Learn Hebrew

Learn Torah

Hebrew for Christians
Parashat Kedoshim - Quick Summary

Weekly Torah Reading

Parashat Kedoshim ("holy ones")

Click on the links to display the Scriptures:





Brit Chadashah


Leviticus 19:1-20:27

Amos 9:7-15

1 Pet. 1:13-16;
1 Cor. 6:9-20

Click for the blessing

Torah Reading Snapshot:

Parashat Kedoshim begins with the demand for the Israelites to be holy (kadosh) on account of their relationship with kedosh Yisrael - "The Holy One of Israel." This portion of Torah therefore focuses on defining a "holiness code" that contains more mitzvot (commandments) regarding practical ethics than any other portion of the Torah. It begins with the LORD saying to Moses, "Be ye holy, for I the LORD your God am holy":

Leviticus 19:1-2 (BHS)

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, 'You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.'" (Lev 19:1-2)

What is Holiness?

In Hebrew, the word kedushah (from the root k-d-sh) means sanctity or "set-apartness" (other Hebrew words that use this root include kadosh (holy), Kiddush (sanctifying the wine), Kaddish (sanctifying the Name), kiddushin (the ring ceremony at a marriage), and so on). Kadosh connotes the sphere of the sacred that is radically separate from all that is sinful and profane. As such, it is lofty and elevated (Isa. 57:15), beyond all comparison and utterly unique (Isa. 40:25), entirely righteous (Isa. 5:16), glorious and awesome (Psalm 99:3), full of light and power (Isa. 10:7), and is chosen and favored as God's own (Ezek. 22:26). Indeed, holiness is a synonym for the LORD Himself (Hakadosh barukh hu - The Holy One, blessed be He).

The idea of the holy (kadosh) therefore implies differentiation: the realm of the holy is entirely set apart from the common, the habitual, or the profane. The holy is singular, awe-inspiring, even "terrible" or dreadful (see Neh. 1:5; Psalm 68:35). As the Holy One (hakadosh), God is utterly unique, distinct, sacred, and "set apart" as the only One of its kind. He alone is worthy of true worship and adoration, since He alone is peerless, without rival, and stands in relation to the world as Creator and Lord. Yes, only the Lord is infinitely and eternally Other -- known to Himself as "I AM THAT I AM" (Exodus 3:15).  

Holiness, then, implies more than an abstract or indifferent "metaphysical" separation (as is suggested by various forms of dualism), but rather separation from that which is mundane (chullin), banal, common, or evil. In other words, holiness implies absolute moral goodness and perfection. It is impossible that the Holy One could condone sin, since this would negate the distinction between the sacred and profane and thereby undermine the nature of holiness itself. The Holy is in opposition to the profane and therefore the LORD must hate and oppose that which violates the sacred.

Indeed, one of the first acts of the LORD in the created order was the separation of the heavenly light from darkness, as recorded in Genesis 1:4:

And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

This verse suggests that the realm of the holy (represented by the divine light) is conceptually distinct from the world with its imperfections, though it could manifest itself within the world as long as its integrity was strictly maintained. In practical terms relating to human beings and their relationship to God, holiness describes a state of consecration produced by ethical separation from profane culture.

According to certain Jewish midrash, before you were born, the LORD called your soul to appear before Him and said, "After you are born, become a tzaddik (righteous person); don't become a rasha (wicked person)." Then He brought you into the world, but tested you by means of the yetzer hara -- the natural inclination to be selfish and bad.

The Call to Holiness

Various practical mitzvot are given in this Torah portion through which a Jew is sanctified, or set apart to be kadosh - holy - and therefore fit for relationship with God. God is not only "wholly Other" (i.e., transcendent) but also pervades all of creation (i.e.,  "immanent"), and those who are called into His Presence must therefore be holy themselves.  Such practical holiness results in sanctification obtained through the observance of commandments (mitzvot). These commandments include both mitzvot aseh (commandments to do something) and mitzvot lo ta'aseh (commandments to refrain from doing something). In addition, chukkim, or "statutes" are given that further separate the Jew from the customs and profanity of the surrounding nations.

Three times in this Parashah is the call to holiness made:

  1. You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. (Lev. 19:2)

  2. Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. (Lev. 20:7)

  3. You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. (Lev. 20:26)

Because the LORD is holy, the Israelites could not be in relationship with Him if they engaged in idolatrous and profane practices. They were therefore called to be separate from all that was unholy (Lev. 11:44-45). Their call to holiness was based on the fact that were God's possession because He had separated them from the nations (Lev. 20:26).

