So where does this idea even come from? Why do people even talk about "being holy"? It comes from a verse in the Bible of course! Well, it actually comes from MANY verses in the Bible, but the one referenced most often is Leviticus 19:2. It states:
"Speak to the entire community of Isra'el; tell them, 'You people are to be holy because I, ADONAI your God, am holy.'" (CJB)
Well, that's not exactly what it says. In Hebrew it says:
דבר אל־כל־עדת בני־ישׂראל ואמרת אלהם קדשׁים תהיו כי קדושׁ אני יהוה אלהיכם׃
Which more accurately translates to:
"Speak to all the assembly of the children of Israel and say become קדשׁים [kedoshim] for I am קדושׁ [kadosh], for I am יהוה [YHWH] your אלהיכם [Elohech'im - God]."
I don't think it's nitpicking, because the verse does not say "you people are to be holy"! It says "become KEDOSHIM [holy people] because I am KADOSH [holy]…"
If YHWH Himself is KADOSH, and He wants us to become KEDOSHIM, then "kadosh" (holy) MUST mean something much more than simply "set apart" or "dedicated or consecrated to God ". God is "holy"! Is God "dedicated or consecrated to God"? No! He is HOLY!
So really the correct question should be "How do we become KEDOSHIM - 'holy people'?"
The answer, it turns out, is RIGHT THERE in scripture! How to become kedoshim is described in a "snapshot" of examples in the very next verses in Leviticus 19! Let's go through them and see if we can come away from this exercise with a good idea of just what it means to be "kedoshim" (holy people). (All verses from the CJB):
Verse 3: "Every one of you is to revere his father and mother, and you are to keep my Shabbats; I am ADONAI your God."
Verse 4: "Do not turn to idols, and do not cast metal gods for yourselves; I am ADONAI your God."
Verse 5: "When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to ADONAI, offer it in a way that will make you accepted."
Verse 9: "'When you harvest the ripe crops produced in your land, don't harvest all the way to corners of your field, and don't gather the ears of grain left by the harvesters"
Verse 10: "Likewise, don't gather the grapes left on the vine or fallen on the ground after harvest; leave them for the poor and the foreigner; I am ADONAI your God."
Verse 11: "Do not steal from, defraud or lie to each other."
Verse 12: "Do not swear by my name falsely, which would be profaning the name of your God; I am ADONAI."
Verse 13: "Do not oppress or rob your neighbor; specifically, you are not to keep back the wages of a hired worker all night until morning."
Verse 14: "Do not speak a curse against a deaf person or place an obstacle in the way of a blind person; rather, fear your God; I am ADONAI."
Verse 15: " 'Do not be unjust in judging - show neither partiality to the poor nor deference to the mighty, but with justice judge your neighbor"
Verse 16: "'Do not go around spreading slander among your people, but also don't stand idly by when your neighbor's life is at stake; I am ADONAI."
Verse 17: " 'Do not hate your brother in your heart, but rebuke your neighbor frankly, so that you won't carry sin because of him."
Verse 18: "Don't take vengeance on or bear a grudge against any of your people; rather, love your neighbor as yourself; I am ADONAI."
Verse 19: "'Observe my regulations."
Verse 26: "'Do not eat anything with blood. Do not practice divination or fortune-telling."
Verse 27: "Don't round your hair at the temples or mar the edges of your beard."
Verse 28: "Don't cut gashes in your flesh when someone dies or tattoo yourselves; I am ADONAI."
Verse 29: "Do not debase your daughter by making her a prostitute, so that the land will not fall into prostitution and become full of shame."
Verse 30: "'Keep my Shabbats, and revere my sanctuary; I am ADONAI."
Verse 31: "'Do not turn to spirit-mediums or sorcerers; don't seek them out, to be defiled by them; I am ADONAI your God."
Verse 32: "'Stand up in the presence of a person with gray hair, show respect for the old; you are to fear your God; I am ADONAI."
Verse 33-34: " 'If a foreigner stays with you in your land, do not do him wrong. Rather, treat the foreigner staying with you like the native-born among you - you are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am ADONAI your God."
Verse 35-36: "'Don't be dishonest when measuring length, weight or capacity. Rather, use an honest balance-scale, honest weights, an honest bushel dry-measure and an honest gallon liquid-measure; I am ADONAI your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt."
Verse 37: "Observe all my regulations and rulings, and do them; I am ADONAI."
Need I say more? I called this a "snapshot" because clearly it is not a complete list of what we do to become kedoshim. Rather, it is a list of examples. Buried with each example is a "measure" of kadosh - "behaviors" that lead us to become holy!
Did you notice how the "snapshot" examples end? "Observe all my regulations and rulings, and do them!"
Torah is your way to Holy!
So "What does it mean to be Holy?" It means you live your life by Torah. Simply pick up your Bible and read the Torah. Learn to become kedoshim. Walk as the Messiah walked (1 John 2:6).