Weekly Parashah Articles


Can a human be holy? Today, most probably, the expectable answer would be “no.” Why then the Lord required to be holy? Maybe it is not as impossible as we are used to think? If it was totally impossible, Vayikra would not instruct us,

“Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. Lev 19:2[1] 

How does Moses present holiness?

From of old people struggle to achieve holiness. There were innumerous attempts recorded in the human history. One of the most common ways to become holy was isolating from the world. The examples vary from Qumran Essenes to Buddhist and Christian monks, but these examples are not in a harmony with Moses’ message. Instead of calling to isolate from the society and to become a hermit, Moses instructs to achieve holiness by building proper relationships with other people.

The Ten Words as the Foundation of Holiness

In order to understand Moses’ instructions, one should realize that the text of Lev. 19 is composed around the Ten Words known or the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17). “It was noted already by the Rabbis that the Ten Commandments are all repeated in this section, though not in the order of Exodus 20.”[2]

The Ten Words may be found in Lev. 19 as follows,

First commandment, “I the Eternal am your God” (verse 4, end)

Second commandment, “You shall have no other gods” (4, beginning)

Third commandment, “You shall not swear falsely” (nor misuse God’s name) (12)

Fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day” (3)

Fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” (3)

Sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (16)

Seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” (29)

Eighth commandment, “You shall not steal” (11)

Ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness” (16)

Tenth commandment, “You shall not covet” (18)[3]

This important observation leads us to a conclusion about the goal of the Ten Words: they were given in order to show how one may become holy without escaping from the society. Practicing principles given in Lev. 19, a person will accomplish God’s commandment “You shall be holy”

The Woman and the Mother

One would expect that instructions on holiness would begin with commandments about the proper worship. However, Moses presents something different and this is not his opinion. According to Lev. 19:1 entire chapter represents a direct quotation from God’s speech.

‘Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God. Lev 19:3

God’s holiness begins in a family. Moreover, in the Decalogue the commandment about the Sabbath is followed by the commandment “honor your father and your mother.” The original order was

Sabbath – Father – Mother.

Why is this order reversed as

Mother – Father – Sabbath?

I suggest that this is because improper relationships with the mother and the father make the observance of the Sabbath pointless. In other words, God will not accept the Sabbath celebration (supposedly bigger commandment) unless the mother and the father of a person are respected (supposedly lesser commandment). Same principle is illustrated by Yeshua,

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Matt 5:23-24

Holiness as Result of the Proper Worship

Of course holiness is impossible without the Source of holiness. God says,

Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods; I am the LORD your God. Lev 19:4

The Hebrew word הָ֣אֱלִילִ֔ים (idols) is found also in Job 13:4: “But you smear with lies; You are all worthless (אֱלִיל) physicians.” The idols are worthless in this context because one cannot become holy worshipping them.

Holiness in the Flesh

God instructed the children of Israel to deal with their bodies according to the “Holiness Code.”

You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. Lev 19:28

Contemporary people may be astonished by this commandment because it is common to believe that a person’s body belongs to the person. This understanding is not Biblical. Not only Lev. 19:28 points out to the fact that the body belongs to God, Paul reinforces this idea in his letter,

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 1 Cor 6:19


Different laws about the blood, unclean food and proper dealing with the body are an organic part of the way to God’s holiness.

Holiness in the Heart

The text of Lev. 19 is very profound. In verse 17 it says,

You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him.

Thus, external holiness is not something which makes God happy. He wants to the holy deeds, and holy thoughts. That is why the psalmist exclaimed,

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Ps 51:10

Practicing Holiness

It is hardly possible that God expected that someone would accept and practice all Torah principles instantly. In Deut 4:1 we read “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform...” A diligent reader of the Torah should learn heavenly principles and advance in knowledge and perfectness day by day.  

Can a human be holy? Definitely, yes; as a doer of commandments of Lev. 19 and other instructions given in the Torah.


Daniel Gordan


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[1] Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. www.Lockman.org.

[2] W. Gunther Plaut and David E. Stein, eds., The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (New York: Union for Reform Judaism, 2006), 798.

[3] Ibid.