For the week of May 1, 1999 / 15 Iyyar 5759
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 21:1-24:23
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31

We Are not Commoners

They are to teach my people the difference
between the holy and the common… (Ezekiel 44:23).

One of the responsibilities of the Israel's priests (Hebrew: cohanim) was to teach the people the difference between what was holy and what was common. This instruction itself is very helpful in understanding what the term "holy" is all about.

Holy means "separate." It refers to God being separate from things human and earthly. Holy objects are those that have been set apart for God's use. This is in contrast to other things, the common things.

Within the temple were special holy items. It was forbidden to use these things for common use. Similarly, one did not bring everyday items into the Temple to use in God's service. The holy and the common were not to be mixed.

So the priest had to teach the people this distinction. We can assume they needed to teach this, because understanding this would not have come naturally to the people. It is not easy for us to make this important distinction. Maybe more importantly, even when we know the difference, we might still have a tendency to not take it as seriously as we should. Just like a child who can distinguish between the everyday dishes and the fine china still might not handle the china with the amount of care required.

The need to learn the difference between the holy and the common is just as crucial in our day. While we don't have the temple service with its sacred rituals any longer, there are still things that are holy and things that are common.

Primarily this distinction exists between people. God has set apart those who have put their trust in the Messiah. Several times in the New Covenant writings, Yeshua's followers are referred to as "saints." The word "saint" means holy one. It does not refer to someone who has special super-spiritual status, nor is it describing someone consumed with religious activity.

To be holy means to be set apart for God's service. How this is actually accomplished in each person can be very different. The main thing is that the one set apart to God is concerned about doing God's will, not their own.

Holy people are those whose hearts' desires are for the things of God: his word, his righteousness, his people, his mission. Their goals are eternal ones, not temporal. They know that there is more to life than the material world, and they don't get caught up in the values of the society.

Some may view being holy as limiting. I guess it is to some extent, since holy people should not be involved in common pursuits. But if we could grasp that the call to holiness is to be invited to participate in God's mission in our world, to be involved in a dynamic, loving relationship with our Creator, to live in freedom and joy, looking forward to a heavenly eternity, then maybe we would see that whatever we need to give up is more than worth it.

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