Emor: Holy Living Among the Pagans

Call to Holiness

And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness. 

The unclean will not journey on it; 

it will be for those who walk in that Way; 

wicked fools will not go about on it.

No lion will be there, 

nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; 

they will not be found there. 

But only the redeemed will walk there,

and the ransomed of the LORD will return. 

They will enter Zion with singing; 

everlasting joy will crown their heads. 

Gladness and joy will overtake them, 

and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

(Isaiah 35:8-10, NIV)

Like the entire sefer Vayikra, and closely tied to the previous parashah (Kedoshim), Emor begins with a call to holiness. It specifically begins with the issues of holiness which apply to the Kohanim (priests), continues to include the summary of the mo’edim (feasts) and ends with instructions for the Menorah and the Bread of the Presence and a curious story of a blasphemer.

“They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God…” (21:6)

At the very beginning of the parashat, Hashem tells Moshe to instruct the Kohanim to be cautions from becoming contaminated with ritual uncleanness1, but to be on every guard to remain pure before Hashem in order that they may not even temporarily disqualify themselves from their service in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Throughout the parashat, Hashem is constantly reminding us:

אני יהוה מקדשם
Ani Adonai q’dsham

I am Hashem, Who sanctifies2 them

Defining Holiness

It’s sad, but the majority of believers do not have a grasp on holiness. The same words the author of the book of Hebrews says to his audience can be said in our day and time:

Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.
(Hebrews 5:12-63, NIV)

Sadly, the majority of Bible teaching either revolves around these “elementary teachings” about Messiah, or is a precursor to these things. If we are truly disciples of the Master, we need to have these things “under our belts,” and be moving on to the meat of the Word. Our topic—holiness—is not for those who are still struggling with the salvation issue, or it will be completely misconstrued.

In order to fully understand the weight of holiness, we must first examine the word ‘holy’ itself. In Hebrew, the word for ‘holy’ is קדשׁ (kadosh / kadash / kodesh – depending on usage). In its pure sense, this word means ‘distinctness,’ ‘set-apartness.’ It is a distinguishing factor of an object, person, or time3, which clearly defines one of these things from all others. Many have skewed definitions of holy, and thus have put their definition into practice at the expense of themselves and others. Monks and nuns are a prime example of this. With a definition of ‘holy’ that implies ‘separateness,’ they have removed themselves from the common man (those who truly need spiritual guidance), and thus have also incarcerated themselves in the process.

Also, we have a misconception of the term ‘profane.’ We tend to view the opposite of ‘holiness’ as ‘wickedness.’ However, this is not the case. The opposite of ‘holiness’ is the ‘profane.’ But what does this mean? In Hebrew, the word ‘profane’ is חַלָל, (not to be confused with הַלָל – ‘praise’) and carries with it the connotation of being ‘common’ or ‘contaminated.’ 4

Unfortunately, we have been brainwashed into only making the distinctions between ‘righteousness’ and ‘wickedness,’ and not ‘holy’ and ‘profane.’ This is to our detriment. The Jews, however, have made this a priority, especially during the Biblical period. During the days when the Beit HaMikdash was standing, sefer Vayikra was the first book put to memory by children. Why? In order to teach the children to go beyond making the distinctions of morality, to holiness—something for which we have no comprehension. Here are a few Scriptures which call for a distinction between the holy and the profane:

  • Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exo 20:8)
  • You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; every one who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. (Exo 31:14)
  • You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean (Lev 10:10)
  • For I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls upon the earth. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (Lev 11:44-45)
  • Say to all the congregation of the people of Israel, You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy. (Lev 19:2)
  • Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the LORD your God. (Lev 20:7)
  • 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)
  • They shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God; for they offer the offerings by fire to the LORD, the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy. They shall not marry a harlot or a woman who has been defiled; neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband; for the priest is holy to his God. You shall consecrate him, for he offers the bread of your God; he shall be holy to you; for I the LORD, who sanctify you, am holy. (Lev 21:6-8)
  • Tell Aaron and his sons to keep away from the holy things of the people of Israel, which they dedicate to me, so that they may not profane my holy name; I am the LORD (Lev 22:2)
  • So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the LORD. And you shall not profane my holy name, but I will be hallowed among the people of Israel; I am the LORD who sanctify you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD. (Lev 22:31-33)
  • For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth. (Deut 14:2)
  • It is a snare for a man to say rashly, “It is holy,” and to reflect only after making his vows. (Prov 20:25)5
How Do We Live Holy Lives?