Honoring your parents and keeping Shabbat

ish immo v'aviv tira'u, v'et-Shabtotai tishmoru

The holiness code for the Jew begins with a restatement of the fourth and fifth of the Ten Commandments, namely the commandment that we should respect our parents (and grandparents) and keep the Sabbath. We must esteem our parent's words, not speak when they are speaking, and regard them with honor. Connected with this commandment is the mitzvah of keeping the Sabbaths (plural) of the LORD, which includes the weekly Sabbath rest as well as the mo'edim (appointed times) of the Jewish calendar.

Honoring the LORD by abstaining from idolatry

al-tifnu el-ha'elilim, veilohei maseikhah lo ta'asu lakhem

The holiness code continues with a restatement of the second of the Ten Commandments, namely the prohibition of idolatry (called avodah zarah - strange service).

Leaving gleanings of your harvest for the poor

lo te'khaleh pe'at sadekha

Every farmer was required to put aside a corner of his field (pe'at sadekha) for poor people to glean from the harvest. This mitzvah is called peia (PAY-yah, "edge"). Generally a farmer would leave 1/50th of his crops as peia for the poor. Other commandments for farmers include leket - leaving stalks for the poor and shikchah - leaving harvested bundles for the poor that were accidentally left behind during the harvest.

Just after these commandments regarding leaving your gleanings for others, Lev. 19:11 repeats the eighth of the Ten Commandments, indicating that forgetting the plight of the poor is equivalent to stealing from the LORD's point of view. Lying in general is then prohibited (Lev. 19:12), which repeats the ninth of the Ten Commandments.

We may not curse others:

Leviticus 19:14

Lo-tekallel cheresh v'lifnei iveir lo titein mikhshol

This commandment literally says, "You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind," but it means that we should refrain from all types of cruel or hateful speech or behavior in general. After all, if we are forbidden to curse someone who cannot hear us, how much more are we forbidden from cursing someone who can? 

The prohibition of putting a stumbling block before the blind also means that we are not to be deceptive to others, misleading them or causing them to make a false step in their walk with the LORD. You may not purposefully give misleading information or bad advice to others, since that causes the other person to "trip."

We must judge others favorably:

B'Tzedek tishpot 'amitekha

It is inevitable (and psychologically necessary) that we make judgments about other people, but this commandment says, "in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor," implying that we are to be forgiving and good when we think of other people. The Pirkei Avot likewise says, "Judge others favorably!" (Avot 1:6), which the sages take to mean that we should always seek to excuse the perceived sins we see in others.

This mitzvah is connected to the prohibition of speaking lashon hara (spreading evil even if true reports about others) by means of rachilut - gossip.

and avoid gossip...

Lo-telekh rakhil b'ameykha

"You shall not be a talebearer among your people." Rechilut (רְכִילוּת) is actually a type of lashon hara ("the evil tongue") that involves saying something bad about another person even if it happens to be true. One who spreads gossip is considered motzi ra (someone who brings forth evil) because third-hand information is often a source of misunderstanding, ill-will, and confusion in the lives of others.

The LORD demands truthful speech from us, since gossip and idle talk invariably lead people into ill feelings and quarrels. The principle of b'tzedek tishpot 'amitekha means that though you might see a character defect or fault in someone, your righteousness will constrain you to overlook the fault and regard others in the best possible light.

We must not hate our brother:

Lo-tisna et-achikha bilvavekha

"You must not hate your brother in your heart." This commandment extends beyond the idea of a flesh-and-blood brother, since the verse continues that we must appeal to our neighbor when we see something that is sinful in their lives. In other words, kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh - all Israel is responsible to one another - and this means we will take the time (and the risk) to admonish our neighbors in the ways of righteousness.

Connected with this is the commandment lo tikkom v'lo-titor ("You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge"), which culminates in the essence of the law -- it's focal point and the very heart of what holiness represents:

But love him as yourself...

v'ahavta l're'akha kamokha - ani Adonai

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Note that the direct object of the verb (ahav - to love) is your neighbor. But who, exactly, is my neighbor? Some Pharisaical types have claimed that the word rea (neighbor) refers only to one's fellow Jew - not to others at large in the world. However this is obviously false, since the stranger (ger) is explicitly identified to be an object of your love (Lev 19:34). And note that Yeshua the Mashiach answered this question by turning it around. Instead of attempting to find someone worthy of neighborly love, I am asked to be a worthy and loving neighbor myself (Luke 10:29-37).

