"Holiness and the Golden Rule"
Amos 9:7-15 (A); Ezekiel 20:2-20 (S)
The overriding theme of Kedoshim begins and closes with the admonition for Israel to be holy. Found within these bookends is a list of important rules that promote the pursuit of holiness. These range from simple ways to handle the harvest, labor, and foreign relations, to restrictions about the occult and deviant sexual activity. This wide variety of instructions is all designed to sanctify Gods people unto Himself. Our parashah for this week begins and closes with the following verses, clearly requiring holiness:
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the sons of
and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy (Leviticus 19:1-2).
Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine (Leviticus 20:26).
As one reflects upon the various commandments detailed in Kedoshim, a sense of protection from the wickedness of the sinful world in which we live should come to mind. Even though the thought of participating in many of these activities should never have been considered by us as born again Believersthe sad reality is that these depraved activities do occur in many civilizations today, and not only those of the ancient past. And, even in the largely Judeo-Christian culture of the West, the laxity of moral codes and basic human ethics has been fostering some proliferation, of many of these formerly illegal actions, in various degrees. One could readily conclude from observing the society that surrounds us, that we are approaching the Last Days that Paul warned Timothy about. As he informed his student,
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
When you take a look at this list of how human beings will behave in the Last Days, you can readily detect that each of these despicable characteristics is almost part and parcel with people ignoring the list of commandments detailed in Kedoshim. But rather than focus on all of the negative aspects of Kedoshim this week, I would instead like you to consider one small section of our reading that relates to the actions among the people, brethren, and neighbors of Israel. The positive commandments about how people should treat their neighbors is something quite significant to the rest of the Biblical story, as demonstrating love and respect for others is definitive evidence that we are indeed pursuing holiness and a proper walk with the Lord. The Torah instructs,
You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:15-18).
The Biblical requirement for people to treat their neighbors, and fellow brothers and sisterswith love, respect, and forbearanceis something that is sorely needed not only among those who believe in Jesus in the Christian community, but most especially within our still-maturing Messianic community of faith. Sadly, it has been my experience that many people who profess to be pursuing a Torah-based lifestyle, often struggle with adhering to the basic commandments of how Gods people are to properly relate to their neighbors. This is very troubling, because unlike some of the more obscure commandments buried in the Torah that are easy to overlook, perhaps with little or no reference made in the Messianic Scriptures, both Yeshua and the Apostles amplify how we should treat our neighbors. Leviticus 19:18 is one of the most recognizable Torah verses quoted in the New Testament. Perhaps the most quoted reference where Leviticus 19:18 appears is in the Synoptic Gospels, where Yeshua is asked what the greatest commandment in the Torah is. He logically appealed to the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and to the need for people to love their neighbors:
Yeshua answered, The foremost is, HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH. The second is this, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. There is no other commandment greater than these. The scribe said to Him, Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONES NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. When Yeshua saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God. After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions (Mark 12:29-34).
Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? And He said to him, YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets (
And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And He said to him, What is written in the Law? How does it read to you? And he answered, YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. And He said to him, You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE (Luke 10:25-28).
There are some slight differences between the questions asked among these three accounts, but the same basic answer is given. The concept of loving God with all of ones heart, mind, soul, and strength is paramount in order to consider the thrust of the Torahs instruction. The requirement to love ones neighbor is the second greatest of the Torahs commandments, and is a benchmark to see if the first greatest commandment is really being followed. After all, it has been observed that if you love an invisible God, then what about your neighbor who is visible? One has the opportunity to display love for a seen neighbor, by the same actions that should be made toward an unseen God.
Loving our Neighbors
As you dig deeper into our Torah portion, you will detect that Leviticus 19:15-18 has a more explicit way of extending love for neighbor. First, you should note how God admonishes His people to judge fairly, as circumstances will arise in life which require us to make decisions or rulings:
You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly (Leviticus 19:15).
The Prophet Zechariah clarifies how impartiality is critical to administering proper justice:
These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate, declares the LORD (Zechariah 8:16-17).
It is clear that if one judges with evil present in the heart, that one will be opposing the Lord and His established ways. Those who judge with evil motives will demonstrate themselves to be those who do not truly love God and neighbor.
A second major principle seen in our parashah addresses the chronic problem of human slander. As God instructed Ancient Israel,
You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:16).
There is nothing more damaging to a person, short of physical harm, than the wickedness of defaming someone by slander and gossip. Sadly, this is one of the most prevalent sins in the contemporary Body of Messiaheither Christian or Messianic. Notably, the Jewish theological tradition is well aware of the damage that an evil tongue can bring to the faith community, and specific prayers are to be offered each day from the siddur against speaking guile.
The Biblical admonition against slander is coupled with the command to not stand aside while your fellow's blood is shed (Leviticus 19:16, NJPS). With this being the case, how should we react when we hear our neighbors name or character being slandered or murdered? Would it not make sense to stand up for a brother or sister and prevent ones character being assassinated? Sadly, many Believers today largely do not know how to employ these commands in real life situations. We would benefit greatly if we simply came to the defense of someone who is slandered.
Following this, the concept of harboring hatred in the heart for ones neighbor is considered. God commands,
You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him (Leviticus 19:17).
