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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

Hebrew Names of God #8: ADONAI M’Kadesh

“So consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am ADONAI your God. You are to keep My statutes, and do them. I am ADONAI who sanctifies you [m’kadeshchem].” Leviticus 20:7-8 TLV

Like all the names of ADONAI, the context is significant for understanding its meaning. The same is true for ADONAI–M’kadesh. Only this time, the name is not found in the narrative of Israel’s journey from slaves in Egypt to a nation, the people of ADONAI, on their way to Canaan. Rather it is situated in the middle of the instructions in Leviticus known as the “holiness code” Leviticus chapters 17-26. It is not surprising that ADONAI–M’kadesh is revealed in these chapters as they contain one of the most remarkable ideas in the Tanakh, that we are called to be holy because ADONAI is holy. Not only are we created in the image of God, but we are called to act in His ways.

The holiness code is also one of the most perplexing sections in the entire Tanakh because it mixes moral imperatives with what seems to be irrational ritual commands (i.e., the prohibition against wearing clothes of mixed wool and linen) that challenge our modern-day logic and reason. Yet Leviticus is a key text as it is here that we read for the first time the command to love you neighbor and to love the stranger. Perhaps most of all is the command to “be holy because I ADONAI am holy. The immediate context of this command and the revelation of HaShem as ADONAI–M’kadesh is significant. Chapter 17 address sacrifices and the consumption of blood and the flesh of animals, and chapter 18 contains the most systematic and complete collection of laws in the Torah dealing with the subject of incest and forbidden sexual unions, and defines which unions among relatives are forbidden on grounds of incest, adultery, etc. Directly following this, is the first command to be holy because ADONAI is holy; Lev. 19: 2 “Say to them “You shall be holy for I, the LORD your God am holy”. Interestingly, Leviticus is the center of the Torah, and chapter 19 is the center of Vayikra. Chapter 20 continues the topics in chapter 19. In this chapter in the midst of the commands explaining how to be holy is the revelation of the name ADONAI–M’kadesh – He is the one who sanctifies us.

Holy, Separate, Set Apart

The word m’kadesh, sanctify, comes from the same Hebrew word translated as “holy, separate, set apart, dedicate.” In all of its forms, kadesh appears over 700 times in the Tanakh. Some form of kadesh appears three times in the verse quoted above “You must sanctify (kadesh) yourselves and be kadoshim (holy). You are to keep My statutes and do them. I am ADONAI who sanctifies (m’kadeshchem) you.” The name ADONAI-M’kadesh tells us that He, ADONAI, sanctifies us, He sets us apart. As a result, we can be holy as He is holy.

What does it mean to be holy as ADONAI is holy? The word “holy” appears often in the Tanakh. It is also translated as sanctify. According to the context of the holiness code, to be holy means being honest in business, doing justice, loving your neighbor and the stranger as yourself (19:18, 34), which means not stealing, lying or deceiving others or hating people and seeking revenge. It means not conforming to idolatry, that is the idols of our age whatever they may be. It means not harvesting the corners of our fields by sharing our blessings with others and treating the poor with dignity and honor. “Be holy” means having the courage to be different. It means being distinctive and set apart. Above all, it means participating in the very nature of ADONAI, His character and His works.

He is eternal, we are mortal

The command to be holy because ADONAI our God is holy is counter-intuitive. How can we be like God? After all, He is infinite, we are finite. He is eternal, we are mortal. The answer lies in His name, ADONAI-M’kadesh, I am ADONAI who sanctifies you. It is as if He is saying, “I am ADONAI who sets you apart unto Me so you can share in my presence. I set you apart through covenantal relationship to be holy as I am holy.” In other words, we can be holy, because He enables us through our covenantal relationship with Him and through the guidelines He has given in the holiness code, as well as the entire Scripture.

ADONAI-M’kadesh, I am ADONAI who sanctifies you. Because He has sanctified us, we are able to and are to be holy and bear witness to the presence of ADONAI in our lives. This means to live in the conscious presence of ADONAI, separated to Him in the mist of the world in which we live. •

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