In last week’s double Torah reading, Parasha Acharei Mot–Kedoshim, we discovered our capacity to live holy lives.
In this week’s Torah reading, Emor, which means say, God gives Moses instructions regarding rules of purity for the priests (כֹּהֲנִים, Kohanim), who are held to a stricter standard than the general population.
For instance, the priests are not to make themselves ceremonially unclean through contact with a person who had died, unless that person was a very close relative such as a father or mother, or son, or daughter.
The priests also have to carefully adhere to stringent laws of holiness; for example, a priest cannot marry a prostitute or a divorced woman. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest), who had been anointed with the holy anointing oil, is compelled to even higher standards: he must marry only an Israelite virgin.
“The woman he marries must be a virgin. He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people, so that he will not defile his offspring among his people. I am the LORD, who makes him holy.” (Leviticus 21:13–15)
The high priest could not even show traditional signs of mourning, such as allowing his hair to become unkempt (uncovering his head) or tearing his garments, not even for his mother or father.
The Brit Chadashah (New Testament) reveals that, like priests, some of us will be judged by a stricter standard than others; for example, teachers of the Word of God.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow Believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1)
Why? Teachers are leaders, and with that calling comes greater responsibility. A teacher may have a wider circle of influence—for good or for evil—than the general population since they teach others not only by their words, but by example. A teacher may be looked up to by his or her students; therefore, those who teach God’s Word are to live an exemplary life—a sobering challenge.
Some servants of the Lord may be called to live by a stricter standard. For example, the apostle Paul said that although all things are permissible for him, not all are helpful:
“All things are legitimate [permissible—and we are free to do anything we please], but not all things are helpful (expedient, profitable, and wholesome). All things are legitimate, but not all things are constructive [to character] and edifying [to spiritual life].” (1 Corinthians 10:23)
The truth is that as Believers in Yeshua, we are His ambassadors, royal family and priests—we represent Him; therefore, each of us are held to a high standard of morality when interacting with the world and each other.
Adonai is not the only one holding us to this high standard: the world especially holds us to a higher standard.
For instance, when Golda Rosen, the editor-in-chief of the Bibles For Israel website, was 16, her mother developed schizophrenia after a traumatic life event.
“Since my parents were divorced, the care of my mother fell to me even though I was the middle child,” Golda said. “When I became exhausted with the burden, I asked my father to encourage my siblings to help with her care.
“My brother immediately responded, ‘She’s the Believer in Yeshua; she should do it.’ Although only 15, he held me to a higher standard due to my faith.”
Biblically, we are called to sanctify God’s holy name:
“Do not profane my holy name, for I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the LORD, who made you holy.” (Leviticus 22:32)
In Judaism, this is considered the most important mitzvah (commandment) of the 613 mitzvot (plural of mitzvah) in the entire Torah. Our behavior must exemplify our relationship with God.
In this way, we can be lights shining in the darkness.
“Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:15)