Parashat Emor states the broad design for God’s people: “Be ye holy as I am holy”. Indeed we learn a profound lesson – repeated for us twice here in Leviticus 21:8 and 22:32-33 – that it is God Himself who makes us holy. He is intimately involved in the process and status of our sanctity; as with so many areas of our faith, we discover that everything comes from Him, is for Him and He is in all.
It is easy to confuse holiness with redemption but to be different, set apart for God, is the hallmark of a redeemed life. It may seem strange but it is possible to be redeemed and yet not be consecrated to Him. It is also possible to confuse holiness with a feeling or an emotion. Holiness is neither of these things. In Judaism and Torah, holiness is active, practical and achievable and it’s decidedly down to earth.
If our holy status has been decided by the power of God, He then wants us to BE holy in our walk with Him and before the world. Holiness affects the mind and our thought world, creating a new spiritual culture to live in.
Therefore, get your minds ready for work, keep yourselves under control, and fix your hopes fully on the gift you will receive when Yeshua the Messiah is revealed. As people who obey God, do not let yourselves be shaped by the evil desires you used to have when you were still ignorant. On the contrary, following the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in your entire way of life; since the Tanakh says, “You are to be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16).
One of the key areas of this sanctification process, the organised life, is laid out for us in this portion: the annual festival cycle. Holiness and righteousness are not merely daily, weekly or even annual events but they are repeated. Through these regular events we are conformed to His time-based patterns of holiness; they lead us to prioritise Him.
By engaging with this cycle, it becomes a habit for us – a habit which forms righteousness. Do something once and you’ll forget; do it a hundred times and you’re a professional – something that is true of good habits and bad! Righteous mitzvot, when repeated, form not just the basis of obedience but the desires of our own lives and over time an internal structure develops that actually changes us. God, through His commandments, has ordained a process of sanctification that, if followed, will transform us. Patterns of holiness which we find in all the commandments to some extent actually begin to affect us.
Our minds are often filled with causal links defined by the prevailing culture and society, patterns of thought and behaviour learnt in formative years that are alien to the Kingdom of God. Rav Shaul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “bring every thought into captivity to Mashiach”. The battle so often rages in our thought worlds because it is here that the conflicts of flesh versus spirit and righteousness versus worldly thinking take place. The actual ‘act’, as Yeshua says, is the end product of a long chain of small mental steps.
Our bodies function at a chemical level but we forget – and underestimate – that we are also spiritual beings. Just as in the flesh we can become addicted to things, developing behavioural responses that are rewarded by a chemical kick, so too in the spiritual realm this is true. Ps 42:1-2: “Just as a deer longs for running streams, God, I long for you. I am thirsty for God, for the living God! When can I come and appear before God?” And Yeshua said in Matthew 5:6: “How blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness! For they will be filled.”
Have you ever considered thirsting and hunger for God in this way? Where the longing for spiritual satisfaction which can only be found in His presence is so strong that it drives and motivates your heart to seek Him out, to be with Him in prayer and worship? I’m not sure that we would want to say that we can become ‘addicted’ to God, but maybe we should consider that on a spiritual level we can allow ourselves to desire to be with Him. We are spiritual beings with that realm’s own set of ‘responses’, conditioned or otherwise; we are not merely flesh and blood.
The regular cycle of commandments (weekly and annual) trains us to become ‘word perfect’ in holiness. Repeating something has merit by becoming a part of us and who we are, rather than being something we just do by rote. We begin to get good at being righteous; we make fewer wrong choices and our trust in the Lord grows. The Torah cycle is a righteous habit former; will you ride that cycle?