We have all heard our fellow Believers in Messiah talk about the intentions of the human heart. Here in the Torah text, the Lord amplifies the issue about what might occur in the heart. It is very clear that His people are not supposed to hate their fellow, but by including blevavekha or in your heart with the command, the need to take this seriously is intensified. The need to not hate ones fellow is also quite severe, as it is something that has to be commented on later by the Apostles. Consider what the Apostle John candidly says:
The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes (1 John 2:9-11).
If anyone holds any hatred toward a brother or sister, such a person should check to see whether he or she is living in darkness. While we might struggle with negative feelings toward non-Believers at times, we have no legitimate reason to hold continual malice toward anyone in the community of faith. The reality of life may be that we will have disagreements with fellow Believers, but such disagreements need to be tempered with love and respect, and if we have to rebuke or admonish someonethen it needs to be done tactfully. The Torahs instruction gives us a very solemn warning about reproving ones neighbor without incurring sin (Leviticus 19:17b). The Apostle Paul further amplifies our understanding of how to lovingly rebuke a brother or sister in the Lord:
Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Messiah Yeshua and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin (1 Timothy 5:19-22).
Paul gives Timothy instruction about how to properly handle a problem with an elder in the congregation. If one has to rebuke an elder, then the key is to do it soberly and without falling into sin. Too often, though, people level charges against others for the slightest provocation and the most ridiculous reasons. In this account, as should be practiced with others, the necessity for multiple witnesses to a charge must be observed. Claiming something without legitimate proof will lead to slander and character defamation. The sin of a spirit of partiality is sternly warned againstbecause obviously, if you have ought in your heart, then you will not be able to be impartial and objective in your deliberations and cross-examinations.
Finally, while love for neighbor is one of the most important commandments in the Torah, notice how the concept of loving is coupled with the prohibition against taking revenge (NIV) against ones neighbor:
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:18).
The Apostle Paul teaches that if someone does wrong to you, that repaying evil with evil will not achieve anything. Rather, evil must be overcome with doing good:
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, VENGEANCE IS MIND, I WILL REPAY [Leviticus 19:18], says the Lord. BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN DOING SO YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD [Proverbs 25:21-22]. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).
Paul links Leviticus 19:18, which we are having to consider in our Torah portion, with a well-known proverb:
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you (Proverbs 25:21-22).
The Final Measure
When you consider the referenced verses in Kedoshim, they lay the foundation for one of the most important commandments in the Holy Writ. Many refer to this as the Golden Rule: In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12; cf. Luke 6:31; 10:25-28). After loving God, we are supposed to love our neighbors as we should love ourselves. So, as you meditate upon Kedoshim this week, you might ask yourself just how well you are loving your neighbor.
If married, do you consider your spouse to be your closest neighbor? Are you looking out for his or her needs? Are you putting his or her needs ahead of yours? Are you trying to find new ways to serve him or her, and make your relationship better? Are you coming to the defense of him or her when he or she is being wronged? The list of what husbands and wives can do for one another can go on and on. What about your close family members or friends? What about your colleagues at work? The point is, when considering the closest and most familiar of relationships, you need to exercise love by being sensitive to others needs, and always be trying to help people in unexpected ways.
Here is a real sobering thought that I would like you meditate upon: imagine the Golden Rule like a measuring rod that determines your degree of holiness. If you are honest with yourself, you may think that you are not very holy. When analyzing our interactions with various neighbors over the years, just about all of us can recall times when we were impartial in judgment. We spoke without thinking. How about those times when we actually committed slander? What about times we hated someone in our hearts, because of something done to us? Is it possible that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves? Where might we need to make restitution?
If you take the time to do some introspection, you might conclude that this is a very well-needed spiritual exercise. You might realize that obedience to the second greatest commandment is more theory than reality in your life. But this is why the faithful Torah student is blessed. Every year we have the opportunity to let the Spirit of the Most High instruct us about loving our neighbors. And, we have the Spirit to convict us where we need to change, cry out for help, and in changing we can then serve as a positive example to others. The Lord bids us to be holy in more than just outward doings, but in the heart attitude that we carry inside of us!
Do you remember how Yeshua, when addressing His followers, dealt with the loving your neighbors issue? He raised it to a much higher level! In fact, He taught that His followers are to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them:
You have heard that it was said, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).
There is no Biblical commandment anywhere that instructs Gods people to hate their enemies, although hatred for enemies is something that is quite common to the human condition. To combat this problem, Yeshua concludes His admonition by instructing His listeners that they need to be perfect, just as the Father is perfect. Of course, such a degree of perfection can only be obtained from supernatural work of God within a redeemed heart.
Do you have a redeemed heart? Have you appropriated the shed blood of the Messiah, being forgiven of your sins? Do you walk in the holiness that the Lord requires of His peopleby demonstrating love and mercy toward others? I hope that you truly are of the redeemed, and you are reflecting such redemption to all those you encounter and meet. May His name and works be revered beyond measure!
Leviticus 19:9-10, 23-25.
Leviticus 19:26; 20:1-8, 27.
Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8.
Joseph H. Hertz, ed., The Authorised Daily Prayer Book, revised (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1960), pp 25-29; cf. Nosson Scherman and Meir Zlotowitz, eds., Complete ArtScroll Siddur, Nusach Sefard (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1985), 23.
The Dead Sea Scrolls do, in fact, include an injunction that hating ones enemies was acceptable:
He is to teach them both to love all the Children of Lighteach commensurate with his rightful place in the council of Godand to hate all the Children of Darkness, each commensurate with his guilt and the vengeance due him from God (1QS 1.9-11; Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, trans., The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation [San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996], 127).
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