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16, NIV)

But how do we make holiness evident in our lives? Is it merely outward only? It is both outward and inward, and is reflected in all areas of our lives. One example of an outward leading to an inward is in the commandment of the tzit-tzit:

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.’ ”
(B’midbar / Numbers 15:37-41, NIV)

The reason for this outward form of holiness is in order that we might “obey them [the commandments] and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.”

In other areas, Peter admonishes us:

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.
(1 Peter 2:1-17, NIV)

In this passage, Peter tells us that those of us that have been adopted into the family of Hashem have become a priesthood of sorts (not replacing the physical priesthood) in that we have certain obligations. He tells us our primary obligation is holiness. Just as the physical priests are to distinguish between the holy and the profane, the clean and unclean, we are to make those distinctions in our lives and the lives of our family. These distinctions should lead to lives that are above reproach (vs 12).

In order to do this, we must do just as Peter warns us. We must “ not use [our] freedom as a cover-up for evil,” but rather “live as servants of God.” We must live out the Spirit of Torah, rather than the Letter of Torah.

Parable: “The Letter and the Spirit”

Rab Hanan’s son, Rabbah, hired a few day laborers to move some barrels of wine. While working, they accidentally dropped a barrel, which broke, and the wine spilled onto the ground. To punish the men, Rabbah confiscated their coats.

The workers went to Rab to complain about the way they were being treated. After listening to their complaint, the great sage advised his son to return the men’s coats.
“But is this what the law would rule?” Rabbah protested.
“Do it in spite of the law,” Rab replied, “and give the coats back to these men. Follow the path of goodness.”
Once their coats were returned, the men said, “Look here, we are only poor laborers. We worked an entire day and we have families to support. Should we not receive payment for our labor?”
Rab said to his son, “Go and pay them.”
Again Rabbah asked, “But what does the law require?”
“Do it in spite of the law,” his father advised. “Maintain the way of righteousness, my son, and do not expect to always find life according to the letter of the law. Understand that the spirit of justice is often of greater value. Pay your workers anyway!”7

Yeshua’s Admonition

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 
(Matt 5:38-42, NIV)

Is Yeshua over-riding the Torah? No. Torah makes provision for damages, via the “eye-for-an-eye” passages.6 No. This is Yeshua’s explanation of the “intention” of the Torah’s laws in this regard. The laws of damages were two-fold. They were first, for the protection of those who incur damages at the hands of others. Most importantly, however, they were for the one who was liable for the damages, to teach one the lesson of taking personal responsibility for the harm of others. These laws were never created for the self-motivated demands of the one incurring damages. They were never a means to retaliate for damages, but rather be compensated for damages. Yeshua makes this clear in that when we incur damages, we are not to demand justice. We are to live by the spirit of the Law, which has at the heart a desire to treat others with the mercy which we would desire to receive if the tables were reversed. Yeshua upholds Torah completely, and instructs us on how to live beyond the letter of the Torah to the greater spirit of holiness which it contains.

Our portion tells us:

Keep my commands and follow them. I am the LORD. Do not profane my holy name. I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the LORD, who makes you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD. (Lev 22:31-33, NIV).

It is by keeping the commands of Hashem that sanctifies the name of Hashem among others. It is by living our lives without holiness that we profane the name of Hashem. When we pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name,” it is how we live our lives which “hallow” (i.e. “make holy”) the name of the Almighty. When we live only by the Letter of the Law, we are making the Torah to serve us. We have become like those whom Peter warns us, by saying:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth—men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. (2 Tim 3:1-9, NIV)

However, if we use the literal letter of the Law as the foundation upon which we build in order to obey the Spirit of the Law, we will be continually changing in the means in which we consecrate ourselves to Hashem. We will always be on the lookout for means by which we can give an area of our lives to Hashem—whether it is entering into the spirit of the Sabbath a few hours early, or holding our tongue when we have the “right” to justify ourselves.

In conclusion, there are several areas of living holy lives on which the Torah is silent. We must, however, not assume that we have license in these “grey” areas. We must not make such assumptions. We must not bend the Torah for our own personal lusts. We must continually be in the process of transforming ourselves into the image of Messiah. If we are not continually in the process of living out holy lives, we are not living in holiness. We are living within comfort zones. And if we are not living holy lives, we are merely pagans in denial.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God 
(Romans 12:1-2, KJV)


1. Bonus: Compare Vayikra 21:1-4 to John 20:1-9
2. Sanctification is simply the verb form of the word holy (קדש) in Hebrew
3. See B’reisheet / Genesis 2:2-3
4. It is noteworthy to be reminded of Peter’s conversation with Cornelius in Acts 10 at this point.
5. Consecration is serious business, and we need to understand it as such. The story of Jeptha (Judges 11) is probably in the mind of the writer of this proverb.
6. The erroneous view of a literal “eye for an eye” has been propagated by those unfamiliar with, and in opposition to Torah as a basis for holy living. This is simply not the case. See Exodus 21:18 and following.
7. Saving the World Entire and 100 Other Beloved Parables from the Talmud, Rabbi Bradley R. Bleefeld & Robert L. Shook. #74-The Letter and the Spirit. (Talmudic source: Baba Metzia 83a)