The phrase v'ahavta l're'akha kamokha is considered the most comprehensive rule of conduct toward others found in the entire Torah. Thus Hillel, a contemporary of the Lord Jesus, commented regarding this phrase: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary." The Lord Jesus said "all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matt 7:12). The apostle Paul also wrote "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (see Rom. 13:10, see also Gal. 5:14).

Sha'atnez - Avoiding admixtures (kilayim)

Further restrictions about mixing two kinds of crops in the same field, or allowing cattle to interbred are given, perhaps as metaphors for purity and the separation of the holy and the profane. Such forbidden admixtures are called kilayim. Even clothing was required to be pure and free from admixture of wool and linen (called sha'atnez, an acronym for the Hebrew words "shua" = combined "tavei" = spun, "nuz" = woven). Wool blankets, sweaters, pants, women's apparel, linen suits, blouses, etc., may not be composed of sha'atnez but must be checked by a specially trained tester.

Orla - Forbidden First Fruits

Orla is the word used to refer to forbidden fruit from a newly planted fruit tree. The Torah commands that if you plant a fruit tree you may not eat any of its fruits for the first three years (Lev. 19:23), and on the fourth year, all the fruit must be either brought to the Temple (as a sacrifice) or sold and the money given to the Temple. The first year's fruit of a tree is holy and belongs exclusively to the LORD. It is regarded as muktzeh (מֻקְצֶה) -- "separated" from us.

There are several types of tithes in the Torah:

  1. Ma'aser behemah: All Kosher cattle were tithed and one tenth of the animals were brought to Jerusalem and offered as a sacrifice in the Holy Temple.
  2. Ma'aser Rishon: A tenth of a farmer's produce was given to the Levite (who did not have their own portion of land in Israel) as a tithe. This amounted to supporting the priesthood of Israel.
  3. Ma'aser Sheni: The land itself was tithed a second (additional) time (after separating the Ma'aser Rishon) on the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th year of the seven-year Sabbatical cycle. This produce was taken to Jerusalem and eaten there.
  4. Ma'aser Kesofim: Today most tithing is done in terms of money, called ma'aser kesofim (a tenth of money). This is the traditional term for the tithe on money income and is distinguished from agricultural and cattle tithes. Every Jew is obligated to give a tenth of his earnings to charity, a custom that goes back to Abraham (Gen. 14:20) and Jacob (who pledged to God that "everything that You give me, I will surely tithe to You" (Gen. 28:22).

Additional Laws for a Holy People

The eating of blood is strictly forbidden and is subject to being kareit, having your life "cut short." The same penalty applies to those who engage in the practice of interpreting omens (ov) or performing any form of witchcraft (yidoni). Being superstitious is against the Torah of Truth.  You must show reverence in the sanctuary of the LORD.

You are to honor the elderly and Torah scholars (considered by the sages to be zakein, elderly, on account of the wisdom they have through their study and labor in the Torah). We must show great respect for a Torah scholar. When he walks into the room we must stand up. We must also be careful to respect our teachers.

Various punishments defined for those who engage in child sacrifice and sexual immorality, including homosexuality (Lev. 20:13) are then given, and the parashah ends with a final appeal to be holy before the LORD God of Israel:

"You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine" (Lev. 20:26).

Haftarah Reading Snapshot:

The Haftarah portion (Ashkenaz) concerns Israel's dispersion and eventual regathering in the acharit hayamim, the end of days.

Amos predicts the destruction and exile of the ancient State of Israel, since Israel did not fulfill its destiny to be a holy nation. However, the Jewish people, the house of Ya'akov, will never be destroyed, only "sifted" in the sieve of historic exile. Israel will eventually be rebuilt as a light to the nations: "I will plant them on their land, and they will never again be uprooted out of their land, which I have given them- says God, your Lord."

Brit Chadashah Reading Snapshot:

The New Testament reading for this parashah repeats the call to holiness. In the passage from 1 Peter, the call to holiness is predicated upon the "hope that will be brought to you" at the revelation of Yeshua at the end of days, and in the 1 Corinthians reading, Paul outlines the same moral constraints that mark a called out people of God.  Believers in the Mashiach are to be free from the sin that pervades surrounding culture, and in particular free from sexual immorality, which is actually idolatry.

The follower of the Mashiach Yeshua is not exempt from the call to personal holiness, since the LORD God of Israel is the same yesterday, today, and forever.


Click for the blessing

Word of the Week

based on the Torah portion

For Further Study:

Hebrew Audio Files:

Click the following links to hear the desired chapters read from this week's Torah:

Leviticus 19

Leviticus 20

Leviticus 21

Online Hebrew-English text (offsite resource)

<< Return


Hebrew for Christians
Copyright © John J. Parsons
All rights reserved.