are Bible things - and by the way, my Master is Jewish, and it is my duty to imitate Him.

Haftarot Achrei Mot & Kedoshim - (Amos 9:7-15; Ezk 20:2-20)

This week and the portion from two weeks ago are often read together. The Torah portions and found in Leviticus 16:1-20:27. These Torah portions are the heart of the Torah. They are physically found half way through the Torah, and they contain the "love thy neighbor chapters" of Leviticus. Additionally, they outline the call to holiness that is so often quoted in the Apostolic Scriptures. Do you want to know the definition of love for your brother? Concentrate on these chapters. Do you want to know the definition of holiness? Concentrate on these chapters.

Our haftarot deal with a common subject: the failure of national Israel to measure up to the holiness standard - and the faithfulness of HaShem to still keep us as His people. It is about grace, beloved, grace. G-d keeps His promises! He is not a respecter of persons... but He is a respecter of His promises. Look at the obvious contrast:

Behold, the eyes of Ad-nai HaShem are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob," says HaShem.
Amos 9:8

He uses the covenant Name (Ad-nai HaShem). That means this is not by merit, but by His guarantee to Abraham and the fathers. Truly, Israel will suffer. Many have and many will die... but the Almighty keeps His word to Israel. We are His, eternally.

It does not stop there. Here is the mystery. It is not Israel alone that is Israel. He has others that Israel has drawn to Him. They too are His people. They too receive His calling. They too are called to love one another. They too are called to be His holy ones. This is the passage that Ya'akov, our Master's half-brother quotes in Acts 15:16-17 when remarking about the mystery of Gentiles being a part of the Assembly of Israel.

On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My Name.
Amos 9:11-12

"Gentiles who are called by My Name"? Wow! Gentiles who are called to be holy, and to thereby sanctify the Name of the Holy One, blessed is He? This is a true revelation and one that the Apostle Paul draws heavily from. It is thereby remarkable that these passages are tied by the Sages to this week's Torah portions. Specifically, portions that detail commandments regarding Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] and the "love thy neighbor" commands. Jew and Gentile. One in Messiah. Echad in Messiah.

Prayer Focus for Achrei Mot -  'Ahavah Rabbah' [Abundant Love]

Shacharit [the Morning Prayer Service] has a portion that prepares the individual and the congregation for focused worship. It is called "Pesukei d'Zimrah." The method of Pesukei d'Zimrah is a recitation of Psalms and Scripture passages that work from the general to the specific, stripping away our self-focus and focusing upon the Almighty and what He has done. This portion of Pesukei d'Zimrah is called "Ahavah Rabbah"[Abundant Love], and it focuses our praise of the Almighty for His covenant love:

With an abundant love You have loved us, HaShem our G-d; with exceedingly great pity have You pitied us. Our Father, our King, for the sake of our forefathers, who trusted in You and whom You taught the decrees of life, may You be equally gracious to us and teach us. Our Father, the merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon us, instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform, and fulfill all the words of Your Torah's teaching with love.

Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name, and may we not fee inner shame for all eternity. Because we have trusted in Your great and awesome holy Name, may we exult and rejoice in Your salvation.

Bring us in peacefulness from the four corners of the earth and lead us with upright pride to our land. For You effect salvations, O G-d; You have chosen us from among every people and tongue. And You have brought us close to Your great Name forever in truth, to offer praiseful thanks to You, and proclaim Your Oneness with love.

Blessed are You, HaShem, Who chooses His people Israel with Love (Amein).

-- ArtScroll Translation

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Standing in Prayer with all Israel,

Rick Spurlock
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