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2 thoughts on “Emor: Holy Living Among the Pagans”

  1. B”H


    I am new here and Darren was kind enough to allow me within this group B”H Not quite surewhere this post would fit but as Darren has mentioned priesthood and sacrifice, maybe I can place it here as a comment on one of our Parashas. Hope this is ok with everyone.

    I would like to make a comment or so about Parasha Vayikra – the sacrifice What does it mean to us today, when there is no Temple? The two Temples were destroyed yet there is another Temple built, if we can see. It is us, our own body created by G-d as His Temple on earth. At the beginning of Vayikra, the Torah says, “If any man brings an offering of you to the L-rd.” At first glance we could think that this phrase of you refers to any man, and as such “If any man of you brings an offering” however the order of words in the Torah rules this out. Because the Torah is precise in every detail. An apparently misplaced word has great significance. The sentence must read,” If any man brings an offering of you” and the implication is that the sacrifice must be of yourself! Can we derive a concept from the Kohanim’s physical way of performing this Offering to teach us today? When G-d commanded the Israelites to build Him a Sanctuary. He said “And they shall make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in them” It was not simply in it that He would dwell in the Santuary but also dwell within the soul of each Jew. Each Jew was in fact a Sanctuary within himself. Now we have Y’Shua and He has created “new” beginning where there is no Jew nor Gentile but only His talmidim of souls, performing His Holy Words through our spiritual Temple today. Every act of the physical Sanctuary has its counterpart in the sanctuary of our soul. So there is an inward act of sacrifice in the life that mirrors the outward act that took place in the Sanctuary. Remember that even that outward act involved the sacrifice of a physical animal it was was essentially a spiritual one. The Zohar says that the Kohanim in their silent service and their desire drew (G-d’s presence) downwards and the Levites in their songs and praises drew (man’s soul and his sacrifice) upwards. This physical sacrifice has a spiritual encounter. So indeed the inward act of sacrifice is spiritual. The Hebrew means “drawing near.” And when we wish to “draw near” to G-d he must make a sacrifice to G-d of our very self. It is us that is the sacrifice. Thus we see Y’Shua our Mochiach making His silent sacrifice for us and we, his talmidim, sing the songs of the Levites When a person begins this process of self-searching in earnest, it can often happen that even though he is not currently guilty of any sin, there rise to the surface of his memory all the failings and indiscretions of his past, even of his childhood, until he can say, “My sin is continually before me”. We must persist because we have not been completely set right. And we may say: What am I to be worthy of the act? I am imperfect. I am full of faults. The thing is beyond me! Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch answered: “the sacrifice is not only of you; it depends on you. It is within the scope of every Jew, whatever his present and whatever his past. So that every Jew has the right to ask himself, When will my acts be like the acts of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?” An answer may be found within the physical sacrifice for each animal had to be placed before the “holy Fire” We first must examine our sin, then find it “without” blemish” as we have been freed through the blood of Y’Shua yet we still must kill this sin through His holy fire upon the Altar. We must sacrifice ourself by our teshuvah and plead Y’Shua to hear our plea to be cleansed. How else shall we perform our halach here on earth if we are not pure? We are Y’Shua’s talmidim and are being prepared to speak His Word throughout the Land. Presently there are to many “messy-antics” fooling themselves and others. The true answer begins with us! We must “sacrifice” our sins before G-d’s holy fire, the Rauch HaKodesh! The “And you shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart.” will become our reality! G-d will draw near to those without blemish. We are to be teachers to many and we dare not “over-right” Torah to fit into a Christian plan. A pleasing fragrance to G-d??? The Torah says “a pleasing fragrance to G-d”, and regarding a fowl-offering the Torah also says “a pleasing fragrance to G-d.” This comes to tell you that whether one offers much or offers little it is pleasing to G-d – so long as one directs his heart to heaven.(Rashi’s commentary) Amein to Rashi!! Let us direct our hearts towards Y’Shua HaMochiach and serve Him with our unblemished heart as we have passed through the holy fire and can present ourselve “holy” before G-d.
    Gulp…Geeessh…um Darren, is my intro to much?? I got on a roll and my fingers typed.
    Anyway Good Shabbos to all
    Be Well
    Ariel Chaim

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