The double Parasha this week, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27[i] begins “after the death” of Aaron’s sons, and continues with the preparation and performance of Yom Kippur and the dealing with Bnei Yisrael’s national guilt before the LORD. In Leviticus 18 Hashem proclaims, “You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord” (18.4-5). The passage then continues to describe deviant sexual behavior and relationships that, while followed in Egypt and Canaan, were forbidden to be followed among Bnei Yisrael. So important were these restrictions, the LORD ends this section declaring
“For whoever does any of these detestable things, the souls that do them are to be cut off from the midst of their people. Therefore you are to keep My charge, so that you do not practice any of these detestable customs that were practiced before you, so that you do not defile yourselves by them. I am Adonai your God.” (18.29-30)
This sounds quite similar to Rav Shaul’s instructions to the Corinthians
“It is actually reported that among you there is sexual immorality, and such immorality as is not even among the pagans—that someone has his father’s wife. And you are puffed up! Shouldn’t you have mourned instead, so that the one who did this deed might be removed from among you?” (1 Corinthians 5.1-2)
Rav Shaul continues in the next chapter exhorting the Corinthian believers to
“Flee from sexual immorality! Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body—but the one committing sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Ruach ha-Kodesh who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6.18-19)
The command for sexual purity is not based upon some puritanical restrictive law code that seeks to rob individuals of pleasuring themselves in the privacy of their own homes. Sexual purity is required because we are to be separated, set apart from the world and dedicated to Hashem. Leviticus 19 and 20, which is known in Jewish and Christian circles alike as the Holiness Code, defines actions and attitudes of relationships within the family and the community, as well as those between man and the LORD. It begins “You shall be kedoshim, (holy) for I, Adonai your God, am holy” (19.2). The Hebrew word, קְדֹשִׁ֣ים (plural form of קְדֹשׁ) means to be holy, sacred, consecrated, set apart as dedicated to God; by extension: pure, innocent, free from impurity.[ii] In In his letter to the believers in Rome, Rav Shaul encourages the believers “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12.2). In other words, be separate from things around you that would defile you – separating you from Him, who by His very nature, is holy. Interestingly, the Greek word for conform (συσχηματίζω) carries the idea of assimilating or accepting as your own the very practices that Rav Shaul warns against. Therefore, in both the Torah and the Apostolic Writings the goal and desire of the LORD is for His people, corporal and grafted in, to be holy, set apart to Himself.
The Haftarah following the Sephardic tradition is Ezekiel 20.2-20, and like the Ashkenazic tradition, which is Amos 9.7-15, deals with a disobedient Israel that will be both disciplined for their transgression and restored to full relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Amos quotes Hashem saying, “In that day I will raise up David’s fallen sukkah. I will restore its breaches, raise up its ruins…” (Amos 7.11). Ezekiel ties the restoration back to the holiness of Adonai, as He states to restored Israel, “I am Adonai your God. Walk in My statutes, keep My ordinances and do them. Keep My Shabbatot holy, so they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am Adonai your God” (Ezekiel 20.19-20). So again, whether corporeal Israel or those of the nations grafted into the blessings of Abraham, the words of Simon (Peter) echo throughout time,
“So brace your minds for action. Keep your balance. And set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. Like obedient children, do not be shaped by the cravings you had formerly in your ignorance. Instead, just like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in everything you do. For it is written,
‘Kedoshim you shall be, for I am kadosh.’”
(1 Peter 1.13-16)
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] Drawn from John R. Kohlenberger III and William D. Mounce, eds., Kohlenberger/Mounce Concise Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament Copyright by Willaim D. Mounce, 2012 based upon The Hebrew-English Concordance to the Old Testament by John R. Kohlengerger, III. Used by Permission.