Reading the word of God these days is almost like reading newspapers or watching television news. It seems like there is one scandal after another.
The world has not been improving much since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. Humanity has advanced and has grown in numbers. There are many new tools (electronics) that are supposed to help us, humans, to cope better with our lives, and supposed to make our lives more pleasant and easier. Travel has improved, and we can do continental hopping much faster than “Around the World In 80 Days”.
However, one thing that has not moved forward and has not improved at all is our sanctity! We can sing in church about being holy, and we can read the word of God, with verses like:
“To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 1:7
“If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” – 1 Corinthians 3:17
“For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise, your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.” – 1 Corinthians 7:14
“Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you.” – Philippians 4:21
“…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.’” – 1 Peter 1:15,16
(This text is taken from Leviticus 19:2, from this week’s Torah portion.)
Do I dare today write a letter to some eldership in some evangelical church and address that church as “saints” – and be taken seriously? I doubt it. The pastor himself will think that I am a little bit funny!
The reading this Shabbat is from Leviticus 19:1 – 20:27. From the prophets, Ezekiel 20:2-20 and 22:1-19. From the New Testament we are reading 1 Peter 1:13-16.
Peter is using this week’s portion of the Torah. He is saying to these disciples of Yeshua in the diaspora that they are called “holy”, by the Holy One who called them to be holy.
I have a problem with this statement from Peter’s letter to the diaspora, especially that he addresses the letter to Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. We know about the problems in Galatia, we know about the problems in the churches in Asia Minor (Turkey of today).
These churches that are being addressed are churches not so much different from the churches that I know in Israel, or in the United States, Europe, Japan, China, Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, and Brazil.
I have a problem calling myself a saint. If I did, my children and my wife would be the first to laugh and think that something is wrong with me.
The problem increases dramatically when we think about the children of Israel in the 40-year trek through the Sinai desert. The command of the Lord from the mouth of Moses is:
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”” – Leviticus 19:1,2
You see this is not a recommendation. It is a command. It is a demand. “You shall be holy!”
The most wonderful thing is that God doesn’t command the children of Israel, and us today, without giving us the booklet, the manual, of how to operate this machine, called “disciples of the Messiah.” Right after the command comes the “how to” – the instructions of what it means to be holy and how to become holy.
The first thing that a disciple ought to do is start practicing holiness in the closest circle around him:
“Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and keep My Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:3
Immediately after “revere” (honor, respect, take care of) comes the reward: the Sabbath. A time of rest and refurbishing for both your physical and your spiritual life.
God knows His creation, and He knows that we all need rest, a change of pace, and a time for the emotional, physical, and especially spiritual recharging of our batteries. This is why He gave us the Shabbat – the seventh day – as a day of rest. And He gave us an example from Himself, that God also rested and stopped the work of His creation on the seventh day.
After giving us the first basics for being holy, that is, honor, respect, and obey your father and mother, God gives us more practical and clear instructions:
“Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:4
You see, you can’t have a holy, or even an honorable, relationship with anyone – not your wife, not your boss at work, not your friends – without being faithful and trustworthy.
The paradigm is simple: “no one can serve two masters!” As Bob Dylan said, “it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.”
This includes the more detailed instructions in verses 5-8. There is only one God that we worship, because there is only one true God that exists. The one that created our universe is the same one who so loved the world and sent His only begotten Son to save us eternally.
The Lord God has care and love for the poor and for the suffering of His world. He gives us wealth and prosperity, homes and fields, so that we can care and provide for those who are less fortunate.
But, please note how dignified and how honorable the Lord’s way of providing charity for the poor is. They don’t have to come to you, Mr. Richman, and beg and ask for you to give them some charity.
You initiate the charity and the alms for the poor, so that they can come to your fields and glean and gather, without seeing you and without having to look at them and say to yourself, “Oh, what a wonderful person I am, look at all these poor and miserable people that I am feeding.”
No, you will not see them harvesting the edges of your fields. No, you will not have a chance to look into their faces and enjoy the popularity of a charity-giving businessman. No, you will leave their last ounce of dignity and allow them to come to your fields and harvest their own grain or pick for themselves from what you and your workers left in the vineyard for them.
This text I believe is so powerful, and it includes the most famous text in the New Testament, “you shall love your neighbor as yourselves.” These are core teachings that are so basic that most of us don’t think about them, but it is important to me to mention them and let you think about them.
I also have a personal reason for emphasizing the following teaching of this Torah portion. When I was a young lad in Jerusalem, I did break some of these important commands, and when I could, years later, after becoming a disciple of the Messiah, I had to go back to my old Jerusalem neighborhood and repent and do restitution for some of these “pranks” and sins.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:9,10
The following verses actually speak for themselves. We all know that these things are wrong. If we are guilty of some of these, it is never too late to repent:
“You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:11,12
“You and I, shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:14
“You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:16
(This one is a very prevalent sin that so many of us are guilty of, and it is a serious sin. According to Galatians 5 it is a word of the flesh, and it could keep you out of the Kingdom of God.)
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:17,18
I would really like to go verse by verse and expound on each one of these very important verses. But I challenge you to read the whole portion of the Torah this week from Leviticus 19:1 – 20:27, and please take your time and meditate on each one of these words of the Lord, because the Holy Spirit tell us in this portion of the Torah how to be holy like the Lord is holy! The “how to” part is even more important than the theoretical part.
Notice one important part in this reading – there is no theology in it. There are no arguments about baptism, or the trinity, or the other stuff that Christians fight over and split the Body of Christ over! To be holy according to God’s instructions is to be what is called in Yiddish “a mench!”
I bless you all with the words of Paul to the church in Thessalonica:
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:23
This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.